B1 Intermediate 5 Folder Collection
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[♪ Music Intro and Keyboard Typing noises ♪]
Time to take a look back at the first game from a rather forgotten developer:
Horror Soft's Personal Nightmare!
Or is it "...A Personal Nightmare?"
Oh wait, the back of the box says Personal Nightmare, never mind.
No, the side of the box says "A Personal Nightmare!"
But the disks says Elvira's Horror Soft: A Personal Nightmare!
And the manual just says Personal Nightmare again!
Not to mention the fact that the prominent feature of the box cover is not the title,
but Elvira here, which is not in the game, save for a menu or two.
So what's going on?!
Well, Personal Nightmare is a game from 1989, developed
by Horror Soft and distributed by various companies, with
Box Office Incorporated being the ones behind this confusingly packaged US release!
And Horror Soft was more or less a temporary rebranding of Adventure Soft,
who previously distributed Scott Adams text adventures in the UK.
But with the rise of powerhouse computers like Commodore's Amiga in the late '80s,
text-based games were dying off fast and Adventure Soft blazed a new graphically-focused trail as Horror Soft.
To market their games, they picked none other than Cassandra Peterson's character
of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, to lead the charge.
"Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!"
"If they ever ask about me, tell them I was more than just a great set of-"
Aaaaat least, she was the mascot here in the USA, where she was a bit more popular
because in the UK original release, you get a positively petrified purple person on the box instead.
Oh, there she is!
"Leetle" handheld Elvira!
Personal Nightmare begins without fanfare, displaying this serene scene inside of a quiet little church.
But this doesn't last long.
[♪ Fire Burning SFX ♪]
[♪ Menacing Laughter SFX ♪]
Ladies and gentlemen, give a warm welcome to the Devil.
[♪ Menacing Laughter SFX ♪]
Grrr! It's gonna be awesome! After one of the most metal openings in gaming, you're greeted with
silence, followed by the credits.
Just uh, little underwhelming after an intro as *radical* as that one, but it is the IBM PC-compatible version after all.
It was not uncommon for the PC to get shafted and receive a weak conversion from the Amiga back then,
an unfortunate thing since a huge original selling point
was that this was an audio-visual feast,
containing multiple megabytes of graphics data and 600K dedicated to sound effects alone.
[♪ Barking SFX ♪]
[♪ Growl SFX ♪]
[♪ Chomp SFX ♪]
Ah well, we're sticking to the PC, since Big Blue runs through my blood.
As you begin, you'll note that this is a first person graphical adventure played
through both point and click and text commands.
Without explanation, you find yourself in a pub called the Dog and Duck,
nestled in the fictional English town of Tynham Cross.
In-game narrative is in short supply, but
reading the instructions lets you know that this is your childhood town.
You've been summoned back home by your mother, because your father, the local vicor,
seems to be listening to a concerning amount of Slayer lately.
So, you're given a room at he Dog and Duck,
and from here, you're free to explore the town of suspiciously increasing metalheads.
Navigation happens by clicking onscreen locations using the compass or typing in cardinal directions.
A series of *crimes* slowly unfurl,
and for some reason, it's up to you to collect evidence and hand it over to the cops.
In typical adventure game fashion, the world is laid bare for your perusal,
with plenty of enticing obstacles and puzzles in your path.
Also typically adventurey gamey is the fact that absolutely everything is out to get you,
including the kitchen sink.
Or at least, the blue demon that lives inside it.
I gotta say, even with 16 color EGA, I really adore this adore this artwork, especially on classic PC hardware.
The limited color palette and chunky resolution provide a breed of moody weirdness
that only lasted a handful of years before 256 color VGA became the norm,
and it's something to cherish.
I really dig how even mundane scenes like a hotel bathroom or a cottage hallway
take on this lo-fi creepy aesthetic that makes me yearn to see what's next.
Yes! Bring on that eerie ambiance.
Unfortunately, underneath all that is a game that's aged about as well as a potato salad sandwich in a heated sauna.
Now, I'm sure Horror Soft's custom AGOS engine was something to be proud of in '89.
I don't wanna say all the praise it got was unmerited back in the day.
But sometimes, it really is better to leave a game like this in the past.
Because first off, the inventory is straight up garbage.
There are tons of items to pick up,
most of which are a steadfast requirement to progress, so your first inclination is to grab everything you find.
