Subterranean Nightmare – Atomic testing creates instant-civilisation in the early ’90s

It sort of goes wikki-woo-wikki-woo-wikki-woo... whilst Prof Fusion walks back and forth between those pillars

It sort of goes "wikki-woo-wikki-woo-wikki-woo..." whilst Prof Fusion walks back and forth between those pillars

Now this is an interesting one: a game I know quite well having owned it back in the day. I got this game as part of a three-in-one-pack deal alongside Bounty Bob Strikes Back and Jonathan Smith’s Pud Pud (both of which are great, by the way). Subterranean Nightmare, published by Americana Software in 1986 and programmed by James Closs is set under the Nevada Desert in the then-future year of 1991. The fortuitiously-named Profession Fusion has been sent to the site of an underground atomic test in 1986 to investigate “unusual seismic disturbances”. When he gets there the ground collapses underneath him and he finds himself in a network of caves full of mutated beasties and must find his way out.

The first thing I should mention is the title screen and its “music”. This screen consists of the usual nice colourful display along with our bespectacled hero (who’s also a little portly, what is it with being a bit overweight and plaform game heroes?) walking back and forth ‘twix two huge yellow pillars. But the curious thing is the “tune” which plays which is a repetitive racket that sounds like some sort of siren made up of speeded-up snatches of someone scratching records (and if you’re reading this then you’re probably old enough to remember what scratching sounds like). Utterly bizarre. Anyway, never mind that, what about the game?

This huge snowman is typical of the background detail in some screens

I didn't see this screen back in the day, I was too crap to remove the wall that allows access to it. Tsk.

Well, Subterranean Nightmare is a shameless JSW clone and acquits itself well on first glance. Everything moves reasonably quickly and smoothly (although there is some flickering) and the rooms are well-designed and colourful with well-drawn nasties of numerous designs (and sizes). The “underground” theme is also consistent throughtout and the idea that the mutants have built an subterranean civilisation (bloody impressive in a mere six years, that) allows for some variation. Unusually for a game of this type, there’s also a lot of use of large scenery graphics such as gravestones, snowmen, giant candles and machinery. These add a lot to the rooms and the general feel of the game and are something JSW (or any of the clones we’ve looked at) didn’t have. That’s a big plus in Nightmare‘s favour.

The object-collecting aspect is also distinctive. Whilst in most games you simply collect the objects as you go along, exploring the rooms at will, in Nightmare some of the objects (radium crystals) affect certain rooms when collected. So, if Prof Fusion clears the crystals on a certain room it will remove a barrier in a later screen. This doesn’t make this game as open-ended from the start as most JSW clones are but there’s still a lot of freedom to explore with later areas essentially being “unlocked” as the player

These huge candles are typical of the background detail on some screens

These huge candles are typical of the background detail on some screens

progresses. This means there’s more incentive to collect all the crystals rather than just pass them by whilst exploring the game and since most of the fun is in trying to collect the crystals this means the game is more fun.

So, is there anything wrong with this game? Well, there’s the fact that Prof Fusion can “bounce” on many monster’s backs which isn’t really a bad thing as such but feels all wrong in a game like this – if you touch a monster you should die really. There’s also a few monsters that don’t kill you (such as the blue ball-thing in the mine shaft – play the game to see what I mean) which, again, doesn’t really feel right and can be a bit confusing. There also seem to be a few bugs, such as the “moving floor” in the mineshaft which doesn’t act as a conveyor (as I’d expected) and the way Prof Fusion can jump through some of the walls or into rooms that should be unaccessable such as bouncing across the monster on the first screen which leads to a room called “The Way Out” although I can’t seem to reach the exit.

However, these are pretty minor flaws and, overall, Subterrranean Nightmare is a worthy clone of Jet Set Willy and well-worth playing if you enjoyed that. I’ll leave the last comment to the (rather snotty) review that CRASH magazine gave this game back in its August 1986 issue (see the scan above-right). Yes, CRASH, yes it bloody well might.

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