Just over a year ago, I finished Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox and wrote about how great it was, even a few years on. I loved the combat system and the challenge, and I still feel that the fact that it can still be well received as a PS3 game a couple of years after its original release shows how rock solid those foundations were.
With Ninja Gaiden II gracing the 360 at the moment, though, and the graphical mantle having been surrendered to Devil May Cry 4 and, it’s safe to assume, the next God of War, the game is more reliant than even on the underlying mechanics to carry it. While it looks a lot better in motion than it does in screenshots, the first thing on Team Ninja’s shopping list should be an art director, lest it descend further into the id Software back-of-an-emo-kid’s-exercise-book, “what’s more awesome than a demon? A demon with a chainsaw and rocket launcher for arms!” school of monster design.
A writer should be high up that list, too. The story here is laughable, rambling on and raising questions of exactly how many artefacts with the ability to bring about armageddon the Hayabusa clan is entrusted with (since they keep getting stolen, shouldn’t someone else take over?) to whether or not CIA agents really dress like this. The man behind this and the DOA series was sued for sexual harassment? Surely not!
But does it play as well? Frankly, I’ve been disappointed so far. While certainly difficult and still mechanically strong, it’s much cheaper than the original (ignoring the zombie fish), frequently making fiends jump out from around the corner and immediately relieve you of anywhere up to half your life bar. And if you found the first game’s ninjas with exploding shurikens annoying, witness the frequency with which this game pits you against multiple archers with flaming arrows. While you have your own ranged weapons, between dodging shots you won’t have time to power them up and so must either waste whole quivers full of your own stock or charge them with jumps and wall-runs until you’re close enough to hit an attack, having to cope with being knocked back when one manages to tag you. Argh. Continue reading Ninja Gaiden II Impressions
Naturally, this year had more great games than anyone could possibly whittle down to just ten. So, as I did last year, here are a few that I liked but didn’t quite make the list. All are worth a try.
- Jeanne d’Arc (PSP) – Level-5’s strategy RPG arrived with almost no hype and, therefore unsurprisingly, didn’t exactly set the world alight. What was the last PSP game that did? Nonetheless, it’s as gorgeous as Dragon Quest VIII with even better production values – check out the fully animated and voiced anime scenes – and is portable, which for me makes an RPG infinitely more playable. It’s also not as hardcore as many SRPGs tend to be, so virgins to the genre shouldn’t be afraid of trying it out.
- The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) – As the game in this list that came closest to making the top ten, I shouldn’t need to tell you what’s good about Phantom Hourglass. It’s Zelda. You’ve played it. This one just gets extra credit for mapping workable touch screen controls to a traditional game style. As with Twilight Princess, I found myself enjoying the unique controls rather than simply tolerating them.
- Mass Effect (360) – Despite suffering from many of the issues of Knights of the Old Republic minus such an immediately appealing world (though this one is certainly far better than most sci-fi RPGs), Mass Effect is an enthralling game that will become a huge time sink if you let it. Both technically stunning (the facial animation) and disappointing (the frame rate), it’s still a lesson in how to do a sci-fi adventure. Let’s hope that it doesn’t mark Bioware’s descent into the same hole that swallowed Westwood and Bullfrog.
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3) – I’m cheating somewhat here, given that I’ve played Sigma for little more than a couple of hours. This is really a chance to honour Ninja Gaiden in general, a game that I played to a meaningful extent for the first time this year and thought was absolutely fantastic. Sigma looks better and has more content, and is therefore just as easy to recommend. Play any version (the original and Black both work perfectly on a 360) in time for the sequel later in 2008.
- Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (360/DS/PSP) – If Viva Piñata was 2006’s best game that nobody played, surely Puzzle Quest is 2007’s. Yes, at its heart it’s yet another Bejeweled clone, and yes, the AI can be frustratingly prescient, chaining massive combos using off-screen gems that no-one could know about without cheating. But even so, Bejeweled is an addictive and fun game without a well-developed RPG component. Since its appearance on XBLA there can be few people without access to this gem. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
- Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3) – While it’s consistently overrated in certain camps, Resistance was a solid shooter with an excellent suite of multiplayer modes, and deserves mention for the extensive support post-release. Insomniac’s feature-laden patches have brought everything from balance tweaks to a screenshot function and Dual Shock 3 support, even while they’ve brought another game to market and have undoubtedly started work on the sequel. Other developers could learn from the example.
- Super Stardust HD (PS3) – In the flood of twin-stick shooters that have followed Geometry Wars, this is arguably the best. While I felt it slightly overcomplicated, it gave the genre a modern sheen that Geometry Wars had lacked, coupling mightily impressive graphics with a superb soundtrack. With more content to come and the recent patch bringing more features to the table, this is an overlooked gem.
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.