Nightshade for NES- A Deep Dive Into Mechanics


Nightshade for NES is, in my opinion, Beam Software’s best game. It’s basically a spoof of 1930s detective noir movies, with the sensibility of the Adam West Batman series. Beam made the…let’s say courageous decision to make a point-and-click-style game on the NES, and throw in some combat too. Suffice to say that, while the controls are frankly pretty janky a lot of the time, I love the game anyway due to the writing.

In fact, I love it enough that I dove into some of the mechanics and numbers behind it. What I found in my digging was, in my mind, pretty fascinating. Some of the systems interact in really unexpected ways, and there’s one glitch in particular that blows the whole thing wide open and leads to a speedrun that I think is pretty hilarious. More on that in a bit.


Nightshade’s popularity mechanic sets it apart from most other detective/hero games. Nightshade isn’t a superhero. He’s not even an insanely wealthy socialite a la Bruce Wayne. No, according to the manual, Nightshade is just an encyclopedia researcher (Yes, really) named Mark Gray who gets bored and decides to avenge the death of Vortex, the city’s previous costumed superhero. Because of this, Nightshade–that’s you in the game–starts off with zero popularity. You raise your popularity by fighting crime or doing other good deeds–saving people from fires, saving cats from high places, returning years-overdue library books, etc. You lose popularity by losing all your health, or doing things not befitting a crime fighter–peeking in dressing rooms, vandalizing dinosaur skeletons, yanking ladders out from underneath the painters using them, and so on.

More specifically, your popularity begins at zero, goes up to a maximum of 100, and is represented visually by a gauge near the bottom of the screen just above your health gauge. You cannot go above 100 or below 0; anything that would put you past those thresholds is simply lost. There are a bunch of things that get you popularity.

Beating Up Criminals

1 Popularity:

The Mummy in the Museum (Guarding the Star of Cairo Diamond)

4 Popularity:

Any “English Guys” (The blue guys in the bowler hats)–the fight in the Club with 2 of them gives you 8, or 4 per Englishman.

Any rats (Except King Rat)

The Ninja outside of Professor Sandleford’s house

Any spinning statues (The fights themselves give you 8, but the statues always come in pairs, meaning an individual statue is worth 4) except for ones Sutekh generates in the final battle.

5 Popularity:

The Ninja guarding the Ashes of Kitchie-Koo

8 Popularity:

The Ninja by the booths near the newspaper seller

The Ninja beating up the guy on the “Curio’s Killed the Cat” screen

The Ninja in the restaurant

16 Popularity:

The thug beating up Granny near Vortex’s Hideout

Each of the four Crime Bosses (King Rat, the Ninja Mistress, Goliath and Lord Muck), but not their re-fights if you don’t do the Dome sidequest.

Other Good Deeds

2 Popularity:

Give money to the bum to the right of the two painters (Interestingly, this does not actually decrease your money count. You can also only do it once–after that, the bum insists that you need the money for your fight against evil.)

4 Popularity:

Give money to the bum on the catnip screen (This does cost money and can be repeated as long as you have some)

5 Popularity:

Save the cat from the dog by throwing a bone at the dog outside the Bookstore

8 Popularity:

Return the Egyptian Book of the Dead to the library

16 Popularity:

Save the lady in the burning building

Coax Tibbles the cat down from the column (Specifically, you attain the popularity after you come down from the column and Granny thanks you) one screen right of the Bookstore

Reassemble the dinosaur skeleton in the museum after breaking it

As you can see, there are a lot of opportunities to gain popularity! This is good, because…

I AM NOT POPULAR. OHH DEAR. (OR: How to Lose Popularity Possibly Really Trying)

These things will lose you popularity!

-4 Popularity:

Open the left curtain in the Ninja Fashion Store (This can be done repeatedly)

Pick up the ladder from underneath the painter outside the Ninja Fashion Store

-8 Popularity:

Lose a life and get placed in a deathtrap (This only applies for the first four–the final, inescapable trap does not lose you popularity)

Wreck the dinosaur skeleton in the Museum

Popularity Gates

There are three locations you need a certain minimum popularity to get into.

  1. You need 34 Popularity to get into Vortex’s Hideout
  2. You need 41 Popularity to get into the Newspaper Archive
  3. You need 70 Popularity to get into Professor Sandleford’s house (You also must defeat the ninja outside)

Percent Complete–It’s More Complicated Than You Think

As you progress through Nightshade, the game keeps track of your progress. You can actually see this in the “System” tab in the menu. At the end of the game, win or lose, the game gives you your percent completed. Simple enough, right?

Well…no. More on that in a bit.

For now, though, here’s the complete (As far as I know) list of Things That Give You Percent in Nightshade, in ascending percentage (But not necessarily chronological within a group) order:

1 Percent:

Pick up the Urn containing the Ashes of the Ninja Mistress Kitchie-Koo (This also weakens all Ninjas, including the Ninja Mistress Crime Boss)

Pick up the Headpiece of the Staff of Ra

2 Percent:

Get the Book of Egyptology that lets you translate the hieroglyphics

Read the “Hail to Baast, Lord of the Cats” wall writing (We’ll come back to this one later on)

Try to pick up the Kitten on the column after giving it Catnip

Place a Dome on a Sacred Items (For a total of 8% for “doming” all four)

3 Percent:

Collect a Scarab (For a total of 15% for collecting all five)

4 Percent:

Pick up the real Staff of Ra in Professor Sandleford’s house

5 Percent:

Save the lady in the burning building

Save Granny from the thug near Vortex’s hideout

Save the guy from the Ninja on the “Curio’s Killed the Cat” screen

Coax Tibbles the cat down from the column (Specifically, you attain the popularity after you come down from the column and Granny thanks you) one screen right of the Bookstore (Yes, this is separate from the 2 percent you get for trying to pick Tibbles up, meaning the whole act of getting Tibbles down gets you 7%. I don’t think you can do the first and not the second, or vice versa. Nonetheless, from watching the “percent complete” RAM address and frequently checking the “System” tab, they’re definitely two separate events as far as the game is concerned).

