The Halloween Grab Bag!
Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!
by: Dr. Boogie

What's your personal nightmare? Trapped in a pit filled with scorpions? Taking your final exams in your underwear? Forgetting to clear your browser history the one time you let your mom use your computer?

How about being forced to uncover a satanic conspiracy in a small English town? That sounds pretty nightmarish, eh?

At least I think that's the story here. Released on the Amiga in 1989, Personal Nightmare doesn't give you a whole lot to go on as far as backstory. Thank goodness they were able to condense the key points into the opening cinematic:

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!
[Click here to listen to Satan's amaaaaazing laughter!]

Like some sort of diabolical Shazam, your pastor father is struck by lightning and transforms into the devil. Naturally, it falls on you to get things sorted out. Thank goodness your father paid for a nice 3-night stay at the local in for you prior to transforming into the personification of evil.

That's all you get if you play Personal Nightmare without consulting the documentation. Like I did. As a result, I wandered around town poking at things until I was told that the devil had taken over. After some time spent scouring the internet for information on who I was and what I was supposed to be doing, I learned that I was some British chap who received a worrisome letter from his mom (I mean, mum) asking him to come home because his vicar father had begun acting strangely and obsessing over the story of a vicar from ages past who was killed in order to banish the devil. Again, though, not all that helpful, but thankfully, elsewhere in the manual you are instructed that to beat the game you must expose some devil-friendly folks and present evidence of your findings to a cop who spends every day milling around the street.

That's aside #1, where I complain about how the game gives you no real direction, apart from "go look for a walkthrough online". Aside #2 is about the logo for the game's developer, Horror Soft, which comes up right after that great intro:

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game! Featuring Elvira?

Is Elvira in this game? Was she a producer? Was she involved in Personal Nightmare at all? The answer to all of these questions is, "no". Horror Soft did make two Elvira-centered adventure games right after Personal Nightmare, but her pixilated cleavage has no further involvement in this title. So stop staring at said cleavage and let's talk about the rest of the game:

Right off the bat, you'll notice that your second greatest enemy, after the Prince of Darkness, is the navigation system. You move from one scene to another by traveling in one of eight compass directions, depending on what exits are available. That part is pretty straightforward. The problem is that you never know which direction you're facing. Your view is constantly shifting as you move from one place to another, while the compass directions stay fixed. In practice, they really don't need to be compass directions, as simple forward, backward, left, right, etc. would be way simpler.

And here's the thing about adventure games from back in the day: they could be a little obtuse, particularly the text-based games. Personal Nightmare had this problem in part because it had just a smattering of text-based interaction to throw you off when all you want to do is nab some Satanists and not get killed by monsters. Worse still was the inventory system:

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!

You could carry ten items in addition to the clothes on your back, and you need way more than that to finish the game. You could free up some space by putting items in your suit (not sure where you're holding them prior to doing that), but then you have to move them back out into your main inventory to use them. And boy are there useless items in this game. You can pick up most things, and many of them are junk, to say nothing of items that you'll use once and then never have a use for again. At that point, your only recourse is to drop them on the ground and hope it's not something you needed a second time later on.

At least there were some amusing death scenes:

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!

When you see a dog in an adventure game, it's either a loyal companion or a bloodthirsty killer. No compromises. In breaking from its earlier tradition of forcing you to fish around your pockets for the right item, the game gives you the item you need to kill the dog, a stake you yank out of a broken fence, in the preceding scene. So really, you have no one to blame but yourself for not using it to impale the hellhound.

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!

I just love the look on the vampire's face in this one. He's lived for hundreds of years and feasted upon the supple necks of thousands of dolts like you, and now he's just bored with the whole thing. Name me one other game where a vampire rolls his eyes at you. You have to imagine he was going to an intimidating hiss as he bared his fangs, but it would up coming out as a weary sigh.

Of course you, being the intrepid adventurer that you are, know that in order to escape the vampire's clutches, you must retreat to the door of his crypt. Then, while he shies away from the sunlight and shakes his fist at you, you take the large mirror you grabbed from your hotel room (because of course you did) and reflect sunlight onto him.

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!

What part of that doesn't make any sense?

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!

And when you try to get some sleep after a long day of getting cultists arrested, who should attack you but a bunch of toy soldiers. Truly, Satan's power is unmatched. Naturally, you thought to grab the bugle off the wall of the bar downstairs before you went to bed because how else are you supposed to announce when you've finally gotten out of bed in the morning? It's just a coincidence that it also scares off those malicious toys.

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!

In what I might generously refer to as a boss battle, one of the people you're investigating decides that you ought to be run down in the street like that one relatively unimportant character in the beginning of the game. You just dodge, and dodge, and dodge, and dodge, and right when it seems like you're supposed to be doing something other than dodging, you dodge some more. Eventually, the car crashes on its own and you resume your quest. Whoopy!

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!

In the grand finale, you learn that your father is leading the satanic cult, and the only way to stop him from giving Satan a day pass is to whack him with this axe you painstakingly put together through an absolutely ludicrous series of events. Otherwise, you watch them burn the sacrifice and then they toss you on the fire after realizing you're not a part of their club.

When you do kill your father with that special axe, he turns into the devil, and you pour some water on the devil to kill him. Seems pretty anti-climactic, particularly when you consider all the work that went into killing your dad. Kinda seems like you could've brought two bottles of holy water and not even bothered smashing open a grave, stealing an old axe head, unscrewing the head off a maul and putting the axe head on the handle, finding an old oilstone, breaking into an auto garage, draining the oil out of a car, and using it to sharpen said magic axe head. Not to minimize the importance of ancient artifacts. Just sayin'.

And thus, you resolve your personal nightmare. The one where your religious father is struck by lightning, turns into the devil, and gets you a hotel room so you can gradually snitch on his neighbors to some beat cop. I can't help but wonder where the father/evil incarnate was during the events of the game, given that you wind up going everywhere and putting down all the other servants of Satan, including a vampire. Seems like he could have at least gone to your hotel room and calmly reassured you that he was not, in fact, possessed by the devil. Maybe then he wouldn't have had to use the sum total of his demonic powers to bring some toys to life to kill you. Ah, the devil.

Personal Nightmare - The 1989 Horror Game!

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