Nightmare Circus

From Sega Retro


NightmareCircus title.png

Nightmare Circus
System(s): Sega Mega Drive
Publisher: Sega[1] (US) , Tec Toy (Brazil)
Sound driver: GEMS
Peripherals supported: Six Button Control Pad[4]
Genre: Action

Number of players: 1-2[5]
Release Date RRP Code
Sega Mega Drive
(Sega Channel)
Sega Mega Drive
R$79.9979.99 051070
Tectoy: 13+

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Nightmare Circus is a Sega Mega Drive action beat-'em-up game developed by Funcom[2][7][1] and published by Tec Toy.

Originally scheduled for a Autumn[8], later December 1995 North American release[9], issues during development and the dwindling lifespan of the Sega Genesis caused publisher Sega to back out, and while nearing completion had its production formally cancelled. While unfinished from a design standpoint, the game was stable enough on a technical level to be completable; eventually, it was picked up for the Brazilian market by Tec Toy and saw an official boxed release there in June 1996. Six months later, Nightmare Circus did eventually see a North American release, broadcast via Sega Channel[10][11] as one of the system's more notable downloadable exclusives.

Boasting a complete lack of any player direction or indication on how to proceed, a highly complex but largely unexplained control scheme, and a notable amount of unfinished content, Nightmare Circus has become known for its unfortunate modern reputation as one of the worst video games ever released. However, it also boasts a significant amount of well-considered features and a level of very visible passion that, while presented with striking inconsistency, notions its faults to instead the result of a development cycle cut short[12] - and the subsequent commercial release of a game that was almost-but not quite finished.


The maniac Jester resurrected the Circo del Diablo Amusement Park from the flames of hell. Now, terrifying demons roam the park spreading fear and destruction where there was once children and lots of fun.

Only Raven, a native indian with mystical and telepathic powers, can defeat Jester and his followers in this amusement park. Well, amusing is not the most appropriate word to describe this place...

  • Defeat your enemies with over 100 moves: punches, kicks, combos and lots of magic.

  • 4 different ways to play: join the adventure alone, or with a partner; control Jester and his evil legion or choose one of 18 fighters and enter a bloody tournament.

BR box[5]


When the Circo del Diablo first began setting up its tents on the edge of the city, people began to gather to purchase tickets for its opening night.

While the circus tents were raised, Leto Diablo, the circus owner, stopped from tent to tent, ordering the artists around and treating them like slaves. Every performer, clown, and trapeze artist feared and despised Diablo for his cruelty. Because he was losing money with every performance, Leto Diablo began to hate his circus.

But Diablo had a plan. He opened an insurance policy with a very high value for his circus, and at the start of the show on opening night, he would take advantage of the darkness and douse the tents with gasoline. It was in this way, with a simple strike of a match, he would transform the entire circus into a carnival of flames and screams of terror.

One of the fire's survivors saw Diablo light the match, and testified at his trial. Diablo was found guilty of the murders. When sentenced to the electric chair, he cursed the people of the city.

"You can't kill me!", he boasted. "The spirits of all your beloved ones are mine. I'll torture their souls for eternity!"

Shortly after Diablo's death, strange things began to happen. People began to see strange lights at the circus grounds. An old man swore he saw the circus tent raise from the hereafter and return to the same place where it had been burned. Others heard laughter blowing like the wind in the desert...

Currently, years after the tragedy, the story is considered only a legend. But the shaman warrior Raven lost his family in the fire and knows it really happened.

Raven rushes into the desert, where the Circo del Diablo once existed. Under the heat of the sun, only ashes serve as a reminder of the horrible massacre. But this night, as soon as it grew dark, the sky remained covered by black clouds. Suddenly, the Nightmare Circus arose, floating in space where there had been previously nothing. Raven must defeat this haunted prison of spirits to avenge the death of his family.

BR manual[13]


Once the game begins, the player is free to choose which of the four stages they will attempt first.

As a native shaman warrior, Raven boasts an extensive repertoire of both physical and psionic-based attacks. Using psionic abilities drains Raven's dedicated I-PSI meter, which can be refilled by grabbing the souls which escape defeated enemies. If Raven takes enough damage, the game will permanently end without the option to continue. Fortunately, Nightmare Circus autosaves player progress, including which stages have been cleared, which bosses have been defeated, and which special abilities have been acquired.

Raven's health (C-PSI) is represented by the interior of the crouching red silhouette in the center of the HUD, and his psionic power (I-PSI) by the blue, oval-shaped background. The sphere being held by the red figure lights up when Spirit Warrior mode is active. Acquired special abilities appear to the left of the center HUD, and extra I-PSI reserves appear to the right. The empty spaces on the far sides of the HUD are reserved for on-screen enemies, with each represented by a blue sphere which dims as that enemy loses health.

