Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Nox (PC)

Nox title screen
Developer:Westwood Pacific|Release Date:2000|Systems:Windows, OS X

This week on Super Adventures, I'm writing about Nox. Not the Android Emulator, I'm talking about the classic Diablo 'em up video game by Westwood. Not the Westwood that made Command and Conquer and Blade Runner, I'm talking about the other one, Westwood Pacific. They're the ones who made the 'Christopher Lloyd in Toontown' adventure game Toonstruck, back when they were known as 'Burst Studios'.

Nox has already made an appearance on Super Adventures, as guest reviewer Ocean guest reviewed it for me. But that was way back in April 2011, when the site was just three months old, so I figured it was about time that I had a look at the game myself. Plus I'm going to justify the existence of this second article right away by giving you some trivia that you won't find in Ocean's post: the word 'nox' is Latin for night or darkness. Here's another fact: the game was released five months before Diablo II, which is maybe a bit closer than you want, but much preferable to releasing five months after it.

Okay I'm going to give the game a couple of hours and see how it plays. Oh, I should mention that I'm running the version, and I've installed the 'Nox GUI' SDL patch to increase the chances of it working properly for me on Windows 10.

The game begins with a sinister sorceress kneeling by a pool of water in her sinister thigh high boots, apparently carrying out some kind of sinister candle-lit ceremony that requires a lot of chanting (as well as sore knees).

It's all pretty typical for a CGI RPG intro, right until the point where her single candle goes out, and she starts going on a rant about how she's going to murder all the lousy second-rate candle makers once she rules the world. A little Buffy the Vampire Slayer 'evil demons from fantasy dimensions suddenly breaking character and acting like regular people' comedy moment for you.

Turns out that with the correct chanting the water can function as a magic screen that lets you spy on regular modern real-world people sitting in their trailer home watching television. Though it seems like it's the orb sitting on top of their TV she's more interested in.

The moment the guy's girlfriend gets off the couch to make some bacon the villain strikes, pulling the orb into her world through a portal.

Unfortunately it pulls the guy through as well!

The game's page on claims that: "Your name is Jack Mower, a 20th century dude who just happened to be sucked into the world of Nox via his TV set," and I've already spotted three errors in that description:
  • First, the game came out in 2000 so he's a 21st century dude. I know that's actually wrong as the 20th century officially ended after December 2000, but I don't care.
  • Second, he didn't get sucked through his TV set. In fact the TV's flying through the portal right behind him!
  • Third he didn't get sucked into the world of Nox...
...nope, he's gotten dropped onto it from space.

The witch is pretty happy though, as she's gotten her orb. It apparently contains the souls of the dead and will allow her to rule the world of Nox, which is bad news for all the lousy second-rate candle makers and probably everyone else as well.

Fortunately for Jack, he skips the last few hundred meters of his descent by slamming into the nice soft wooden deck of an airship, along with his similarly resilient television. All that and the screen hasn't even cracked.

The captain of the tiny one-man ship seems very impressed by this plastic box with a shiny glass front, especially when Jack promises it doesn't really do anything. He's tantalised by the possibilities and is willing to take it in trade for not kicking him off his boat for being an evil wingless imp. Now Jack can begin his quest to get back to his girlfriend Tina in time for bacon!

Damn, I suddenly want bacon.

Nox menu screen
Oh man that's a beautiful menu screen. I love it when a game developer goes to the extra effort of modelling a tiny 3D dragon figure to sit on the side of the screen just because it'd look cool. Plus my mouse cursor's leaving fairy dust everywhere!

Though the screen looked slightly different on release, as they patched that Solo Quest button in afterwards. It's apparently a procedurally generated dungeon mode, so that's a nice thing to suddenly appear in a patch (even though you would've had to hunt down and install it yourself, because the game's from 2000)

Nox options screen
They put the effort into the options screen as well. Man, you know it's time to upgrade your PC when you have to turn off 'Textured Floors' to get a game running.

