When it was released for the PC in late July, KISS: Psycho Circus wasn't well received. Tremor Entertainment has now created a Dreamcast port of the game. Instead of fixing any of Psycho Circus' problems, adding some Dreamcast-only levels, or even just making the game an exact port of the original, the programmers at Tremor have actually removed some key features of the PC version. Maybe in some edgy Todd McFarlane alternate circus universe, that plan would have made KISS a better game. Unfortunately, in ours, it didn't.
The press release that came with the review copy of the game states that it's "based on the KISS: Psycho Circus comic book series developed by Todd McFarlane, best known as the creator of Spawn." An interesting thing to note here is that Todd McFarlane is not best known as the creator of KISS: Psycho Circus. That should have been a clue to somebody that the game might be better off if it were more about KISS and less about Todd McFarlane's lame comic book. As it is, KISS: Psycho Circus has lots and lots of Psycho Circus and just an itty-bitty bit of KISS. So even though the band's featured prominently on the packaging, members of the KISS army will be disappointed that their heroes are pretty much absent from the game.
The action can best be described as Gauntlet meets Quake. The game takes place in a fully three-dimensional environment like that in Quake. But instead of fighting a handful of opponents, Psycho Circus tosses a huge number of kamikaze circus creatures at you as you march from one side of the game's dark levels to the other. The levels generally contain a set of Gauntlet-like spawners that must be destroyed to staunch the endless flow of monsters.
At first, the novelty of seeing 20 or 30 creatures onscreen at once is enough to sustain your interest. But that wears off long before the game reaches its halfway point. And the fact that you fight swarms of essentially the same creatures from beginning to end only adds to the repetitive feeling.
The enemies don't display any kind of interesting AI. The headless - simple spider creatures whose heads appear to have been removed less for terrifying effect and more for reducing their polygon count - appear in virtually every fight in the game. They don't look good, and their attack plan is drearily consistent: run straight at you. A few of the other creatures fare a little better, for instance a leering fat lady who rips chunks of blubber from her own body and tosses them at you. But for the most part, Psycho Circus' creatures and the environments they occupy are pretty forgettable.
The sound effects are also weak. Weapons sound less like implements of destruction and more like the tinkling ambient soundscape of a Philip Glass concert. It's very classy but not particularly suited to a video game about blowing things up. The game's most egregious flaw, however, is its utter lack of KISS music. Snippets of the band's songs are played a few times during the game, but for the most part the soundtrack consists of dirge-like techno tracks.
Most of Psycho Circus is steadfastly mediocre. What drives it into the "bad" category - and turns it into a product you should avoid on general principle - is the developer's complete lack of effort in adding value to the Dreamcast port. For starters, even though it was originally designed for the PC, no support for the Dreamcast mouse or keyboard has been included. Not a giant omission, perhaps, but certainly not the act of a company that wants to work much for your 40 bucks. The removal of any kind of multiplayer feature is not so easily overlooked, however. The game has neither an online component nor even a split-screen mode. Maybe the developers were too busy with Psycho Circus to check out what was going on with Quake III Arena. Don't you make that same mistake.