20 Years of Darkness – Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

It was late August in 2002 and I was doing some shopping at the mall. I’d picked up a new pair of soccer shoes as school would be starting in only a few weeks and decided to take a look at the Sam Goody store shortly before we were set to leave. I flipped through the cd and movie aisles before I browsing the video games situated in the back wall of the store – PS2, GameCube, Game Boy Advance(what a time to be alive!). It was there I found a new GameCube game that I’d been wanting to play since first reading about it in Nintendo Power and EGM(back when it was planned as an N64 release). After looking around for a few more minutes I finally brought the game and whatever other cd’s I’d picked out to the sales counter at the front of the store. I remember the cashier ringing up my latest splurge and can still hear his voice as he said “Ohhh…this is supposed to be really scary!”. The game was Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and it’s one of my most memorable gaming experiences after twenty years…

(Cool story, bro…)

Eternal Darkness was developed by Silicon Knights and published by Nintendo. Game Director/Writer Denis Dyack set out to create a horror game, but would eschew the survival horror of games like Resident Evil and opt for a psychological horror experience that would “mess with people’s heads”. The game would take much of its inspiration from the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft involving ancient unspeakable god-like entities which exist beyond mortal perception as well as the sense of foreboding and macabre found in the writing of Edgar Allen Poe(both authors are referenced within the game itself). It was originally conceived as a release on the Nintendo 64 with a targeted release of October 31, 1999, but Silicon Knights made the decision to rebuild the game and was a projected launch title for the GameCube’s release date of November 18, 2001. This was also not to be as it was once again delayed and planned for a summer 2002 release date.

Time to relax with some light reading…

The story begins with protagonist Alexandra Roivas, awakened from a nightmare by a telephone call informing her there has been an incident at her family’s estate in Rhode Island. Upon arriving she receives the grisly details surrounding the murder of her grandfather, Edward Roivas. After becoming frustrated by the lack of progress in the police investigation, she decides to look around the mansion for clues. She soon discovers her grandfather’s hidden study and within it, a book crafted from human skin and bone – the Tome of Eternal Darkness. Alex begins to read the ancient text, which tells the story of multiple mortals whose fates become intertwined with that of the Ancients – Mantorok, Chattur’gha, Xel’lotath and Ulyaoth. Each chapter of the tome contains a different story as it follows an unknowing human’s brush with the Ancients and other horrors across two millennia, told outside of chronological order. The stories all take place in one of several locations – Ancient Persia, Cambodia, France, and Rhode Island. The first tale takes place in Ancient Persia as Pious Augustus, Roman Legionnaire is drawn by mysterious voices to the Forbidden City, which lies under the desert sands. Making his way through the labyrinthian underground he stumbles upon three artifacts, each containing the essence of one of the Ancients – Chattur’gha, Xel’lotath, or Ulyaoth. The player is then given the choice of which artifact to take. As soon as Pious touches an artifact, coming into contact with one of the god-like entities and beomces immediately corrupted by their power, thus aligning himself with the supernatural being. Each of the Ancients corresponds to a different attribute: Chattur’gha(red) – life/vitality, Xel’lotath(green) – mentality, Ulyaoth(blue) – magick. Pious’ choice of artifact will affect the elemental strengths and weakness of enemies throughout the game and will also dictate which ending the player receives upon completing the game.  

At first glance, Eternal Darkness’ core gameplay may not appear all that different from horror games like Silent Hill or Alone in the Dark. The player must guide the chapter’s character through the area, solving puzzles as well as defeating the armies of darkness that dwell within. Puzzles generally consist of combining objects and placing them in the corresponding location, fairly similar to those found in Resident Evil game. Combat is primarily using melee weapons, though several characters will also have firearms at their disposal, such as Maximilian Roivas, who is equipped with flintlock pistols as he investigates the Rhode Island estate amid the 18th Century. Over the course of the game players would also learn how to cast a number of spells which, depending on the incantation, could do anything from enchant items and weapons to restore health – example: a sword may require a specific enchantment before it can be inserted into a lock opening a door sealed by magick. Each spell is comprised of a specific set of runes, which can eventually be strengthened by finding additional rune pieces across subsequent chapters.  

One gameplay mechanic in which Eternal Darkness differed from other third-person horror games was the ability to highlight at attack specific parts of an enemy’s body – head, torso, or arms. Decapitating an enemy would cause it to lose track of your location and resort to flailing its arms wildly and attacking its arms would prevent (most)enemies from being able to attack as you make your way through the area.  

