Eternal Nightmare ($1.00) really, really, wants to be Contra. And why not; it’s generally pleasant memories that most of us have of that game. This one, though… not so much. Instead, it’s going about living up to its title. Developer Chris Antoni‘s second game— hot on the heels… er, I mean sleigh rails, of Santa Slay1— follows the basic path of Konami’s design, but veers off track. Oh, and simple visuals and ‘clip art’ be damned, we’re doing this whole ‘look’ again.
Like the title it borrows from, the action here is comfortably ‘Run & Gun’, with some light platforming. The stages flow from that viewpoint with little more than ‘kill everything in sight’ for an objective, moving left to right, right to left, up and over… you get the idea. Your character looks like he belongs in Contra, rolls into a ball to jump, lies flat to avoid fire. All the boxes are checked. Even a boss seems like you’ve seen him somewhere before:
As the title implies, the gist is you’re asleep and having a nightmare. You— and up to three friends locally— must battle your way out of that dream. Being a figment of your imagination (and yet so, so real), the enemies are predictably funky, some with exploding bodies (and heads that give constant chase), others that deflect your shots back at you (sometimes from off-screen, so you can’t see it coming). You get your assortment of mini-bosses and bosses too, all primed to get their shot at you. Essentially, you’re being set up to die. A lot.
It’s not all lost. Weapon powerups drop from the sky periodically, giving a boost to your gun, like a faster fire rate or a spread shot. At the end of each level, you get a pair of skill points to assign, increasing your firepower, speed, or jumping ability. In theory, this should help. Still, you’ve got a target painted on your back at all times. With friends, you could probably spread out and do a little more damage that way, but you’ll also share lives from the same pool. It’s a trade-off. Yet no matter how you play it, the game never really ‘gels’.
So what’s it missing? The Konami Code2, for starters, more polish certainly. And that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, that something that made Contra simultaneously maddening and fun? Addictive enough that you’d spend hours perfecting your moves, running through the game multiple times, just because? Well, Eternal Nightmare doesn’t quite have it. For every homage to the Konami classic, every character sprite or boss art that’s ripped from it, you have pain-in-the-ass enemies, tiny bullets that blend into backgrounds3, and not nearly enough lives (or patience) to see it through.
Nothing really wants to go Eternal Nightmare‘s way, ditto for the person playing it. Whereas Santa Slay had some humor to back up its simplistic looks, the presentation here is just lackluster and threadbare, made worse by the frustrating gameplay. ‘You sleep and dream this nightmare forever!’ the game says when you fail. No, Eternal Nightmare, I don’t. In fact, this nightmare ends the second you’re deleted from my hard drive. I’ll sleep like a baby.