LTTP: Ninja Gaiden

Ryu Hayabusa

Maybe it’s that shiny Sigma demo that’s doing the rounds or maybe it’s the chat about the inevitable Ninja Gaiden 2. Or, more likely, it’s the goading from a borderline obsessive friend who insists that I’ve missed out on the best action game ever made. I finally got Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox from eBay and have spent some time kicking around with that.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never played NG because I gave it a try back in 2004, only to give up on the second boss because I found it too ball-achingly hard. It still is hard – the difficulty wouldn’t be such a big sticking point if it wasn’t – but it’s one of the deepest and most rewarding action games around. Some parts, especially bosses, are unnecessarily evil (in chapter 9: a tank, another tank, and then a helicopter gunship!?) but although death is often inevitable it’s usually a case of your mistake. It plays like a fighting game which necessitates learning the fighting system and gives rise to the possibility of being killed by one of the peons, an ignominious end for a master ninja.

At the same time the odds are stacked in your favour because most of the time you have all the tricks they do and more, and most of the time you’re stronger and faster as well. It’s much more of a game of skill than the other top 3D actioners, God of War and Devil May Cry, as good as those ones are. Intelligent use of blocking is essential, the various weapons have their benefits and caveats, and it’s hugely beneficial to learn your repertoire of moves. Again, like a fighting game.

I implore you, if the difficulty made you give up on Ninja Gaiden, give it a try. The Xbox version is dirt cheap (still looks great in 720p on the 360) or you can plump for Sigma if you’re a PS3 owner. Or wait for the 360 version of Sigma when the PS3 one sells 50,000. Yeah, I went there.

Ouendan 2 Impressions

Ouendan 2

It’s finally here! The sequel to the best cult game ever has turned up, and I’ve been exercising my hot-blooded rhythm soul with it.

Think of it as Ouendan with the improvements made to Elite Beat Agents (3D map, skippable intros, better graphics, saved replay ghosts, four player support) and, most importantly, that quirky Japanese humour and music that made Ouendan so great. I always thought that EBA was very good but lacked that something.

The best that the original had to offer like Kokoro Odoru and Loop & Loop are a high benchmark, and it’s not just out of laziness (OK, it is) that the Ouendan soundtrack has been in my car’s CD player for the best part of two years. While I’m so far not sure that Ouendan 2 will be the one to displace it, it beats the pants off Madonna and Avril Lavigne. Alas, nothing as immediately memorable as I’d been hoping but far from a bad selection.

All the characters from the original turn up, either as background characters or because they’re in trouble again, and Ryuta’s cheer squad is joined by a competing team who they stare menacingly at between missions. It of course makes very little difference because much of the game is spent looking at concentric circles and trying to decipher some headscratching storylines (what’s happening isn’t always as obvious as last time), and I’m sure it wouldn’t make much sense even if I could understand it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if many of Ouendan’s fans have bought this already so I’m waiting for the new chart data to see whether all the importers will make this one register significantly – it’s a DS game so I assume it’ll be somewhere on the Japanese charts regardless – and if you liked the original, even if you weren’t as obsessive as I was back in the day, it’s worth buying. Just make sure that you have the original first. No excuses.

A Few Hours with Halo 3

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to find an email from Bungie in my inbox, complete with the Halo 3 beta code that I won months ago and which meant several things. Firstly I could get downloading early, and secondly I’ll actually be able to get playing today. Ha!

Very brief impressions is that it looks nice in HD – colourful and sharp, but still needing a bit of work on the occasional hiccups in the framerate – and plays like Halo. Going online, especially against a group who’ve been playing for a while now, is always something of a trial by fire, and inevitably I spent a couple of games running around like a headless chicken and being sniped from who-knows-where. I’d be lying if I said I still wasn’t getting killed fairly frequently, in fact.

Nonetheless, I like what I’m seeing. Some early thoughts:

  • It looks better in motion than in shots. Certain things are still clearly not final (water effects, for example) but things are already nice and solid. Halo 2 seems almost unplayable now.
  • Brilliant sound. You can really hear distant battles going on (the mounted guns sound weirdly like trains, though) and you’ll often be hit before you hear the report.
  • Valhalla will be a more than competent replacement for Blood Gulch/Coagulation. It’s a great map.
  • The new/old assault rifle is a much better all-round starting weapon than the SMG. You’re still at a disadvantage against someone with a better gun obviously, but you’re far less emasculated.
  • RB replacing X takes a bit of getting used to for performing actions. Once you’ve got it, though, it makes things more flexible.
  • The equipment is definitely cool. Bubble shield has its uses, the power drainer – drains shields and disables vehicles in its blast radius – is invaluable for attacking a flag/hill/VIP, and a mine placed at the landing point for the man cannon is guaranteed hilarity. The portable jump pad is only used in one situation in the beta and seems the least flexible, but we’ll see.
  • The new weapons are all quite good. I’m still a bit worried that the laser will be overpowered once people work it out but they all have their caveats. The spike grenade is awesome in tight corridors. The needler might as well be new: it’s a monster that can take someone down with one ‘clip’, and thankfully can’t be dual-wielded now.
  • I’ve had quite a lot of lag, which I’m willing to put down to it not having worked out who makes the best host yet, as in Halo 2. This has the same painful quirk in which you’ll mysteriously warp back a few steps over and over again when you’re lagging, which drives me mad.

By far the best part, though, is deliberately sending invites to people who don’t have the beta. They think it’s just as hilarious as I do!

Above all, the game just feels right. It feels like Halo, in other words. This thing is going to make the wait until 26th September even harder.


Dissertation Word Count

After countless hours of research and wearing my typing fingers (little-known fact: I only type with three fingers) down to stumps, I’ve finished my dissertation. Not only does this mean that I’m mere weeks away from being kicked out into the big bad world, it also means that I can play some games and post on here again. It sucks when life gets in the way of the really important things, doesn’t it?

26 pages or 11,222 words was the final count, all in. That beats my previous biggest Word document by some 22 pages. I could be forgiven for being put off ever blogging again after writing that much about the things.

The current games of choice are both on their second wind with me: Halo 2 in anticipation of a little event in a couple of weeks, and alternately another futile attempt to master Counter-Strike Source and find out how much better at it most people are than me. Give me a week to get back in the swing of things and I’ll be on about the summer drought again.