Though now I've got to make a difficult choice that effects everything: do I leave it at 640x480 or do I max it out to a 1024x768? People back in 2000 would agree that my rig is pretty bitchin', so I think I can handle 1K resolution visuals, but that means all the screenshots will be downscaled to fit my site, and I don't think this is the kind of game that'd benefit from supersampling.

I'm going to leave it at 640x480, to give you a fighting chance to read the text.

Nox class selection screen
Alright, the first thing I've been asked to do after starting a new game is to pick Jack's class. Is he a mighty warrior, a crafty conjurer who can summon creatures to do his bidding, or a master of magic? The answer is obviously no; he's some bloke who watches a lot of TV.

It's a big choice because it doesn't just change the gameplay style, but also the starting area, the story and the ending you ultimately get. I mean you visit all the same places, but not necessarily in the same order.

When Ocean played the game he went with 'warrior', so that leaves me with either 'Braveheart' or 'Smug Karl Urban'. The conjurer is tempting, as I like the idea of being able to command a party of creatures and the wizard's health, strength and speed seems kind of abysmal by comparison. But the wizard's lightning rod is also a blow torch and that's the kind of power you need to truly smite evil. Plus I want to see what the magic's like in this game.

Nox character customisation screen
Now I get to choose what Jack looks like. But I already know what he looks like, I saw him in the intro!

I suppose I could say his airship ride took long enough to grow a beard to match his class portrait, but I'd prefer to actually play through the part where he's changed by his experiences in Nox. So I'm not touching anything here.


Then the very next thing on screen is another picture of Jack! If I'd changed his appearance then this beautifully illustrated scroll would've been wrong.

To be honest the premise of a regular person getting transported into an fantasy RPG world is the main thing that drew me towards Nox, as it hasn't shown up in the games I've played as often as you'd expect. There's the Ultima series, Secret of Evermore, Curse of Enchantia, Simon the Sorcerer, uh... I guess Toonstruck counts now that I think about it. It's funny considering how often I hear people talking about isekai stories lately; the genre's apparently huge in Japan right now.

Well I expected the game to look like Diablo or Divine Divinity and it really does, though the camera's tilted down a bit more to give it slightly more of an overhead view. In fact I believe it's an oblique perspective, which means that if you rotate the screenshot 45° it'll look just like Ultima VII, with everything on a square grid and everyone leaning to the left. So don't do that. Never do that.

The nameless airship captain says that I have to become a wizard's apprentice before I can gain entry to the Tower of Illusion, but he hasn't mentioned how this gets me any closer to my bacon. I'd ask him, but my only dialogue options are 'Repeat' and 'GoodBye' (apparently they capitalise the 'B' in this realm). Jack's played by a post-American Pie Seann William Scott and he probably wasn't 'late 90s video game actor' cheap, so it seems like they've decided to save money by having him say nothing.

Right, I suppose I'll start clicking buttons and see what I have to do to get Jack moving then.

Ah, I just hold right mouse button and he runs towards it. The game's not asking me to keep clicking in front of him, plus he's got a good jogging speed; works for me.

First thing I ran into was a sign informing me that I can break walls to reveal secret areas, so I smashed the wall next it with my flimsy staff and found additional signs hidden within a secret cave. One informed me that I can smash barrels, the other that I can open chests to collect fabulous prizes (literally what it said). Fortunately there just happened to be one of each sitting right next to them, so I smashed and opened them to collect ten pieces of gold.

There's also a pool of water in here but sadly I don't have a candle so I can't check to see what's happening back in Jack's trailer.

Damn, I found a spell book just lying here on the ground and now I know how to cast magic missile! Jack's just a regular guy not too different from you or me, so I assumed he'd have to go through training in the mystical arts (or a least speak to a sorcerer) before he'd be able to perform even the most basic magic. Nope, he picked up a book so he's a wizard now.