The other element in which Eternal Darkness differentiated itself from other horror games of the era is one of its most memorable – the sanity meter. On the left side of the screen is a green status bar, which indicates the current character’s mental state. Coming across any of the horrific creatures throughout the game will cause the character’s sanity meter to decrease – a central theme of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories in which its characters would be driven to madness by mere interaction with the eldritch gods; taking damage from, as well as any extended exposure to such creatures will cause the player’s sanity meter to decrease further. Once an enemy has taken enough damage it will collapse to the ground, with the player then being able to perform an execution move, which restores a small amount of one’s sanity. Once the sanity meter is depleted, the player’s health will then begin to drain slowly before resulting in a game over screen.

“The body cannot live without the mind”.  

Morpheus(The Matrix)

Another in-game effect of one’s metal state deteriorating is a multitude of different “sanity effects” that can happen when the meter has begun to drop(with a few occurrences being scripted). These can range from smaller annoyances such as the controls being suddenly inverted or the game screen beginning to flicker, to bigger fourth wall-breaking effects such as getting a blue error screen informing you the game has crashed or the character will be surrounded by enemies while a message would appear instructing you to reconnect your controller as the player is suddenly attacked.  Of all the sanity effects, the most (in)famous may be the ‘Delete All Saved Games?’ screen which could occur after saving your progress, with the game “erasing” the save file regardless of selecting yes or no as the player likely screams in horror thinking they’ve just lost hours of progress – precisely what I did the first time it happened to me. These moments may have only lasted a few brief seconds, but the memory remains in current games whenever I see the save icon freeze for just that split second…     

…you will come to learn fear as I have.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was released on June 24, 2002 and received critical acclaim for the way it weaved gameplay, story and atmosphere together into something truly terrifying. The game also has the distinction of being the first game directly published by Nintendo to be given an “M” rating, which sat in slight contrast to their traditionally family-friendly image. It was also the first game released under the late Satoru Iwata as President/CEO of Nintendo. Despite the near-universal praise for the game, it never managed to reach a half million copies sold – not even enough to crack the top 50 GameCube games in terms of sales. Some of this can surely be attributed to the GameCube’s generally poor sales numbers compared to the much more successful PlayStation 2 and Xbox – note: the PS5 has already sold 20 million units in less than two years versus the GameCube’s 21.7 million over 6 years.

I thought the game looked cool when I first read about it in Nintendo Power magazines when it was still scheduled as an N64 game. By the time I finally got my hands on a copy of Eternal Darkness that day in the mall, I was beyond excited to check it out. I still remember the hours spent sitting in my room playing the game, completely captivated by what I was seeing in front of me. I had never played anything like it. I played the game so much that, at one point I’d even memorized the Ancient runes and several of the spells(Chattur’gha, Narokath, Santak!) and would attempt to…I guess…impress(?) classmates and coworkers. To this day, I still consider Eternal Darkness one of my favorite GameCube games(of which there’s many) and absolutely encourage anyone with the chance to play the game to give it a try. It even inspired me to pick up a book or two and read the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe…not sure how many other games I can say that about!

Since its release in 2002, Eternal Darkness has gone on to achieve cult status among gamers who were undoubtedly as impressed and freaked out by it as I was. Silicon Knights was rumored to have been working on a successor to the game back in 2011, fueled by the fact Nintendo had once again trademarked the IP. This was not to be, however, as Silicon Knights closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy. Nintendo continued to renew the trademark in the following years but nothing ever materialized and as of 2020 the trademark was considered all but lost. Denis Dyack has also initiated a number of Kickstarter campaigns with the goal of developing a sequel to Eternal Darkness, most recently under the title Shadow of the Eternals, but each of those has failed to meet the required funding.

Despite its cult status among fans, Eternal Darkness(as a singular title or potential series) may very well remain stranded on the island of GameCube exclusivity before being lost entirely to the sands of time. In recent years Nintendo has actually acknowledged the game when it added Alexandra as a Spirit Board character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. So what does this mean for Eternal Darkness and its frightening legacy? I hold out but a shred of hope to see the day when the game rises from the dark depths, though I fear that flame may eventually be extinguished as well… 

“In this abandoned studio, a cult classic waits dreaming.” 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

As someone born in the 80’s, I’ll always have a place in my cold heart for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – my very first obsession as a kid. I sat in the living room in my Donatello pajamas(my favorite turtle), endlessly watching VHS tapes of both the cartoons and movies. There’s also the…sizable collection of TMNT toys that were my prized possessions(along with my Batman toys). Of course, there was no shortage of video games back then either; the TMNT game on the NES is among the first games I remember playing as a kid and like so many others at the time, I could never make it past the infamous dam/bomb defusal level which required pixel-perfect precision to avoid taking damage from the electrified seaweed. My absolute favorite turtles game growing up was TMNT IV: Turtles In Time, which I was all-too-excited to play whenever I found it at an arcade or play the superior SNES version(IMO) at our neighbor’s house. The game remains on my short list of favorite SNES games, right up there with Donkey Kong Country and Super Metroid.