Free to explore the different stages of the carnival at will, the game presents nothing in the way of direction during gameplay and players are left to themselves to creatively interpret the game’s visual cues to proceed. While some stages are fairly straightforward, others can only be completed by more obtuse methods, with the game as a whole having very little player feedback to indicate progression.

Game modes

  • 1 Player: Raven fights through Nightmare Circus alone.
  • 2 Player Cooperative: Raven and his twin brother White Eagle[14] fight through Nightmare Circus together, and are able to perform exclusive combination attacks. This mode doubles enemy health and spawns an additional pair of minibosses. If either player dies, the game returns to single-player mode and the living player is allowed to continue.
  • 2 Player: The first player controls Raven, while the other controls on-screen enemies (with the ability to select from and spawn additional enemies.[14]) The first player tries to play the game as normal, while the second player tries to kill the other.  MODE +X,  MODE +Y, and  MODE +Z select between enemy types, while  MODE +Left and  MODE +Right select between different enemies in that type.
  • 1 on 1 Combat: A one-stage deathmatch between either two human players, or one player and an AI-controlled Jester. Once a stage is cleared in any other game mode, it becomes selectable for 1 on 1 Combat. Additionally, defeating a boss and acquiring its special ability unlocks that ability's use in 1 on 1 Combat, with fighters allowed to choose from a single I-PSI ability each match.[14]



Players begin outside many of the carnival's various attractions, and can enter the Amusements, Roller Coaster, and Rides stages in any order desired. The Amusements stage is accessed through the building labeled "Amusements", the Roller Coaster stage is accessed through the rollercoaster at the carnival's far-left, and the Rides stage is accessed through the ferris wheel at the carnival's far-right. The Circus stage is accessible through the big top tent at the rear of the carnival, and initially presents players with a locked door guarded by two Warrior Puppets. Only by clearing the previous three stages can the door be opened, beginning Nightmare Circus' final stage.




House of Fun
A funhouse-like maze with connecting rooms designed in a three-dimensional space. Raven can turn himself to a new cardinal direction by running to the edge of the screen, climb ladders to ascend to a new room, or enter trapdoors to descend a level. Different rooms feature distinct gimmicks, like one which swings back and forth while Raven is inside, and additional passageways can be revealed by attacking parts of the maze's walls.



Hall of Mirrors
A long hallway lined with mirrors where Raven encounters a large number of Looking Glass Men, duplicate images of Raven who step out of the mirror to fight him.



A psychedelic rotating cylinder which holds a series of rotating pillars that appear to be pushing the room around. Raven proceeds by destroying these pillars, and must fight through the oncoming waves of Looking Glass Men. Additionally, Raven must contend with Doppelganger, a powerful Looking Glass Man with the ability to spawn more of his kind.

Roller Coaster



Roller Coaster
A large roller coaster stage in which players can either run around the tracks on foot, or hop in one of the passing rollercoaster trains. Large levers placed along the tracks can be kicked to change the direction of incoming trains. Thankfully, the trains cannot damage players while rolling by. Riding a specific train will carry players to the Work Yard.



Work Yard
A maintenance area for the roller coaster trains. Raven spawns in front of a buffer stop which he can push forward to shield him from the flurry of sawblades thrown from an offscreen Wooden Man. After following the tracks to a decrepit workshed, Raven encounters the area's boss, Chainsaw.


NightmareCircus MD TheCircus ferriswheel.gif


Twin Wheels
A pair of ferris wheels placed beside each other, facing the camera and traveling in opposite directions. Their gondolas can be jumped on and ridden, and there's deadly fire at the bottom of each wheel, ensuring players cannot stand still for too long. While keeping Raven from getting too close to the bottom of the wheels, Raven also contends with ghostly Roadies which can knock Raven off the gondolas. After a certain amount of enemies have been killed, the fire at the bottom of the wheels extinguishes and Raven can safely drop to the bottom, ending the stage.

NightmareCircus MD TheCircus WallofDeath.gif


Wall of Death
A dilapidated spinning rotor ride constructed of chainlinks fence and rotting wood which pushes Raven to its walls when it spins. This stage is infested with skinless dogs known as Crawlers which can attack Raven while the ride is spinning. Hitting the switch on one of the ride's metallic clown doors stops the spinning and allows Raven to enter.



Dodgems Rink
A decrepit bumper car rink with a dark, sickly mood. The stage itself is fairly open and straightforward, pitting oncoming waves of Roadies against Raven in a test of endurance. Surviving this spawns the boss, a magician named Helter Skelter.