I love the animated bubbles on his mana gauge by the way. They're not animated in this screenshot, but I'm sure you can picture what it looks like. Speaking of mana, there's a mana potion over there, a health potion too! Free stuff's nice, but a bunch of signs in the road has to be the laziest kind of tutorial (for an immersive RPG story I mean, I'm not dissing Super Mario 64).

I found another secret cave and this one's full of spiders! Well, it was full anyway.

This probably would've been a great time to try out my magic missile but I just hit them with the stick and that got the job done. I even got a reward for my hard work! You can barely see them, but I've found a pair of second hand boots that someone thoughtfully took off before decomposing. My clothing is now 33% less anachronistic in Nox!

I'm not liking that message about the experience points though. It's ticking down with every kill! 100 spiders from now every dead arachnid is going to be worth exactly 1 point to me (or less), and if you've played an RPG you know it's not going to take me long to reach my first hundred.


I ran into the wizard Horvath and he killed a whole bunch of enemies with chain lightning. It was all very impressive, but I've got a screenshot limit so I've gone with this image of his bedroom instead.

The game's got a really unusual lighting system, as the only light in this world shines out of Jack's ass. It does mean I can push these doors to create some really dramatic shadows though.

Anyway, I smashed all of Horvath's barrels to nick a pair of apples and now I'm going to open the chest at the end of his bed. I also tried clicking on his chemistry apparatus to examine it and ended up smashing into pieces, so lesson learned there. Nox is a game about violence, not world building... and right now Horvath wants me to go into the Urchin Den to murder some urchins and rescue his apprentice.

Urchins are little imp-like bastards, not homeless children or spiky creatures, and they've been throwing rocks at me all game so I've got zero hesitation to reciprocate. In fact I've been sending some magic missiles their way, not that I can send them anywhere else seeing as they home in on them.

They're dealing a surprising amount of damage with those rocks, but I've got a healing spell and these blue crystals I'm standing next to regenerate my mana so I'm doing alright. The crystals take a few seconds to recharge after I've drained them, but it's a lot faster than my gauges regenerate on their own.

I found the sorcerer's apprentice by the way, but he's locked behind a door so I need to find a sapphire key before I can do anything to help him.

I've found a sapphire key! The path was blocked by fire, but pushing these convenient barrels over the flames was enough to douse them. Turns out the sign on the left was telling the truth! (The sign on the right says that I can just jump over the lava instead and save myself some work, which is also true).

I found some other stuff in the caves, like urchin paintings, and Jack actually chose to examine them instead of smashing them! Turns out that the urchins aren't just good at lobbing rocks, they're also skilled at acquiring painting supplies.

Plus one room had a big red button in it and when I pressed it a giant poisonous spider came out and bit me. So that was cool. Fortunately I found some antivenom in a barrel and it turns out the spider was guarding a secret treasure room. Anyway, I'm supposed to be rescuing an apprentice!

Oh no, the apprentice died right after telling me the urchins were working with a necromancer!

On the plus side, he dropped all his stuff, so I've finally got a wizard robe! Wait, what do I mean 'finally'? I haven't even had my first magic lesson yet!

Now my clothes are 0% anachronistic (well, 1%; you can still see a bit of his t-shirt poking out in the gap under his armpit because the robe is just another 2D layer stacked on top of it). This is one thing the game has over the original Diablo, as the character model changes to show the armour you're wearing. I mean Diablo does have different armour models for light, medium and heavy armour, but this is showing the actual clothes I've put on him.

When I got back Horvath made me his replacement apprentice, seeing as I can already do magic, and once again Jack had zero dialogue options to express his own opinions or ask questions about what's going on. Really Jack could've been born in this world and it'd make zero difference at this point.


Oh, hang on, that's not entirely true. Jack can still sell his jeans, t-shirt and sneakers to make a bit of money. Once that's done then he'll be another generic silent RPG protagonist.