Defeat a Crime Boss (For a total of 20% for defeating all four. This does not apply for the re-fights if you don’t do the Dome quest)

Unlock and enter Vortex’s Hideout for the first time

10 Percent:

Unlock and enter Sutekh’s Hideout for the first time

Now, you’ll notice a few things here:

  1. Everything above only adds up to 90%
  2. “Defeat Sutekh and win the game” is not anywhere above.

Stick a pin in both of those thoughts.

Six Statuses To Choose From!

Your Status at the end of the game is determined by your percentage completed.

0-10: Complete Weed Status.

11-29: Failed Hero Status.

30-49: Apprentice Hero Status.

50-79: The People’s Champion Status.

80-99: Hero of the City Status.

100: Absolute Bonifide Legend Material Status!

(The typo in “Bonafide” is the game’s, not mine)

“But Emptyeye! You just established there’s only 90% to earn in the game! How can we, in a world where 100% does not exist, earn that most coveted Absolute Bonifide Legend Material Status!?”

Well, Friends, it’s time to talk about…

The Popularity Percent Intersection

Yep. That’s right. Your popularity metric plays a role in your completion percentage. In fact, it plays a big role. How big? Well, as much as a 70% influence, from a 50% penalty all the way up to a 20% bonus. Here’s how it breaks down. The first set of numbers is the popularity range; the rightmost number is the influence it has on your percent complete.

0-10: -50%

11-20: -25%

21-50: -10%

51-70: 0% (No change)

71-95: +10%

96-100: +20%

So as you can see, to get 100% completion, you need to play at least most of the game in terms of “doing things that give you percent” and end up at least pretty popular. For reference, the Any% speedrun ends at 55% completion–15% from the Scarabs, 20% from the Crime Bosses, 10% from unlocking Sutekh’s Lair, and 10% from ending up at roughly the 80 range in popularity after beating Sutekh.

Or at least….you would have to play most of the game to get 100% Completion….

Hail to Baast, Lord of the Cats!

So, let’s come back to this particular piece of earning 2% completion. You’ll notice there are a few items in the other lists that end in “…for the first time”. You’ll also notice that that phrase is conspicuously absent from “Read the “Hail to Baast, Lord of the Cats” wall writing […]”.

Yep. You can read it repeatedly. And get the 2% completion each time you do.

And there’s more. The final screen caps the Percent Complete at 100%. In-game, however, doesn’t. So you can repeat this often enough to overcome any Popularity Percentage Penalty that may befall you! You can also do it enough times to wrap your completion percentage around to 0, but maybe don’t do that.

You can see the logical conclusion of this here.

Other Mechanics


Very briefly, Health is also represented as a 0-100 number. 100 is the maximum, and it’s represented by a bar just like popularity. Eating a unit of food restores 8 Health.

One other interesting wrinkle about your health: It’s actually a different value in battle than outside of it. More accurately, when a battle begins, your health is copied to another memory address, and the copy is used in the battle. When the battle ends, the copy is put back into the “Out of combat” memory location.


First, outside of “You have food in your inventory” or “You don’t have food in your inventory”, there’s no in-game way to track how much food you have. That said, the game is tracking it internally in a memory address.

Food can be purchased in one of three places:

  1. Al’s Grocery Store, 1 unit at a time
  2. The Nut Vendor, also 1 unit at a time
  3. The Pizza Guy in the Sewers. The pizza is good for 15 units of food.

Besides recovering your health, you can use your food to feed the two squirrels outside of the library, feed the glowing red eyes in the sewer pipes one screen south of Al’s Grocery, and feed the rat in the 4th deathtrap (And in fact you have to in order to escape it). Operating food and the first two uses above all cost one unit of food; Interestingly, feeding the rat in the deathtrap doesn’t cost any food, though you still need to use the food to escape the trap.

Money, It’s a Hit

Like food, there’s no easy way to determine how much money you have, but the game is tracking it internally. Yes, it is possible to run out of money. Yes, this means you can, in fact, softlock yourself if you aren’t careful.

You begin the game with ten “units” of money–based on what NPCs in the game say to you and how this decreases, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call these units “dollars” going forward.

Rescuing the guy from the Ninja outside of Curio’s Killed the Cat gives you another 15 dollars.

Pay Up!

The following things cost money in the game.

1 Dollar

Buying food from Al’s Grocery

Buying food from the nut vendor (You have to do this 3 times to advance in the game, so it costs $3 total)

Buying a newspaper from the girl

Getting a gumball from the gumball machine

Giving money to the bum on the catnip screen

2 Dollars

Buying the Egyptian Book of the Dead from the bookstore

5 Dollars

Buying the fake Staff of Ra from Curio’s Killed the Cat

10 Dollars

Buying the pizza from the pizza guy in the sewers


While you need money in your inventory for the following two NPCs, the game doesn’t actually decrease your money when you give it to them:

  1. Amanda in Larry and Amanda’s Fine China Shop
  2. The bum to the right of the two painters


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.