Noctropolis is not a particularly good game. It relies on shock rather than charm, and it fails to stand out in any way. The art is lackluster, the music is monotonous, and the puzzles aren’t very challenging. It’s a completely unmemorable experience, and it doesn’t hold up well when compared to other adventure games of its time.
But for several years, it was my video game holy grail.
When I laid eyes on Noctropolis‘ box art, I was instantly smitten. The art deco font appealed to my love of Batman: The Animated Series, and the skulls in the background appealed to my childish love of all things spooky.
Further inspection only increased my interest. The game was set in a world where comics were real, promising to deliver plenty of horror and mystery. When I saw that it came with a free comic book, I knew Noctropolis was something I had to have.
Unfortunately, the ESRB didn’t agree with me. The game was rated a hard M, and I was unable to convince my parents I could handle its mature themes. I made a few compelling arguments, but the almost-topless lady on the back of the box crushed them to pieces.
Being denied Noctropolis only made me want it more. I wasn’t all that interested in seeing boobs, but I was dying to see what kind of grisly horrors earned it its M rating. I built up Noctropolis as this macabre masterpiece, and stared at it longingly every time I wandered Circuit City’s aisles.
Nothing could convince me that that Noctropolis was anything less than the crown jewel of gaming. It didn’t matter that gaming magazines gave it middling reviews. I knew that that Noctropolis was absolutely incredible, and if I could talk my parents to letting me buy it, it would change my life.
But my parents didn’t budge, and my obsession with Noctropolis slowly waned. Games like Final Fantasy VI and EarthBound monopolized my attention and made it harder for me to see Noctropolis as an unparalleled classic. Even the puffed up wonders of my imagination couldn’t compete with the World of Ruin or Moonside.
By the time I finally had a chance to play Noctropolis, it had left my mind completely. If I hadn’t stumbled across the game on an abandonware site, I would have forgotten about it forever. The adult me was less impressed by its cover and had far more reasonable expectations, but I was still a little let down.
There are many titles I’ve played because of their box art, and most of them have been fantastic. Games like Vagrant Story, and Shenmue, Secret of Mana more than lived up to the promise of their covers.
But no box has ever captured my heart as instantly and completely as Noctropolis. Though the game itself is unremarkable, it stands as a testament to the power of a well-designed cover and a strong imagination.