So, you've stocked up on magic mushrooms, stuck The Beatles' Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds on your record player and waited (an age) for the psychedelic wastelands of Nightworld to load up... Good. For if you've done that, you might actually appreciate it. Anybody else is just going to be left absoutely bewildered. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Electron's most enigmatic game...
You take control, initially at least, of a suited-and-booted businessman. By day he's Lee Lance, by night he's, well, a gargoyle. Why? Well, no-one's really sure. But being a gargoyle's not all bad. It's sort of just like being Lee Lance the businessman anyway. All that's different is that you just have wings, horns, a tail and fantastic jumping ability.
At the top of the Nightworld screen sits perhaps the most splendid energy bar ever - a towering ziggeraut with a peculiar eye that floats from right to left. At the bottom the sun moves slowly from one side of the screen to the other, changing your physical form each time it touches the opposite side. And between the two is the playing area, a sort of early free-roaming flick-screen graphic adventure in which you walk left, right and jump around the platforms.
Nightworld looks trippy to begin with and it's one of those games that seems to think it has the right to exist without giving its player any sort of real mission. The inlay tells you to "find the golden fleece". Really? And even if you are foolhardy enough to go off in search of this mythical fleece, most platform games do at least provide platforms that you can jump to and from. Nightworld is one of those games where the programmer seems not even to have done basic playtesting of his masterpiece. On some occasions I found Lee just got "stuck" half-in and half-out of a platform, and no amount of hammering on the game controls would allow him to escape.
Should you stumble into such traps on your first go I think it highly likely the tape would go in the bin immediately, but if you're, ahem, 'lucky' enough to get through the first few screens, you'll also notice the dazzling rainbow of colours that pervades the game. Every time you walk from one room to another, the colour palette changes. Don't get me wrong, it's actually a very interesting effect, but it all adds to this pervasive feeling that something's not quite 'right' with Nightworld.
For very many years I could never get any further than the third room of the game and I had more-or-less convinced myself that it was quite possibly purposefully crippled by a developer on the wrong side of a nervous breakdown. The problem was with the strange properties of the platforms. They don't allow Lee to pass through them, so if you attempt to jump up from one to another, you hit your head and come crashing back again. Instead you have to run up to them and hit them at an angle where Lee sort of half-buries one foot in them and perches bizarrely in space, then perform a second jump to sail over them. You can put off very strange climbing manoeuvres using this technique too, leaping into solid walls which "hold" Lee by the foot.
Scattered around the rooms are floating bugs and bat things which glide around. If you collide with one of them, or if you start to fall "too fall", the Electron starts making a sound like a scalded cat and the 'eye of the ziggeraut' starts jumping across the bridge. Now I wouldn't really mind losing energy in this manner if Nightworld did it in a reasonable way but every bad guy seems to start depleting Lee's energy before he even starts to touch him. And, in fact, it was in trying to avoid the bad guys that I inadvertently prevented myself for years from seeing more of the game. It transpired that, in room three, you needed to jump whilst one of them was draining your energy, land on his head and then jump again.
In some locations you'll find triangles. I have no idea what their purpose is, but when you touch them, the Game Complete percentage jumps 19% so they must be important.
I could go on, but you're probably wondering by now whether this combination of unfathomable nonsense adds up to a game worth playing. I have to say that I think it does... but only just. I like games that are not really bad but just plain odd. Hence, Nightworld constantly draws me back to it. I just keep wanting some almost divine revelation about the game to strike me, even if all I'd benefit from as a result would be the ability to explain it to a greater degree. One thing I haven't touched on is its speed. It really is a slow game and, when you need Lee to be in his gargoyle-form to make a certain jump possible, you literally have stand waiting for the sun to complete its passage to the other side of the screen before you can even try. When you miss, Lee can freefall for a long time too.
Wrapping up, it's a platform game that's slow, with an unclear quest. You randomly change character every few minutes; missing one jump can see your energy wiped out in an instant; colours randomly change as you move around; platforms are traversed in non-intuitive ways; and baddies must be both avoided and occasionally leapt into, again at random. It's enigmatic, it's weird, it's not particularly good and yet, simply because it's so different, it manages not to be terrible. I have no doubt some of you reading this might well be itching to have a go at it.
In not finding it all bad, however, I'm clearly in the minority. Home Computing Weekly found it "playable but rather pointless", Acorn User called it a "sure fire Christmas disappointment" and The Micro User concluded it was "so hard that it ceased to be enjoyable". Nevertheless, it seemed to sell in reasonably large numbers and made it onto two compilations, practically guaranteeing that a lot of us became aware of all its peculiarities at some point.
It cost £7.99 back in the day but the original release has been commanding quite respectable second-hand prices as of late. Expect to pay £5-£10 to add this one to your collection.