I think I'll keep hold of the clothes for now though as I can wear them under the robe for a bit of extra armour and when you're a squishy wizard every little helps. Plus I can't buy anything to replace them, and even if I could it'd probably be way too pricey judging by these hats. 500+ gold coins for the most basic hat? C'mon Kincaid.

You know what else is annoying? People keep walking in and out from the street so I keep hearing the squeaky door swing back and forth. I'm sorry I couldn't get a good shot of this town/castle I'm visiting by the way, but it's all narrow roads so there isn't much to see.

Here, have an image of me shoving all the furniture to the corner of the inn instead. I shoved a few NPCs over there as well, but most of them escaped. You don't find many Diablo clones that let you shove objects like this, possibly because there's no point and it looks weird to have the tables getting shoved around when you're just trying to get across the room. Though it'll probably look great once I get a spell that launches everything that's not tied down.

I've actually got the option to chat to one of the NPCs here (indicated by a gross chattering denture icon), but they don't have much to say. Really this place just seems like a quick stop on my way to the next dungeon.

I carried on walking through town and found myself in the wizard fortress, faced with another giant red button. This dude told me it was a part of his experiment to swap places with another creature and that it'd be a big help if I went over and pushed it for him. Now he's a frog and I feel a little bit responsible.

There's also a classroom in here where students are taught the ways of wizardry. I've been casting spells for maybe 20 minutes so you'd figure that someone here would suggest to me that I attend a few lessons, but no.

My job is to go to the forgotten section of the library in the basement to get the Amulet of Clarity and the Book of Oblivion, and that job's been made a little harder by the necromancer dropping by and nicking it. He's already killed two actual wizards with actual training but it's up to me to give chase!

It's funny, but this is exactly what I expected the wizard library to look like. A few bookcases scattered around, but mostly traps and spiders. Nice shadows though.

This particular trap is here to teach me not to go near strange pressure plates, especially if they have treasure on them. Fortunately the bait is also the key to getting out, as it's a spell that lets me swap places with another creature. All I need to do is cast it on a spider and I'm free! I just have to be careful not to cast it on any frogs I guess.

There's no skill tree by the way, so if I want new abilities I have to go find them.

Here's a shot of me leaping over a strip of spikes while simultaneously shooting chain lighting at a pursuing spider, because I'm just that good. Also because I remapped the hotkey for the lighting spell to a key next to my screenshot button and I mashed it by accident.

That's what the mysterious hand in the black circle is about by the way. Whenever I cast a spell, Jack has to quickly go through a series of hand gestures, so they flash up around him for a second before it casts. It's apparently a leftover from when the game was going to have players fire off spells with a series of fighting game special move inputs instead of just clicking the icon or pressing a hotkey.

Anyway, another spider came by and it turns out the spike trap kills them just fine so the lightning spell was pointless.

Oh I should mention that I finally got a level up! I'm now level two, with 30% more health, 13% more mana, 10% more strength and 1% more speed. Those are the only stats it gives me but I'm hoping my spells hit harder too.

I checked and the other characters start off with the exact same starting stats, which makes sense as you always start off as a stock Jack. But a level two warrior has 34 health and 32 strength, which is a much bigger jump. Plus they can wear full armour, so a warrior might have a hundred more defence by this point. But they only skill they'd have is the berserker charge ability (no mana required, but has a cooldown).


It's that bloody necromancer I've been hearing so much about! He's got the wizards' only copy of Oblivion and I need to get it back. Unfortunately he's tough enough to blow up mages with a single shot and I've only been a wizard for one afternoon, so this fight isn't likely to go my way.

Uh... what?

The dude just happened to step on the one bit of weak ground in this whole dungeon and fell into a troll lair before the fight could start. Interesting time for the game to finally remember that it's a comedy, but it works out for me! Wait, no it doesn't, he's still got the book! Now I'm going to have to jump down there after him.

Oh, he dropped the book here as he ran away. Either that or the trolls killed him, it's ambiguous.

