Review by Scout
Who hasn't secretly wanted to be someone else? Who hasn't, as a
child, conjured and inhabited futures of spectacular adventure and
sumptuous rewards? Rock star, lost royalty found, superhero, to
the wizard class born ... Fantasy role-playing is the name
and entertainment is the game. Books do it, movies do it, comic
books and computer games do it too. Sometime in the early 1990s
Shaun Mitchell and Brent Erickson of Flashpoint Productions imagined
a double knock-out combinationa computer game built around
a comic book superhero. Lacking the resources to license an existing
property, they made one up: Darksheer, champion of the night, protector
of Noctropolis. Only a single issue was ever published, a limited
edition included with the game Noctropolis.
Noctropolis, published by Electronics Arts in 1994, is a
comic book world come to life ... literally. You play Peter Grey,
a mild-mannered bookstore owner down on his luck. For an idea as
to how bad things really are, click on Peter at the start of the
game when he is still in his bookstore and you'll get this description:
"Perpetual depression has rendered you lethargic and hollow.
Numbed by apathy, you sigh vacantly, wondering when your existence
turned so bleak." The roof leaks, sales are down, the bills
are piling up, utility services are about to be cut and, worst of
all, Cygnus Comics has just delivered its very last issue of Darksheer,
your favorite comic book, in which your hero Darksheer hangs up
his cape and calls it quits. This is not your beautiful life. But
wait, you have won a contest put on by Cygnus, and after a strange
little girl dumps your prize through the mail slot, you open it.
Inside are two coins, silver and gold, and oh joy and rapture, a
new original Darksheer comic. After eagerly reading the comic, you
flip one of the coins in the air and are magically transported to
the eternally twilight world of Noctropolis. Things are looking
up. Or are they?
Darksheer's inexplicable retirement has left Noctropolis without
a hero and the comely leather-clad Stiletto without a partner. All
of the archvillains have escaped from prison and are on a vengeful
rampage, nightly beating the citizenry to its collective knees.
In the midst of all this chaos a mysterious skyscraper is being
built, a tower so magnificent that it pierces the eternal cloud
layer that covers Noctropolis, soaring out of sight. As the new
Darksheer, your first order of business is to drag Stiletto from
her drunken retirement. After gaining her trust (and apparently
her affection) by besting her in a little punch, kick and claw,
the two of you head off to battle the bad guys. Oh, and what a delicious
dastardly dire group they are. There's Succubus, a spirit-sucking
demon residing in the voluptuous body of a young nun, Greenthumb,
a reconstituted mutant horticulturist, Tophat, a magician savant
gone mad when her mentor assaulted her, Dreamler, a psychotic with
advanced mental powers who can manipulate your dreams, Master Macabre
(my personal favorite), a talented surgeon turned sicko sadist,
and finally the man behind the curtain, the brilliant mastermind
of mayhem, the ever-enigmatic Flux. The theme of transformation,
so dear to comics in general, is in full play in Noctropolis.
Everyone has been someone else in another life, everyone has
experienced a transformative, defining moment and no one is any
better for it. Change is a bad thing in Noctropolis. Nothing good
ever seems to come of it.
Noctropolis is a mouse-driven, point-and-click adventure
game. It has optional keyboard commands printed on the back jewel
case insert, though I never did get the hang of them ... and I actually
like keyboard commands. A right-click brings up the interface pyramid,
wherein reside your commands. Want to talk to a character? Right-click
to the pyramid, left-click on Talk to change your cursor, left-click
the cursor on your subject. It sounds a little awkward, and it is.
Other commands are Travel, which takes you to the game map, Move,
Look, Open, Get, Use, GoTo, Inventory, File and Setup. There are
an infinite number of save slots, accessible by clicking on the
Save As New button in the Disk Service Box. To restore a game you
use the Loading a Game button. A handy feature here is the Info
button, which tells you the location, time and date of your save
so you don't have to bother typing in descriptions.
You progress through the game in the usual way, exploring locations,
running through dialogue trees, building your inventory and, of
course, solving puzzles. The puzzles are easy to medium in difficulty.