But within a few minutes, you'll realize they decided to forgo
the usual bottomless pants routine, and gave you an unusually small inventory.
This is alleviated somewhat by placing smaller items inside your jacket,
but you'll have to remove them from your jacket and place them back in your main inventory to actually use them.
Hopefully you like shuffling items between your jacket, the inventory, and the ground just to open a single door!
It also makes heavy use of item combinations, but you have to type in a specific command in order to do this.
You can't just click and drag like you can other things in the game.
These are often ridiculously obscure, but more often they're simply tedious.
At one point, you'll have to mail a letter,
which means waiting for the post office to open, examining a display, swiping an envelope, stealing a pen,
trading a book for a coin, using the coin to buy a stamp, filling the envelope with specific items,
sealing the envelope, writing addresses on it, stamping it, then putting it in the post and waiting 24 hours for a response.
Mmm, it does ask if you're "ready to be terrified beyond your wildest dreams,"
but this assumes your terror comes from the Royal Mail.
The next of Personal Nightmare's personal nightmares is the downright ball-busting gameplay.
It's a notorious fact that old-school adventures skewed logic and increase complexity to pad out length,
but HERE?
Sierra On-Line adventures may get a lot of crap for having so many unwinnable situations,
but Personal Nightmare makes those games feel as forgiving and laid-back as Mr. Rogers on Xanax.
Much of this stems from the fact that there's a time mechanic,
where the world continues to move forward regardless of your actions.
Sometimes, this is fun, like being able to wait around 'till people go to sleep to sneak into a building and steal something.
Other times it results in a crucial event passing by you didn't know was important,
or even worse, the next scheduled story event won't happen for another 12 hours,
so you have to click "Wait" a hundred times in a row.
The effectiveness of time is furthered hampered in the IBM PC version
because there are no changes in graphics between night and day.
Instead, you get Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Dick.
And finally, there are the sections that attempt to be more action-packed than it's equipped to pull off.
Yeah, getting chased by a car sounds heart-pounding.
But, just click "North" and "East" like 30 times in a row until it decides to let you live.
Then, there's the ending and BLERUGH.
Spoiler alert that no one cares about.
At the end, you find out what we've known all along:
The Devil is taking over the people of the town and making them do freaky crap.
Things like forming an underground cult and sacrificing people because of course,
where the lead acolyte is none other than your father.
You're supposed to take out your father, and I'm not joking,
pour some water on the Devil.
It's holy water, but still. It's kind of anticlimatic.
Anyway, the big red guy is supposed to melt, but in the DOS version...
Well, apparently not!
*You* get burned alive!
On the Amiga, it works just fine, but every version of the DOS game I've tried,
it fails, resulting in a game that is 99.9% completable, but leaves you with adventure gaming blue balls.
So, in lieu of being able to show the actual ending, here's a dramatic reenactment:
*Water Splashing*
What I'm trying to say is that Personal Nightmare makes it its personal mission to make it a nightmare to play!
But that's not to say that the game is without charm.
I'll admit to being sucked in during the opening act of the story
when someone from your hotel gets hit by a car, resulting in a shocking mystery to solve.
Then accidentally waking a hungry vampire and rushing to type the exact commands to melt his face is great!
And then there are moments like discovering a suspiciously plastered wall,
repeatedly typing in the command to smash it open, only to reveal a rotting corpse.
A corpse you'll have to use garden shears to slice the fingers off of in order to retrieve a tightly-clenched book!
Moments like this are what makes Personal Nightmare a memorable little horror title,
and one that seems awesome when you describe it in terms of passing anecdotes.
In between those snippets of enjoyment though are long hauls of awkward inventory juggling,
unruly time manipulation and puzzles that are always one misstep away from being irreversably screwed.
If you still want to experience it yourself, the DOS version is available for sale on GOG.com,
and I'll provide an LGR affiliate link in the video description.
But yeah, I tried beating it on that version too, and the Devil still lives. Oh well.
Personal Nightmare!
What an unintentionally appropriate title!
And if you enjoyed this episode of LGR, then perhaps you'd like to check out some of my others.
There are some others, there are hundreds to watch, and there are new ones coming every Monday and Friday, here on LGR!
And as always, thank you very much for watching!
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LGR - Elvira's Horrorsoft Presents: Personal Nightmare

5 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on March 7, 2020
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