A first-person-shooter is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Kiss, but that's exactly what Third Law Interactive created way back in 2000 with Kiss: Psycho Circus - The Nightmare Child. When you realise it's based more on the graphic novel by Todd McFarlane's production company than any one Kiss song, it begins to make a little bit of sense. And only a little.
The story is something of a confused one. A band name Wicked Jester (no Kiss), have got a gig in a little venue called The Coventry. No-ones turned up so, on the wishes of a local old lady, they decide to go to the circus instead. And this is where hell literally breaks loose.
Gene Simmons and the gang are nowhere to be found in the game. Instead, we have a quartet of wannabe rockers who just so happen to be the saviours of the world. You see, it's been foretold that a Nightmare Child will be born and wreak all sorts of havoc. Four 'Elders' have been prophesied to be the saviours, each taking on the powers of one of four elements: Water, Earth, Air and Fire. It just so happens that the whole Kiss image has something to do with it.
The first 'Elder' the game asks you to play as (although you can
play each scenario in any order). Bears the imagery of Kiss
vocalist and guitarist Paul Stanley. The Starbearer rules over
the Water Realm and called upon Pablo Ramirez to be the new
avatar. Wields a sword called the Thornblade in a scenario
that requires you to get wet with underwater exploration.
|THE BEAST KING|
The Beast King reigns over the Earth Realm with deadly Beast
Claws as a weapon. Modelled after drummer Peter Criss' stage
persona that was originally known as The Catman. His
scenario takes you deep underground with a large number of
Things begin to get tough in the Air Realm where you'll have to
fend for yourself without a weapon for a longer period than the
other scenarios. The avatar takes on the makeup of original
lead guitarist Ace Frehley who was once known as The
Spaceman. You'll eventually find the magical gauntlets known
as the Twister to aid you through the high-rise levels.
Frontman and bass guitarist Gene Simmons is the inspiration
for The Demon who rules over the Fire Realm. The heavy but
powerful axe known as The Punisher is your first defense in
the toughest hellscape of a scenario yet.
Using the Lithtech engine, Psycho Circus is ultimately another run-of-the-mill first-person-shooter. Exploring maze-like levels, finding new weapons and shooting a shit-ton of bad guys is for the course with this sort of game. It does try to do a few things different, mostly in its art and atmosphere but let's talk about mechanics first.
Unlike most other shooters at the time - and even now - you'll find yourself mostly using the melee weapon instead of guns. It will be the first weapon you find and ultimately does the most damage if you can get close enough. It is especially useful for mowing down large hoards of enemies. It is one of the first 3D game to attempt such a large number of enemies too, and it's not uncommon to find yourself swamped with the spider-like 'headless'. With my sword at hand (or claws, axe or gauntlet depending on who you're playing as), I rarely felt overwhelmed and mowing through them is highly satisfying.
You'll later collect a number of fantasy-themed projectiles, but they mostly have a real-world counterpart - machine-gun, shotgun and rocket launcher. These are best reserved for flying enemies or those where close-combat fisticuffs just won't cut it. You'll also find a whip which allows for some sporadic Indiana Jones role-play that gives an extra dimension to the levels.
For the most part, each stage is rather well designed but not nearly as memorable as it should be. Progression is usually in the vein of 'find a key', 'pull a lever' or 'defeat a load of enemies' in order to open a door. Sometimes you can see that much-needed key but you don't yet have the ability to collect it. There's a few 'aha!' moments when you figure some of them out, but it's not in the same league as Zelda (apparently an inspiration according to the developers). It does get repetitive after a while particularly in the later levels as they feel as if the designers' creative juice was ebbing somewhat.
When the game opens up into a large arena, the large number of polygons charging at you is quite impressive for an 18-year-old game. This was a year before Serious Sam defined kamikaze hoards so it can easily boast of being the first in that regard. The one major problem is that most of the game takes place in narrow corridors, and when these are filled with fire-ball spitting demon dogs it's nigh on impossible to come out unscathed. It becomes a mad rush to reach and destroy the respawn portal before it gets too much to handle, which can happen very quickly on the harder difficulties. In such situations, you shouldn't be thinking 'die mutherfucker!' as you drain your ammo count, but 'where's that darn portal?'. Not only is it more polite, but the earlier you destroy it, the easier it will be.
The levels are quite big and can take over 30 minutes to complete and with three interconnected levels in each scenario, there's quite a bit of game here. They are often separated into separate sections but the actual end of the level is signified by an ornate mirror that will teleport you to the next. In another nice graphical touch that shows the full power of the Lithtech engine, you're fully animated reflection will stare back at you - another rarity for the time.
Beyond weapons and whips, each 'Elder' has a number of 'Armor Shards' to find that upgrades their strength and adds abilities. These mostly increase your offence and defence but when you find the boots, a whole other mechanic opens up - platforming. While you can hop about from the outset, the boots allow you jump a lot higher making previously unreachable areas available. There are quite a few of these sections to break up the action, and most are fairly painless. There were a couple of times when you're on the clock and you realise just how terrible old-school shooters were at twitch-heavy platforming but after a few tries, it's not incredibly difficult. I've seen worse in better games (Half-Life, I'm looking at you!).
If you go into Kiss: Psycho Circus with your guns blazing, you'll find the game very unforgiving, even on the easiest difficulty setting. You'll constantly run out of ammo and health as you rain bullets on the weakest of enemies. Go in with the idea that melee weapons are the way to go most of the time and you'll have saved enough bullets for when you really need them. Plus, the melee attacks are actually programmed very well here which isn't always the case.
Kiss have always been a theatrical band, so I guess it's fitting that Psycho Circus is filled with theatrics. Going from the first couple of issues, it's also very different to the comic book too, where the Kiss team appear to be part of the Psycho Circus troupe. I highly recommend you seek it out as it has some beautifully unique art to go along with the insane story.
The game, however, won't set the world on fire and it didn't in 2000. It could meet an average review aggregate were it not for the disastrously inferior Dreamcast port bringing the whole thing down quite a bit. In my eyes it's a lot better than most would give it credit for so if you're into shooters, rock-n-roll or disturbing spider-clowns give it a go.
To download the game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo in conjunction with DxWind to run on modern systems. nGlide 3D Wrapper (included) must be installed. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 395 Mb. Install Size: 596 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Kiss (the band) is © Kiss Catalogue Ltd.
Kiss: Psycho Circus (the comic) is © Todd McFarlane Productions
Kiss: Psycho Circus - The Nightmare Child (the game) is © Gathering of Developers
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me