The few times I got stuck were when I had carelessly overlooked
an item I needed. The game has an obvious comic book look to it,
and while at times it can be a feast for the eyes, the result is
an overall visual homogeneity. Nothing stands out from the background,
everything seems to blend in with everything else. Luckily, the
hotspots react to your cursor, so be sure to take the time to scan
the rooms when you first enter them. Items you need usually are
lying around in plain sight and are easily acquired if not always
so easily noticed. Eagle eyes are required here.
The game won't let you advance beyond the point of no return if
you don't have a necessary inventory item, so don't worry about
dead-ends. Only once did I have to return to a location to retrieve
an overlooked item. Unfortunately, it was the most difficult location
in the game to access, especially with a slower computer. So, a
word of warning, try to make sure you have taken everything that's
not nailed down before moving on to the next location, especially
if you've just spent the last two hours sneaking into a certain
Items are used by clicking on Use, which opens up the inventory.
From there, you click on the item. If it isn't relevant, the game
will tell you so. If the item is usable, the game will complete
the required actions automatically. Noctropolis is fussy
that way. It knows what it wants and when it wants it, thank you.
This makes for some autopilot puzzle-solving, as all you have to
do is click on the right item at the right place and then stand
back and let the game do its thing.
Gameplay is a simple as dirt. Confront and defeat the villains.
One by one. There is a twist, though. Several of the fights end
up with Darksheer being poisoned, gassed, stabbed or otherwise physically
compromised. When this occurs, a timer will start up in the lower
left corner of your screen. If this timer reaches zero before you've
made your way to the Darklair for a dip in the old mystic mother
liquid, you die. Cheesy cutscene and you're back to the opening
sequence. In practice this isn't as onerous as it sounds. I only
died once this way and never really felt undue pressure, as the
timer stops during dialogue or cursor-triggered actions, giving
you plenty of time to think, explore and experiment. Plus you can
save inside the timed sequences, which is always nice.
At the end of each confrontation, the game more or less dumps you
back at Darklair with little or no direction as to what to do next.
Unfortunately, unless you revert to a hint guide or a walkthrough,
be prepared to roam from location to location, running through dialogue
and clicking on inventory until you find your way again. To be fair,
the game does drop subtle hints here and there, so it is best to
pay close attention, especially during conversations.
The sound in Noctropolis is notoriously hard to configure
so that the voice dialogue plays throughout. If for some reason
you can't get the voices to play, the game defaults to a stylish
dialogue text box. But if you can manage it, dowhile the actors
vary wildly in their deliveries, their work gives the game a much-needed
extra dimension. Master Macabre and Tophat were especially wonderful
(though the rest of the female leads were obviously hired for attributes
other than thespian). Still, if you require quality acting in your
games, be warned. Noctropolis glories in the cheesy, the
bloody, the gross and the questionablein all areas. Other
things that might offend are mild scenes of female nudity, sexual
situations and occasional profanity. Also, a bunny rabbit dies.
Sorry, but it's true. The wascally wabbit bites the big one.
As you progress you learn the cosmology of Noctropolis, why it
became the city of eternal darkness and who are its secret movers
and shakers. There's a lot about Elementals, natural phenomena,
Light and Dark, Good and Evil and the standard operating procedures
of the local demigods. It gets pretty complicated pretty fast, but
the player doesn't need to take notes. While there are no pop quizzes,
there is a big info dump at the end that pretty much killed
Flashpoint's shot at a bang-up climax.
Despite all of its shortcomings, Noctropolis is a fun and
engaging game. It has a campy, tongue-in-cheek humor and never takes
itself too seriously. To get the most entertainment value for your
money, I suggest you play this game in a similar spirit. Take it
for what it is and you'll come away happy. Want it to wear sensible
shoes and eat its broccoli? I'm afraid you're in for a bit of a
Developer: Flashpoint Productions
Release Date: 1994
Four Fat Chicks Links
DOS 4.0 or higher
4 MB RAM
2X CD-ROM drive
Super VGA or VESA video
Where to Find It
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by any party(ies).