"The premise of the game is surprisingly compelling. You are a farmer, stricken with a curse. You were bitten by a bat that turned out to be Hecate, the Queen of Darkness. You must hunt down and destroy this nefarious night creature that afflicted you thus, or die trying. Or worse yet, stay alive, but take too long in your mission, and become a night creature yourself. Oooh! Biting irony!"
Night Creatures is a very, very bad game. But that's only evident when itís not making you feel good playing it. I considered calling Night Creatures a poor manís Castlevania game, but the truth is, this game has all the ingredients to be better than many of that seriesí entries - a pity the execution was not there.
The premise of the game is surprisingly compelling. You are a farmer, stricken with a curse. You were bitten by a bat that turned out to be Hecate, the Queen of Darkness. You must hunt down and destroy this nefarious night creature that afflicted you thus, or die trying. Or worse yet, stay alive, but take too long in your mission, and become a night creature yourself. Oooh! Biting irony!
As ugly as that possibility may be, Night Creatures' graphics are probably uglier. Your character wears a drab gray shirt with matching boots, and a pair of dingy red pants. There is almost no shading and gradation in his design, and the enemies are not any luckier. Iíve played dull looking games before, but this game looks outright horrid in parts. The backgrounds are completely flat, and the choice of hues is questionable, ranging from a bile colour to a matte purple you might find in a My First Crayola crayons box. But back to the characters: because the characters are the real showstoppers here. Besides being paper thin and badly drawn, their animations are incredibly limited, to the point where a trip to Lenscrafters might be in order to locate the hundreds of missing frames.
But the sounds, the sounds can redeem Night Creatures' worth, canít they? No, they canít. But they do allow the game a ray of light. The sound effects are merely below average, but not the worst Iíve heard. The music might be the real find. It is suitably scary and haunting, but there are not enough tracks, (there may be three) and the catchy tunes are programmed to sound like very low quality fare. These two complaints effectively undermine the obvious care put into crafting those few appropriately spooky tunes. When you hear the same graveyard theme a million times, you may start to lose it (think Soulblazer).
Night Creatures features the same non-linear play of Simonís Quest, an attempt to make this a thinking manís platform game. However, the RPG elements here are far lighter, the map smaller, and, in its favour, the puzzles that are present are much more logically solved than those found in the ridiculously obtuse Simonís Quest. Without spoiling much - as this is the first level in question - hereís an example of that logic and simplicity: the flames from the lantern are your key to beating the scarecrow boss. There won't be any need to kneel on some craggy rock for three hours while calling out for Yog-Sothoth, burying bloody chicken feathers in the dirt in order to extract some essential crystal. Ahem. But if you somehow managed to enjoy Simon's Quest, or the way games like Wonder Boy III and Super Metroid progressed, suffice it to say that you may also like Night Creatures - assuming the bad graphics donít bother you too much.
You will receive goods like Wolfsbane (to repel wolves) and the ever-popular Cross, (to repel vampires) packaged along with various information or insults: Take my goods foul creature of the night! Your benefactor is an old shopkeeper, but a large gypsy woman will also stop you and play clairvoyant, giving you cryptic hints from time to time.
Hidden throughout environments like crypts, graveyards, moors and catacombs, are various weapons. A sword, club, axe, spear, crossbow, and rifle are all available to you, as well as auxiliary weapons like holy water, which are often critical to your progress in this game. For example, it may not be possible to finish the game without the lantern. But even more impressive than the meaty selection of weapons, is the ability to change forms. After defeating each boss, you are granted the power to change into one more creature. When itís time to visit Hecateís Den for the final confrontation, you will be able to choose from the bear, badger, owl and wolf forms, as the situation that suits each form arises. The animal forms are even more crucial to your success than the auxiliary weapons; you cannot even access the Headless Lady boss without being able to take the shape of the owl, because you must fly to her lairís entrance.
I should also warn you of the main thing that really prevents this game from being more fun, more often when you play it. Not unlike another Castlevania game, Dracula X for the SNES, the collision detection is a little off in this game. You need to get closer to an enemy than what actually appears to be safe, and to compound the problem further, your invincibility window after getting hit is very short, and you will be frequently bounced about until you are quite dead - also quite like Dracula X.
NEC might well have liked Konami to make this game instead of Manley and Associates, because it really has some good things going for it, like the interesting theme and environments. You really get the impression while playing it, that itís a work in progress. The areas would be great, had they taken the time to draw and colour them properly. The music would sound great, had they taken the time to make a few more tracks and use better sounding instruments to play the tunes.
In the end, Night Creatures is an oddly playable game, with a few good tunes, sometimes frustrating control and bad graphics. Despite its various and numerous failings, it will often manage to be a blast to play (especially when you replay it and already know what to do), and I suppose thatís what itís all about in the end, isnít it?
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 29, 2003)
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