Given my childhood turtlemania, it shouldn’t be the least bit surprising I was pretty stoked to find out a brand new, retro-inspired beat ’em up – Shredder’s Revenge, was to be released. I was also excited to hear Dotemu was publishing the game as Streets of Rage 4 was one of my favorite games of 2020. After patiently waiting for a release date to be announced, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was released on June 16, 2022. I immediately downloaded the game this past Thursday and finally had the chance to play…which I did all weekend long. It was pretty wholesome seeing so many others on social media excited about the game as they posted pictures of their living room as they celebrated with video games and pizza(totally, dude!).

So…what do I think of the game? Was it worth the wait?

The controls immediately feel familiar and are nice and responsive. I was able to pull off multi-hit combos on waves of Foot Clan soldiers with relative ease. A new addition is the Ninja Meter, which allows you to perform a different special move when filled. There’s also a power level for each character; this acts as a rudimentary xp/progression system which increases attack power while unlocking additional special attacks and uses of the Ninja Meter.  

Shredder’s Revenge is a perfect game for multiplayer; featuring both online and couch co-op for up to six players. Each character in the game has different strengths in regards to speed, strength and reach. For example, Donatello has excellent reach(naturally) and respectable strength, but is much more limited in speed than Michelangelo who has greater speed and moderate strength, but limited reach with his nunchuks. Along with the fab four, Splinter, April O’Neil and Casey Jones are all playable characters posessing unique strengths and weaknesses. Playing through Shredder’s Revenge alongside five others on screen sounds both chaotic AND awesome…  

The sixteen levels are just you’d expect from a spiritual successor to Turtles In Time, or beat ‘em up in general – make your way across an area pulverizing groups of enemies while avoiding the occasional obstacle such as open manhole or electrified floor. There’s also several episodes which take place on skate/surfboards as a (relatively minor)change of pace – think ‘Sewer Surfin’ or ‘Neon Night Riders’. Every single boss battle concluding an episode is fun. I can’t say they’re the most difficult I’ve come across in a beat ‘em up game, but still give enough of a challenge to keep properly engaged throughout. The Krang-operated “Statue of Tyranny” may have been my favorite fight, along with taking on both Bebop and Rocksteady. Of course, there’s a battle with Super Shredder thrown in at the end, just like Turtles In Time.  

The pixelated graphics look as if taken straight from a Super Nintendo game in the 90’s…but even better; the animations are fluid and look amazing. In the dozen or so hours of playing, I’ve only come across one or two minor instances of slowdown when multiple enemies are onscreen.  

Shredder’s Revenge conjures a potent rush of nostalgia not only in regards to visuals or gameplay, but also on an audio level. That familiar crunch of 90’s beat ’em ups is still heard/felt as you pile up hit combos on waves of Foot soldiers. The game also features a fantastic soundtrack in which a number tunes from Turtles In Time are referenced throughout. The soundtrack is also freakin’ awesome and sounds as if it could have been recorded during the era of ripped acid wash jeans and hacky sack – I mean that in the very best of ways. Providing additional 90’s soundtrack vibes is Faith No More frontman Mike Patton covering the vocals for the classic TMNT intro song; there’s even a track by Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Ghostface Killah – ‘We Ain’t Came To Lose’ which is much less…Vanilla Ice than ‘Ninja Rap’. To top the game off with a nostalgic bow, the original TMNT voice actors – Cam Clarke, Rob Paulsen, Barry Gordon and Townsend Coleman have returned to reprise their respective roles as Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo.  

The dev team at Tribute Games went on the record in stating their passion for everything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and wanting it to come across in Shredder’s Revenge – spoiler alert: it absolutely does. The game is celebration of everything kids like me loved about the cartoons and games in the late 80’s and onward. It retains the key elements that made games like Turtles In Time so memorable, all while adding a few modern flourishes to the mix. In short, I think the game is simply awesome and is cannot recommend it enough to turtle fans young and old.

Cowabunga!