These trolls aren't too bad though, I don't know what he was screaming about. Though in some games you have to use acid on the body to kill them and here their body emits acid to kill you, so I need to watch out for that.

I guess I'll carry on down this cave hitting things with my stick then. I do use spells, but I use up my mana bar so fast that it doesn't seem worth it sometimes. Hang on, where did my minimap go? It's the closest thing I've got to a real map so I need it on to know where I'm going (and where I've already been).


It didn't take me long to get back to Horvath with the Amulet and Book of Oblivion, but he just sent me right back down into another cave almost indistinguishable from the last one. I didn't even get to go back to the shops to offload my loot or repair my stick!

Here I'm practicing with my new pull spell, using it to pull all those water barrels over to extinguish the flames... very very slowly. They move like an inch each time, so I mash the spell a few times, then run back the closest mana crystal to recharge and come back spam spells some more.

It's pretty similar to how combat has been actually, as whenever I run out of spells or have to restore my magic shields I need to leg it back to those magic crystals. Or I could use a mana potion I suppose, but that just seems wasteful.


Oh no Jack accidentally dropped all of his stuff and died! It wasn't my fault, there was a dude firing arrows through a wall and I couldn't reach him to tell him to knock it off. I couldn't even see him to use the swap places spell! Walls are a jerk.

I can usually last a while against enemies before I'm in trouble but every now and then I come across one that wipes me out in seconds (with arrows), and it doesn't help when they're entirely hidden and also untouchable.

Well, I could just quick load and get back in the action instantly, but I've been walking around in caves for ages now and I've got other things I should be doing today, so I'm turning the game off now.


I want to say nice things about Nox, because there's a lot to like about it. The screenshots might not be too pretty but it looks nice in action, with the shadows being cast everywhere as you walk around. Plus it's got a great Frank Klepacki soundtrack, who shows his range here by coming up with music that sounds exactly nothing like anything he did for the Command and Conquer games. Even the gameplay's alright and pretty fast paced, though I struggled a bit to get some of my spells to hit anything and was basically playing it like a fighter with a healing spell for the most part.

The trouble with the game though, is that it got me wanting to see the adventures of Jack in a fantasy world and then immediately changed into a typical RPG once the intro was done. Maybe the game will do something with it later, but I'm three chapters in and the only time I got a sense that I was playing as someone from our world was when I looked at his t-shirt and the description said he needed to put it in the laundry when he got back. That's also the only comedy I can remember, aside from the frog wizard and the necromancer falling down a troll hole. Though I suppose it's a little bit funny that the designers thought item durability was a good idea.

As a standard action RPG though it's been fine so far I reckon. It's less chaotic than Diablo in both level design and the amount of enemies it threw at me, but on the other hand the only unique or interesting loot I picked up were the spell books. (In its defence there are a lot of spells). The game seems very linear as well, and the only exploration I got to do was searching every corner of the dungeons it sent me down. Plus the story has been pretty much just 'go down into a dungeon and bring back my apprentice/an amulet/a book etc.' and I've had absolutely no say in anything that happened in it. I mean that literally, as Jack's a silent protagonist. He's presumably even more silent in multiplayer and Solo Quest.

But if you want to go from A to B and hit things the game's got you covered and I honestly enjoyed doing it, for a while at least. So it gets a shiny star.

Thanks for turning up and reading some/all of my words! Now you have to read all the words in the comments below as well.

Unless there aren't any comments, in which case congratulations, you got here early! Either that or no one cares about poor Nox anymore. I suppose it'd mean that no one knows what the game on the left is either.


  1. I remember this one! I down---er, "bought" it back in 2012 because of Ocean's review.

    1. I let Ocean know and he was glad to hear it!

  2. The Necromancer is a dead ringer for Quan Chi of Mortal Kombat fame.

  3. Unrelated, but the Bitmap Brothers aesthetic live son in your logos.

    1. That's the best thing anyone's ever said about my logos.


Semi-Random Game Box