Rise of Nightmares Review

The concept of a B-movie, a piece of entertainment so bad it's actually kind of good, has been difficult to replicate in video games. Past attempts such as Swery's Deadly Premonition have nailed the cheesy atmosphere and awkward dialogue, but stumbled when it came to the gameplay. That so-bad-it's-good quality has been so rare in games because awkward gameplay is a nail in the coffin, even in a dumb game. SEGA's Rise of NIghtmares may be the first true B-game, then, because in a remarkable display of synergy between gameplay and story, both elements manage to be both stunningly insipid and gut wrenchingly funny. And it's all thanks to the Kinect.

I say, I am quite perturbed that you had the gall to interrupt my slumber old chap
I say, I am quite perturbed that you had the gall to interrupt my slumber old chap

Where a normal game would have you navigating the labyrinthine torture chambers that are Rise of Nightmares'forte using an analog stick, this game forces you to use the Kinect to mime out movements. From a first person view, you'll turn the camera by moving your shoulders side to side, move forward and backward by placing your foot out in front or behind, respectively, and attack by swinging your arms. It's every bit as dysfunctional as it sounds. While the turning generally feels okay, it's never possible to get a good sense of whether or not the Kinect is picking up your feet properly, and you'll often end up walking backwards when your foot is very clearly placed forwards. In conjunction with the wonky turning controls, the simple act of walking becomes a desperate battle against the controls.

The first few times you end up stumbling off a cliff through no fault of your own, it's actually kind of funny, especially because the character you embody in Rise of Nightmares is purportedly a drunkard. But in moments that require great precision, it can be frustrating. Luckily it is also possible to activate an auto-move function by raising your hand. This will carry out all of the movement required by the level as long as your hand is raised, so while the navigation controls may be hilariously awful, they'll never truly get in your way. Unless you want them to. Seeing the Kinect struggle to translate your movements into the game can be quite funny, in a pathetic sort of way.

Fortunately, attacking works better than moving. You can lock on to an enemy by raising your arms, as if preparing to engage in a friendly bout of fisticuffs with your television. You'll automatically block as long as both fists are raised, so again, no need to worry about blocking with any great precision. Attacks are executed exactly how you think they should be. Slashing vertically with a machete will lop off arms, while swinging horizontally will slash their throat. Make a throwing motion with the knives and you'll toss them at enemies. You can even kick towards the Kinect, which will knock enemies back and stun them briefly. Even with the full body controls, it lacks the visceral feel of something like Condemned. The breezy pacing, gross-but-stupid enemy designs, and fast paced combat actually suggest something more along the lines of House of the Dead, but with melee weapons instead of guns.

Carving through enemies with powers tools by miming the motions is actually satisfying
Carving through enemies with powers tools by miming the motions is actually satisfying

The best parts of the game by far though are the quick time events. I know that as a hardcore gamer that sounds blasphemous, but thanks to the Kinect it's actually true. Often, the game will ask you to make specific motions to progress. Common commands range from "Open the door" to "Wash your face" to "Pick off the leeches." At this point, you're supposed to mime whatever action the game is asking of you. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if you're actually performing the right action, or even what motion the game expects you to perform, leading to a lot of random flailing. I don't know if the game is really forgiving or if the Kinect is just bad at picking up your movements, but I've gotten through many of the QTEs by simple flailing my arms around like a clown. But when you actually invest in the game world and perform the action requested of you, it feels pretty cool. It's the one thing about Rise of Nightmares that occasionally works even when not seen through the lens of bitter irony.

The same cannot be said of the story, which is by far one of the silliest things I've ever seen, and by far my favorite part of the game. Everything from the ludicrous script to the lousy voice acting screams B-movie cheese, and like the best of the sub-genre, it's difficult to tell if the producers were genuine in their intent or in on the joke. I won't spoil much of the plot for fear of ruining the "is this really happening?" feeling that new players will have, but let's just say that the French ballerinas and crazed doctor speaking to his imaginary wife featured in the Quick Look are just the beginning of this descent into lunacy.

If you couldn't tell so far, I'm pretty sweet on Rise of Nightmares. Its lovable mixture of dumb story, laughable gameplay, and genuinely interesting quick time events has won me over, and in my mind this was a purchase easily justified. But that's not to suggest for a moment that this is in any way, shape, or form a good game, and if you aren't the type to enjoy things ironically, you should stay far away from it. SEGA's wacky new horror game may be dreamy for us lovers of cheese and gore, but for everyone else it's a nightmare.

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