Sunday, 15 May 2011

On "Difficult" and "Cheap"... (Part 2)

    In this entry I will present and try to analyze some of the titles I consider "cheap" and cases of series that have degraded from being difficult to being imbalanced. The views offered are completely personal but I find it highly probable that many who have played the games I will be mentioning will consider my statements at least close to the truth. So, without further ado, let's move on to...

    Ninja Gaiden (XBOX - Normal & Black Editions -, PS3 - Sigma Edition -): TECMO's "ninja simulator" (as it is sometimes mentioned) series was a reboot of the old NES and arcade titles of the 80s. These games were always considered very hard to tackle, even in the golden age of tough-as-nails gaming that spanned most of the 8-bit era. The 3D iteration we were treated to on the original XBOX was indeed a worthy successor: Challenging, gorgeous and varied. It wasn't perfectly balanced by any means - some of the worst level design and many of the most annoying enemies ever can be found in this pulp - but most of it was fair in terms of the tools offered to the player and the tasks at hand. Ryu, the series protagonist, is really the most one can imagine in an action hero and a ninja at the same time: Strong, fast, good-looking and speechless with a strong sense of justice. On the field, he is a force to be reckoned with. Once the player understood - and that required some getting used to - how to utilize this bad-ass' full arsenal the sky became the limit. An amazing trip all-in-all, with its issues but surely a great offering from the house Itagaki-san built.

When NG was released it took the market by storm. The game was pure eye-candy, both aesthetically and technically. Above and beyond anything we had seen up to that point, its graphics alone were a key selling point. Sadly, the sequel failed to deliver even on that regard...

But alas, NG is a fine example of a series gone bad... REALLY bad. Let's move on to...

    Ninja Gaiden II (XBOX360, PS3 - Sigma Edition -): It was the graphics. From the first second in, I knew something was amiss. No anti-aliasing, no shaders, no attention to detail. Simply put, no charm. It was a bland mixture of blurry textures and muddy weather effects, a shifting mess of geometry. Of course, judging technology alone is not a valid way of evaluating a game so I braced myself and jumped into the action. First impressions were rather good: Combat was fluid, violence levels were acceptable - we all want some blood and gore in our action games after all - and the overall feel was up to standards. I followed Ryu on yet another attempt to save the Hayabusa village, the damsel in distress - barely dressed as always - and the world in the long run. During that trip I experienced some of the lamest, most mundane and uninspired design choices ever to "grace" the comforts of my living room: Mat-colored corridors, bare-bones caves and generic-beyond-belief enemies are just a few examples. I swear, the cave worm encountered at some point - complete with botched physics and all - is probably the one, most awful foe I've ever cut through. Simply... I can't seem to find an appropriate word that will express my disdain and keep the blog civil. And what would an uninspired game be without problematic - apart from blatant - tech? I really don't know how this game got out of the studio's quality control. Frame-rate loss was unacceptable, sometimes slowing to a crawl and cutting in the action. Mid-combat loadings were present as well, making me think of a simple, yet totally relevant question: "What were they thinking?".
    I really didn't want this to turn into a "damning" review of NGII, but I suppose giving you my complete thoughts of the game will make my following statements more pristine. You see, dear reader, there are some things in gaming that can really make or break an experience. One of this is reaching - or breaking - the player's tolerance limit in designing mistakes. If this game had balanced gameplay, or if that balance was a little off - like in the first NG - but the tech was 100% up to standards people probably wouldn't pay as much attention to how broken it is. In this case, the mess is total. I took so much time earlier to explain the technical inefficiencies of the title because they really add up to the imbalance factor. On the higher difficulty levels, a split-second delay in reaction is guaranteed a disgraceful death. Granted that this time frame is probably taken away by some freeze frame of loss of fps ratio it is no surprise that the game can get annoying, fast. I will not go into over-analyzing the various challenge modes - I will leave those for another entry - but there are certain points where the player is relentlessly assaulted from all angles, shuriken fly everywhere - coming from enemies inside and outside the action frame - and you are faced with the gross realization that something is off. Way off. Add to this the game's endless stream of enemies - something that would have been a treat if the title actually worked - and you have yourself a special mix of the following: Imbalanced mechanics, broken technology and lack of creative vision. A real shame after the glories of the original. Bad tech aside, NGII is just imba.

This "interesting" individual is Itagaki-san. Once awe-inspiring for his technical expertise and creative vision - along with his emphasis on female characters' breasts - it came as a great surprise that he allowed his "protege" project to be botched up so badly. A part of the gaming community suspects that it had something to do with his falling out with TECMO. We'll probably never know...

    People who know me have heard this argument before. It always slips from being a strictly balance-related statement to that of an overall review including my condemning thesis on the game's tech, lack of inspiration and so on. The reason is simple: I loved the original NG. I didn't want the sequel to be what I "expected" but surely I was awaiting something that would "work". Sadly, it was not to be. I am not "bitching" because I hate NGII. I do it because I love NG as a  series. And this game, in a long-running series of classics, is a disgrace.

    In order to avoid posting a huge entry I will stop here and come back with a new one. This time we will be moving from the genre of Action/ Hack 'n Slash to that of Role-Playing. It's time for yet another one of my all-times favorite games and for a sequel that managed to live up to my expectations... until it became apparent that someone was abusing too many illegal substances while programming its combat.

    It's time for Dragon Age...




  1. haha well said, I haven't played any NG game, except from the arcade so I don't really have the right to make a comparison between NG and NGII...
    As for your closing the only thing I can say is "SUSPENSE" XD

  2. Haha! Indeed! Until then try to hold off those ninja reinforcements! ;)

  3. I played UT3 last night with my buddy which reminded me of getting NGII that same summer. NG:B was one of my favorite games ever and the action game genre is easily my "niche."

    All I remember about NGII was hating the game so much that I could hardly bring myself to beat it.