reviews\ Jan 3, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Nightcaster II: Equinox - XB - Review

There are sleeper hits, and then there are sleeper stinkers.  When someone finds out about the former, they begin to recommend it to everyone and they all have a good time.  The latter usually just stays on the game shelf, with perhaps a few people trying it out, and then returning it.  Unfortunately, Nightcaster 2 is the latter.  I didn't even know it existed until about a week before it came out (probably not a good sign for a sequel) and I hadn't played the first Nightcaster, even though I was interested in it, so I figured I would check this out.


The game actually sounds okay to a degree.  You have a little orb that is controlled via the right thumbstick.  Not only does it light up the surrounding area, whenever you cast a spell it shoots out in the direction of the orb.  You also have two different melee attacks - one weak, one fierce.  Unfortunately, these melee attacks aren't very useful, and I found myself almost never using them.


The enemy AI is also a large problem.  At any one point, you usually have a bunch of enemies charging at you and attacking.  Aside from a few exceptions, they don't do much else.  And since your melee attacks tend to be useless, you end up just using your most powerful spell.  There is actually a neat magic system incorporating fire, water, light and darkness, and enemies are each designated to one of those elements - the opposite magic is most effective against them.  It's too bad that since you always just have mindless enemies coming at you very quickly, there's no time to change your magic and swing your orb around to attack each enemy.  Instead, you're often just running in one direction, using the most effective overall magic in the general direction of the enemies.


But of course there are times when you're totally surrounded by evil creatures.  You are going to die.  And thanks to the ingenious designers, you re-spawn in exactly the same spot you died, and the enemies are still there.  Usually after a few deaths you're able to break free of the group, but you're undoubtedly going to run into the same situation in a matter of time.  Hooray.


The graphics in the game can actually make things worse.  Following the word "night" in the title of the game, nearly every stage is shrouded in darkness.  The only thing that's going to brighten things up is your orb.  And since you usually point it at enemies in one area, this makes it easy for other enemies to come up and attack you from other directions...leading again to the above scenario.  Seriously, didn't any beta testers notice these problems?


What you can actually see thanks to the orb doesn't look quite amazing, either.  Levels can drag on forever because everything seems to look the same, and the lack of an onscreen map doesn't help.  Actually, the map you can see when you pause the game doesn't help much anyway.  And since the level design isn't that great in the first place, there's not much incentive to get to the next stage.  The framerate doesn't help much either.  It's bearable, but not quite what one would call smooth.  Things don't get any better in the lame cooperative mode either - in fact, the framerate just suffers more.  That's about the only difference.


The game's sound is merely okay.  It's nothing memorable, but it works.  You'd probably rather listen to your own music, though, and Nightcaster 2 doesn't have a custom soundtrack option.  Time to look for the mute button...


All in all, Nightcaster 2 is a game probably best left on the store shelves.  If there's some fun in this title lurking around, I sure couldn't find it.  It was masked by poor gameplay, cruddy graphics, and mediocre sound.  And unlike Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, the co-op mode does not make the game worth it; you'll probably just end up with two frustrated people, instead of one.  In fact, if you're looking for a title in the same vein, I recommend Baldur's Gate highly over this.  Skip this one.



Gameplay: 3.0

I honestly can't imagine anyone having a fun time with this game.  Mindless hoards of enemies come at you from nowhere while you simply use the best spell you've acquired.  Be prepared to die over and over again with no clue as to what killed you, and manage your way from Point A to Point B on poorly designed levels, fighting nonstop of course.


Graphics: 4.5

Some of the screenshots looked kinda cool, but does the actual game look nice?  Unfortunately, no.  A bad framerate, choppy animation, glitchy spots, hard-to-see enemies, and way too much darkness not only makes this hard on your eyes, but a pain to get through levels.  Only the area where your orb is at is lighted up.  Everything else is dark.


Sound: 5.0

Again, nothing special.  The music won't inspire you to kick butt, and the sound effects aren't that satisfying either.  Voices are merely decent, too.  You're better off muting the TV and popping a CD in your stereo.


Difficulty: Hard

Good luck finishing this game.  If you manage not to tire of it, you're still going to be dying over and over and over again.  The mediocre map and bad level design don't help, either.


Concept: 6.5

The unfortunate thing is that Nightcaster 2 actually sounds decent on paper, but is executed poorly.  The idea of using an orb to cast spells is pretty neat, and two different attacks are nice, but the game ends up being un-fun.  More time should have been spent on level design, too.


Multiplayer:  4.0

I think the game might have been shooting for a fun co-op mode like the one in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, but since the game is practically no fun to begin with, there's little point.  In fact, unlike Baldur's Gate, the game actually gets worse, with even more slowdown than before.


Overall: 4.6

Please avoid this piece of unfinished game.  If level designs were better, enemy AI was better, melee attacks actually did something, and a whole host of other things were worked out, the game wouldn't be so bad.  As it is, it feels unfinished, and most importantly, un-fun.

Below Average

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