Monday, February 22, 2010

X360 look - Ninja Gaiden 2

There are plenty of instances where I don't give games the time they deserve. This is mostly due to me attempting to keep up the appearance of having a life. In some cases however I just get sick of playing a game and have to shelve it. So here I am hoping against hope that I'll never have a reason to play Ninja Gaiden 2 again. It's one thing to disagree with how a game is designed but in this case I absolutely hate so much of what this game does.

The story is Ryu Hayabusa blah blah revenge murmur murmur demons etc etc fiends yak yak Rasputin-looking dude and whatever it's time to kill everything. If you've played the prequels or any other action game you know there are stages filled with enemies and a boss or two to face-off. Along the way Ryu can access a shop to restock his supplies or strengthen his weapons. The bulk of this game will be spent killing and dying until an end is eventually reached. Somewhat related to the dying part is all of the time spent on load-times between time of death and respawn.

Ryu has all of the tools necessary to spill blood. He's loaded to bear with a number of weapons that are covered in sharp edges, somehow manage to catch on fire, and just might explode on impact to boot. The name of the game is lopping off the limbs of his foes and then obliterating them before they can become a real threat. When not doing this Ryu will be performing Ultimate techniques which use essence to charge up an attack that can quickly wipe out most foes. If that option isn't available then it's a matter of finding the safest move available and spamming that until the other two options become available.

For a game that finds joy in painting everything in blood and giving Ryu thousands of soon-to-be corpses it turns out that the best offense is apparently nothing but defense. To start with grab a piece of tape and tape that block button down. There is never to be a moment where that block button is to go un-held. While blocking isn't effective against throws and grabs it will render Ryu immune to many attacks and minimize damage from attacks he can't block. Step two is in copious usage of the dodge. This is done by holding the block button and then moving. Since the tape is taking care of that block situation it's easy to focus on the dodge. This move is important because it's a "get out of damage free" card as long as you're not dodging into danger. The final step is invincible moves. There are a handful of moves that Ryu can perform that make him impervious to damage. This is at the most a second or two but this is the kind of game that can end in a second or two. Keep all of this in mind and you'll die less.

Defense is so essential because there is not a moment where the player isn't being attacked by something. Oh sure Ryu can wander around, swing on some poles, maybe climb a few ladders but just as soon as an enemy comes on screen he's going to be overwhelmed. It's not enough that 4+ enemies hound Ryu at a time but the ones that aren't actively trying to slice him up are going to be pelting him with projectiles. The projectiles in this game are infinite and awful. They come from every possible direction and move so quickly that dodging them is out of the question most of the time. Blocking helps although before long exploding shuriken are thrown into the mix. These frequently break blocks and three or four manage to be sticking in Ryu all the time. The only thing Ryu can do just short of investing in some repellent is doing those invincible moves to shake them off. I dare say that this game would be entirely different if projectiles were in any way limited.

This game also has a lot of water. Water has its uses in bathing, drinking, and other uses but as far as I'm concerned it does not belong in action games. Furthermore it doesn't belong in action games where you're a Ninja. Remember disarming the underwater bombs in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game? Nobody ever got the idea that Ninjas in water is a game design disaster. That's why whenever Shinobi falls in water he dies. Ryu wishes he could die when he makes contact with water in this game. Swimming is clunky at best and wholly ineffective when foes start running across the water to attack him. Ryu can run on water as well but fighting while doing so is a futile effort. Around this time our hero acquires a harpoon gatling gun but this weapon was designed for one purpose and that's killing seemingly-infinitely-spawning-exploding-jellyfish. I bolded this because I know it will be on my epitaph.

Speaking of death I'd say I spent a good majority of the boss-fights staring at a game over screen. The regular fights are enough of a hassle but these bosses are designed simply to end in either 3 seconds or 30 seconds. While the boss can kill Ryu in probably two or three good hits Ryu can also kill the boss very quickly. Sure not 3 seconds quickly but less than a minute is nothing to sneeze at. Problem is when either party can be killed quickly that just cheapens the appeal of having a boss in the first place. More time is spent building up to these encounters through cutscenes than on the fights themselves. It certainly doesn't help that many of these bosses are among the worst in terms of design. There's not one but two fights with giant worms, a fight with a giant water-dragon, a battle involving two flying beasts, and multiple face-offs with one of Ryu's many bitter rivals and/or greater fiends. None of them are good really but some at least try to emphasize some back & forth action that relies on reflexes and skill to get through. Some like the water dragon are just plain dumb and rely more on patience and understanding ridiculous usage of mechanics to get through.

The bow & arrow is something that this game would also be better off without. Actually I can imagine it having good uses but for this game all it means is a lot of situations where Ryu can't simply gut his foes with his sword and must plink away at them like he's in a shooting gallery. A couple of the boss battles center entirely around this weapon and it's really quite terrible. Another grating aspect is that since arrows are limited Ryu has to find corpses with unlimited arrows stuck to them. I heard the Sigma version of this game simply gives Ryu unlimited arrows. Why did the developers encourage the use of this weapon over taking it out or re-working to entirely? Beats me.

I'm not sure what the developers were thinking when they thought up the ranking system but I can't imagine they were thinking very hard. The most apparent flaw is that even though I can die dozens of times in a stage I can still attain a Master Ninja ranking. Shouldn't there be some sort of real penalty involved? Maybe I wasn't paying attention and I lost a few points here or there but what kind of Master Ninja dies all the time? In fact there's even an achievement for dying enough times. I guess patience is a virtue or something.

Speaking of that there's a Test of Valor in most of the stages. Unlike the boss fights that can end in 3 or 30 seconds these Tests can end in 3 seconds or 10+ minutes. These Tests consist of the player facing off against 100+ enemies. The reward tends to be an item that goes unused but more importantly they are done for achievements and getting more points so one player can be more of a Master Ninja than other. That means 100+ enemies with their 1,000,000,000+ projectiles and as a final kick in the ninpo orbs most of the reward chests will contain ghost-fish(yep the same bastards from the last Ninja Gaiden). Granted this entire game is a Test of Patience so I'm thankful that these are entirely optional.

To date I've only played through this game on the easiest setting. Feel free to think whatever you like about me but I simply don't have the inclination to put up with another playthrough of this game. The combat itself can be fun at times but it's buried under so many aspects of game design that I don't agree with that the game as a whole ultimately becomes a constant source of annoyance. Quite frankly I'd be perfectly content if I never played this game again.

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