Life is going great for the Halloweentown King, Jack Skellington. His girl Sally is one foxy doll, his arch nemesis Oogie recently fell into a giant blender, and through a fair bit of trial and error old Jack even discovered that the home and loved ones he had been taking for granted were far more important than the changes he had always been longing for. Good times!
Yep, things sure are running smoothly. At least, they were.
All the sweetness turned sour when local Halloweentown miscreants Lock, Shock and Barrel stitched Oogie up after Jack skipped town to test his new Soul Robber (which isn't quite so horrific as the name implies). When Skellington returned home following the trial run, he found the place a booby-trapped mess and his girl even went and got herself doll-napped. Nuts to that! Me thinks it's time to whip punks down with a giant-sticky-green-hand-soul-robbing-thingamajig-of-death.
We initially saw Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge about two years ago during the 2003 Tokyo Game Show. But not only did it first debut in Japan, The Nightmare Before Christmas even released there first in October of 2004. This is because Tim Burton and Henry Selick's fiction and film are still hugely popular in that country, but that popularity doesn't carry over to North America. Here, The Nightmare Before Christmas remains little more than an oft forgotten twelve-year-old example of stop motion filmmaking.
So why then did Buena Vista bother to port Capcom's Nightmare? Well, Tim Burton and Mike Johnson are carrying on the stop motion tradition with Corpse Bride, which can be seen as a spiritual successor to Jack Skellington's old adventure. That one's out now, and thus may even make this decade late videogame somewhat timely. Funny thing that. It's just too bad the gameplay also feels a decade late.
There are some serious issues with Nightmare's many parts. To its credit, Oogie's Revenge features a respectable amount of voice work and a good collection of music, but while those qualities and a basic retention of the film's original art style are clear positives, little can be said about the actual gameplay. Of primary concern is how too much of the experience is poorly paced and inappropriately focused on backtracking, which creates a very unnerving sense of repetition that will ultimately leave players unsatisfied with the entire production.
Had Nightmare Before Christmas not used and reused so many of its set pieces, characters, dialog, music and combat scenarios to no good end, the game might have consistently felt new, if a bit cropped. But then it's still not structured in such a way so that it's immediately clear what the next simplistic find & retrieve objective is, or at least where the next objective might be. This lack of direction works to amplify the amount of reused content by forcing players back through it all repeatedly. Had the basics behind the action, puzzle solving and limited platforming been developed enough, this might not have been such a serious problem. That's just not the case. Nightmare even manages to feature an uncanny amount of ancient videogame traps like poor cameras, misleading level design, locked doors that spontaneously unlock, objects that suddenly become useable, and new events that will happen in old places that have been visited dozens of times just because some random trigger was pulled.
Actual combat is all about using the green Soul Robber to whip, stick, swing, and pound enemies. It works like a magical lasso-spear. The basic attacks are either primitive single button combinations or simple charged swings (though a couple more advanced moves, like the furious spin, are also provided).
The lassoing at least lets Jack snatch and toss enemies about the gameworld, slam them into the ground, and even spin them around his head. That portion of fighting is fun, but still plagued by range, targeting and fluidity issues. So instead of gracefully grabbing and throwing enemies and objects with ease, it feels more like a clumsy 'stop, charge and go' sort of off-and-on action that never conveys any real sense of accomplishment or challenge. It's too simple to be interesting and too clunky to be smooth, anyway.
Eventually Jack is blessed with extra powers that let him transform into different roles. Santa Jack can drop freeze, stun or shield presents (the equivalent of bombs) and Pumpkin King Jack has the ability to breathe fire. Both forms are more like tools designed to solve certain puzzles and bypass bosses than they are direct extensions of the combat engine. So again, nothing is presented to alleviate the sense of redundancy attached to the continually looping gameplay. Even when the new holiday-themed environments are added to the mix, the game still feels like it has played itself out a few chapters back.
It's really unfortunate that Nightmare Before Christmas is so poorly paced because a few of the boss encounters that highlight the grappling mechanic and force it to be used alongside the different variations of Jack can be pretty exciting. Rhythm-based mini-games have even been included to tie the title to its musical roots, as if the constant singing didn't. But then 25 levels that range between 10 and 60 minutes in length depending on how good you are at identifying objectives is just too much considering how loosely packed the gameplay is.
Players keen on rocking through the entire experience will eventually uncover a healthy amount of cutscenes, music tracks, figurines, and pieces of artwork. I still find it difficult to justify the expenditure of time required to unlock those superfluous extras given how unexciting the gameplay is.
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