Nightcaster II: Equinox Review

Nightcaster II is a big step backward for the series in just about every respect.

"Beer" and "rock and roll" are two of the things listed in the "special thanks" portion of Nightcaster II's credits, and any inference you might make about the game using that bit of information is likely to be very close to the truth. Nightcaster II is about as incoherent and obnoxious as the ramblings of a bored frat boy who's holding an empty six-pack and a boom box, except with Nightcaster II, you have to pay $40 to be subjected to it. The game's graphical adequacy does nothing to lessen the pain of its amateurish play balancing, poor sound programming, and generally bad design.

Nightcaster II seems incredibly rushed, and it can be very frustrating to play.
Nightcaster II seems incredibly rushed, and it can be very frustrating to play.

Like its predecessor, Nightcaster II is a fantasy action game with some RPG elements. After the end of the first Nightcaster, the hero of the game, Arran, married Madelyn, and they lived together happily until the Nightcaster returned to the land, as bad guys are wont to do. You can play this time as either Arran or Madelyn--or both, if you're mean and trick someone into playing the cooperative mode with you. Arran is strong with magic and Madelyn's strength is melee combat. At least, that's what the game tells you. If you ever actually engage in melee combat, you're going to lose a significant portion of your health bar, especially at the start of the game, when engaging in close combat is pretty much suicide. Heroes facing hordes of monsters need to be a little stronger than tissue paper.

Magic is the preferred means of attack, and you can choose four spells from the schools of light, dark, fire, and water to be on your active spell list. All the monsters in the game are affiliated with one of these types--they'll resist spells of their own type and sustain extra damage from the opposite. While the spell effects are generally good looking, the spellcasting system is overly complex for the pace of the game: You move your orb around the screen to target with the right analog stick, fire with the right shoulder trigger, and switching spells with the left. Some spells have an area of effect around your target, some shoot out from your character toward wherever the orb is. It's all unnecessarily fancy, though, as groups of monsters simply rush toward your character at high speeds, rendering any tactic other than firing at them while running in the opposite direction rather pointless. It doesn't help the monsters you're running away from essentially look like gnomes riding chickens or lumps of Play-Doh with spikes sticking out.

While many of the monsters are unimpressive, the level design is even less noteworthy. Nightcaster II does use some advanced effects like bump mapping, but the levels are flat landscapes or interiors with just a few stock objects repeatedly placed about the level. Those objects look fine, though, perhaps because of the minimal lighting in the game. The déjà vu is compounded by the lack of an onscreen map. To see where you are, you have to look at the map screen, which doesn't even tell you which way your character is currently facing. With no onscreen map and a dearth of landmarks, Nightcaster II seemingly takes delight in forcing you to wander around in the dark and switch to the map screen every few seconds.

The camera also contributes to your character's general lack of survivability. Monsters move quickly. In fact, they move at the same speed as your character. If you want to keep them from getting to you, you have to run away for long enough to aim your spells and fire a couple of times to kill them. Far too often, you'll be running and the camera will jump to another angle. Not swing--jump. It's completely disorienting, and it will usually cause you to move in a direction that causes the camera to jump yet again. The monsters that you were running away from will then easily catch up to you and pile on until you're dead. Dying in Nightcaster II is unnecessarily punitive, considering how easily it can happen. You'll lose all the experience you gained since the last time you saved, and when you do continue, you'll be in the very same place, with a very short period of invulnerability. There'll be times when you will die more than once trying to get out of the same crowd. Even worse, in cooperative mode, if you both die before one of you can restart, the game will end with no opportunity to continue.

The graphics aren't terrible, but most other aspects of the game are.
The graphics aren't terrible, but most other aspects of the game are.

In general, it seems as if no one really tested this game to see if it played well. Apart from the control scheme and combat tuning being at odds with the game style, there are lots of little things that just aren't right. Take the sound, for instance. There are some spells that have an area of effect that lasts for a couple of seconds. If you should happen to walk through the center of this area while the spell is in effect, the sound effect of the spell becomes extremely loud. In addition, certain points on the map will trigger your orb to speak to you and give you a tip about the area or how to play the game, but if you walk outside of the zone, the tip stops, and when you walk back in, it starts over again. If you backtrack through an area of the map, you'll get to hear the beginning of a tip now and then as you run through, no matter how many times you've heard it already or even if you are in the middle of combat. The music is just as repetitive, too.

Nightcaster II may fool a shopper into thinking that since the game is a sequel, it must be worth buying. But it's hard to imagine anyone actually thinking that Nightcaster II is truly an improvement on the original in any way, shape, or form. The game just feels like one big rush job right from the start. Then again, beer could have been a factor. At any rate, Nightcaster II is a big step backward for the series in just about every respect.

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Nightcaster II: Equinox More Info

  • First Released Dec 11, 2002
    • Xbox
    Nightcaster II is a big step backward for the series in just about every respect.
    Average Rating97 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Jaleco Entertainment
    Published by:
    Microsoft Game Studios, Jaleco Entertainment
    Action, Beat-'Em-Up
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Blood, Violence