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NightCaster: Defeat the Darkness
Publisher: Microsoft Corporation
Developer: VR-1 Inc.
Style(s): Third-Person 3D Action
Synopsis: Arran is the mage-like star of this Gauntlet-inspired action game. As a child living in the village of Perth, Arran comes across a mysterious orb that informs him of an impending evil. Known only as the Nightcaster, this fiend is slowly covering the world in darkness, and only Arran, along with the four magic essences he must acquire, can save humanity. Using the left analog stick to maneuver Arran, and the right to aim his blasts of magical energy, players must destroy swarms of beasts, demons, and the other vile creatures populating the realm. Like in the Xbox adventure title Azurik: Rise of Perathia, enemies in Nightcaster are borne of a particular element, which have strengths and weaknesses relative to particular elements. Ice beasts, to cite one such example, are particularly susceptible to fire-based spells. Strewn throughout the game's levels are items that serve a range of purposes, the most important being the ability to grant Arran with new spells or upgrades to his existing ones. As is explained in the game, Arran's quest is a long and arduous one taking place over many years. As such he ages as the game progresses. In all, Arran will age through four significant periods: that of a child, young adult, middle-age man, and finally, an elder. His physical prowess decreases with age, but his magical ability and his arsenal of spells increases exponentially. NPCs encountered by Arran will usually request that he perform a side-quest for them. The reward for completion of such a task is usually extra mana with which to cast spells, but can on occasion reveal a new, more powerful spell in either the Light, Dark, Water, or Fire elemental disciplines. ~ Gavin Frankle, All Game Guide
Package Contents: 32-page Instruction Manual
The manual explains the story and lists all the spells found in the different schools of magic. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
Excellent use of lighting effects for the various spells, but the graphics are not up to the Xbox system's capabilities. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
A feeble Gauntlet clone that desperately tries to be something more, NightCaster ends up ruining the basic gameplay it should be expanding on. Had the developers tried for a more direct approach, they could have built a better Gauntlet with stronger role-playing elements and a cohesive story line. Yet in trying to be different, the game becomes a chore to play through with a control system that betrays its true nature. The title character's goal is to progress through various regions of the land, divided into 12 regions or chapters, while destroying numerous monsters along the way. Consider for a moment that said monsters are spit out of mounds or lairs and you'll begin to see the connection to Atari's coin-op classic. Other parallels include shooting at enemies to defeat them, this time using a variety of magic spells, and weaving the character through maze-like environments marked with teleporters. The problem comes from the method of attacking. Arran moves using the left analog stick and guides a floating orb with the right stick. The orb is essentially a targeting cursor that moves slowly across the screen. Picture enemies galloping toward you as you swing a heavy ball around before clicking the trigger to activate a spell. Wait, it gets better. Not only do you have to manage an unwieldy system of targeting creatures, you have the additional burden of selecting an appropriate spell. Each enemy has a natural weakness for a certain type of magic, with some being immune to specific spells, so they are all color-coded for your convenience (this is apparently the element of "deep strategy" discussed on the box, which must mean Simon is one of the unsung greats among classic strategy games). Fire monsters don't like ice, so players should switch to blue spells before attacking them. Simple, right? It is until monsters start quickly attacking in rainbow-colored packs. You'll run away, quickly switch to an appropriate spell, clumsily fire off a shot, and repeat. As if this wasn't complicated enough for such an inherently simple game, the developers decided to make players work to save their progress. Games can only be saved after finding mushroom rings, which are not always in conspicuous places. The rings also tend to have monsters nearby, making for a harrowing experience just so you can resume where you last left off. So you have to fight fast-moving monsters with a slow cursor, match them up with the appropriate color, and you have to do so knowing that if you don't find a save point, you have to do it all over again. Nice touch. If the character could cast spells directly from his fingertips, with each magic group assigned to an appropriately colored button on the Xbox controller, the game could have easily been more engaging. There are some nice features, including the character aging over time, the idea of collecting new spells to add to a book, and the ability to level-up spells to more powerful versions. Yet the current system is too cumbersome for an action-oriented game, and the inability to save anywhere only makes things even more frustrating. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
Only one player can participate, and there's no point in repeating stages unless you want every single item for the spellbook. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The female narrator speaks with an Irish accent, and introduces each chapter with a rhyming poem. The main character utters the same phrases over and over again when casting spells. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The control system can be managed with effort, but the gameplay isn't worth it. Each level feels the same. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
the game requires Joystick/Gamepad.