The Ticket Office
Raven starts off on the ground in front of a long metal ladder, which reveals the stage to be a massive wooden billboard featuring decrepit clown artwork, with multiple scaffolds across its face. The billboard is made of numerous player-sized wooden panels which can be destroyed by Raven. Destroying enough of these panels spawns the boss, Ying Yang Brother.



Maggot-Men Act
Raven begins the stage strapped to a circular wooden wheel in some dark wooden laboratory for a knife-tossing minigame, where the objective is to spin the wheel so that the knives avoid his body. After avoiding enough knives, Raven falls off the wheel and begins the stage proper. The stage itself is a massive wood-glass laboratory where the floors, walls, and ceilings are constructed entirely out of wooden blocks housing a maze of interconnected glass vials. In this maze are wriggling grubs crawling between different vials, and the vials aren't always connected consistently, resulting in grubs popping up in strange places. The background layer is a second vial maze connected to the first, and Raven must keep track of the grubs in the background too. There isn't any safe place to stand still, and every movement must be timed so that Raven doesn't pass by a grub. Once Rave climbs to the top of the maze, he encounters Hydra, a contortionist wearing green spandex with yellow highlights.



Body Snatching Act
A trapeze set on the main floor of the big top, in front of an actual audience. There are clay-like enemies called Morphs which must be defeated to proceed, and they come in different varieties: some do trapeze, some walk tightropes, and others juggle. Raven can properly trapeze with much of the stage's environment. Defeating enough morphs spawns the boss, Body Snatcher.



Final Act
The final stage is a fight with Diablo, a three horned demon which appears on the game's box art. Fought in a red-tinted version of the circus' big top, Diablo's gimmick is the ability to morph into previous bosses while fighting. He starts in his devil form, then switches to the boss forms as the fight progresses. Defeating Diablo causes hell to open and pull him back in, and the game is completed.


Wooden Man
Jack in the Floor
Toy Cannon
Tumbling Jack
Looking Glass Man
Nasty Crawler
Warrior Puppet
Maggot Man
Bar Morph
Pole Morph
Ring Morph
Rope Morph
See-Saw Morph
Trampoline Morph


Helter Skelter
Ying Yang Brother
Body Snatcher
The Jester


Main article: Nightmare Circus/Tweaker.

Locked behind the password screen is the Tweaker, an extensive debug menu that allows minute alterations to things like hitboxes, variables, and even the game’s gravity - the range of Raven’s attacks can be extended, for example, or the capacity of his PSI meter increased. Entering a second password additionally expands this menu with a level select. Accessing the Tweaker again during gameplay will display an additional list of variables specific to the stage being played, so enemies and obstacles can have their variables adjusted at any time the player chooses.

Referred to by the game’s manual and advertising as U PROGRAM technology, and in-game as the Tweaker, the menu is extensively developed and properly labelled, and unlike the majority of debug modes was actually intended for use by players. The manual even details the menu’s control scheme and additionally offers possible ideas for players to alter gameplay, stating “the possibilities are nearly endless.”[15]


Main article: Nightmare Circus/History.

Production credits

In-game credits

Magazine articles

Main article: Nightmare Circus/Magazine articles.


Physical scans

Sega Retro Average 
Publication Score Source
{{{{{icon}}}|L}} Division by zero.
Based on
0 review
Sega Retro Average 
Publication Version Score
1700 igr dlya Sega (RU)
Tricks 16 bit (RU)
Sega Mega Drive
Based on
2 reviews

Nightmare Circus

Mega Drive, BR
NightmareCircus MD BR Box.jpg
NightmareCircus MD BR Cart.jpg
Nightmarecircus md br manual.pdf

Technical information

ROM dump status

System Hash Size Build Date Source Comments
Sega Mega Drive
CRC32 06da3217
MD5 697fe71f7c6601b80ff486297124d301
SHA-1 3c80ff5ba54abe4702a3bb7d812571d3dc50c00f
2MB 1996-02 Cartridge (BR)
Sega Mega Drive
CRC32 ee96f1b8
MD5 9d8869bf8dec6223440aaed3af202fa7
SHA-1 c48a0f275a46a4a814a4aa0926c084d27812f5ec
4MB 1995-07 Odd EPROMs[19] Page
Sega Mega Drive
CRC32 31de5a94
MD5 6e325bc3fe03b2bbcd39e667cf0b567a
SHA-1 61b7d25e15011d379d07a8dad4f8c5bb5f75e29f
2MB 1996-02 Page

External links


Nightmare Circus

NightmareCircus title.png

Main page | Maps | History | Hidden content | Bugs | Development | Magazine articles | Video coverage | Reception | Promotional material | Region coding | Technical information

Sega Mega Drive
Prototypes: 1995-07 | 1996-02