Tagged: action

Done Playing: Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword (DS)

When last I wrote about the game I was still plodding through the opening chapters. Now, having seen it through I can say without a doubt that there’s no finer action game on the DS and that anyone hoping to compare should bow with respect and shamelessly copy this game.

As I expected there aren’t any other weapons besides the upgradeable dragon sword, some explosive arrows, and a handful of ninpo magic attacks, but the gameplay remained mostly solid and rewarding throughout. The difficulty didn’t ramp up too much but the game starts throwing more and more enemies at you, along with environmental hazards, which leads to plenty of cheap jabs to your health bar. It didn’t lead to many outright deaths, and it’s really just a nagging complaint, but it definitely made me feel very un-ninja-y.

The boss battles also leave a lot for a master ninja to desire. With a few end-of-game exceptions they don’t feel as epic as the console versions and the attack patterns come slow and easy to avoid. Not even the final showdown felt as harrowing as the original game’s battle against Alma, which is a moment of horror that is forever ingrained in my mind. In Dragon Sword her evil Fiend sisters feel about as scary as being confronted by a Renaissance Festival player who dresses up and pretends it really is 1459.

Ryu’s lightning fast attacks may also contribute to how easy the whole adventure is. With few misinterpretations by the touch screen it’s easy to stay airborne while slicing and dashing through a dozen enemies, landing with just enough time to charge up your even-more-powerful Essence attack. Should you get in a jam you can almost always rely on your ninpo magic to level the field and even conjure up a spell that refills your health.

I’m sure the game is much more challenging on the next difficulty setting but I’m not the sort to trudge back through a game just to make it harder. Nor am I the type to play through all difficulty settings just to find hidden items, which is the only way to collect all of those pesky wooden amulets. The reward? You can rewatch the cutscenes, see character bios, and read diary entries. The diaries are entertaining, especially for the villains, but definitely not worth that kind of commitment.

The magic’s still here. Team Ninja has once again retooled their original 2004 adventure and I’ve once again trounced my way through it, living the rockstar ninja lifestyle and loving every bit of it. Now can we please get on with Ninja Gaiden 2 and another four years of remakes and updates?

Now Playing: Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword (DS)

Ninja Gaiden DS

In its current 3D form Ninja Gaiden has been around since 2004 and has seen no less than three iterations with minor enhancements and additions, all of which I’ve played and enjoyed. Team Ninja wove some real magic into those games that hooks unsuspecting players with its difficulty and rewards them for their perseverance. So it’s only fitting that before they finally release a sequel we must persevere through one last adventure with Hayabusa and the remnants of the Dark Dragon Blade Incident.

Yes, the story is set after the events of Ninja Gaiden/Black/Sigma but at this early stage in the game I’ve already plodded back and forth through Hayabusa Village and most recently arrived at the doorsteps of one very familiar Monastery. Not that I’m complaining; seeing familiar places and enemies makes me smirk in that Smash Bros. Brawl sorta way and this is by far the most original game since Ryu’s Xbox debut. Of course, I haven’t seen too much originality just yet outside of the striking visual design of the game.

Essentially this is Resident Gaiden with familiar (but simplified) Ninja Gaiden gameplay set on top of pre-rendered backgrounds a la the old Resident Evil games. It’s also played by holding the DS vertically like a book and for a game that uses only one button during combat (to block) things work just as smoothly as on the consoles. The trade off is that Ryu doesn’t have nearly as many attacks and as best I can tell, only one weapon. It’s to be expected; there are only so many ways you can slide your stylus across an enemy and so very little space on the cartridge to pack in more weapon animations.

Ninja Gaiden DS 2

The handheld limitations don’t stop the action from being blindingly fast, however, and I was quickly leaping skyward, tossing shurikens at distant archers and then smashing down on enemies below. The portable format does effect some aspects of the game as returning after a long break sometimes left me clueless as to what to do next. Where most DS games have an objective screen or a recap of what you’ve already done, Dragon Sword simply loads up quick and tosses you back into the fray.

It’s also important to remember that the touch screen isn’t the only bit of DS hardware you’ll be using. It’s been a while since a game has forced me to use the microphone and at one point I was stumped. Once I figured it out I backtracked and found a hidden item, one of 45 Wooden Amulets tucked away throughout the game. Oh good, more collecting! I don’t suppose the original Ninja Gaiden is unlockable on the DS.

So far I’m impressed and happy with Dragon Sword. It’s another retread of Ryu’s 3D Ninja Gaiden adventure but the portable format and unique gameplay are keeping my hands sore and my DS battery drained.

Done Playing: Armored Core 4 Answer Demo (PS3)

Armored Core 4 Answer

 

There are several constants in gaming, events and franchises that you can rely on year in and year out. Madden football, Dynasty Warriors, and Armored Core. Since the original PlayStation From Software has kept the almost-sim-deep mech action series going with tiny improvements in each new release. Armored Core 4 Answer marks the series second next-gen outing but judging by what I’ve played in this demo the franchise has yet to really grow beyond its meager mech beginnings.

Sure, it’s pretty but things still don’t run so well. Jagged visuals and screen tearing litter the demo’s desert landscape where an impressively gigantic walking battle station is trudging toward its final target. You arrive with the help of a huge jetpack array that lets you cross the post-apocalyptic landscape in seconds. It provides an impressive feeling of space and speed but once you get close to the juggernaut you’ll feel the clunky 90’s gameplay catch up with you like a sonic boom.

Aiming and moving your mech around should be simple and intuitive but here everything feels loose and slippery. Even in the relative safety of the behemoth’s underbelly, taking my time to aim at its armaments was frustrating and my ammo was depleted well before I was prepared to attack its top side. On my next try I decided to fly up top and assault the monster one flight deck at a time. Big mistake. The top side is a hotbed of enemy activity, loaded with hundreds of missile launchers, gunports, and roving bodyguard mechs. My flight time lasted about 35 seconds. All in all I played about eight times through the demo and each time I was bested, first by the shear number of attackers and ultimately by the gameplay itself.

The scope of AC4A is impressive; that gigantic walker puts any ol’ AT-AT to shame. I wanted to see myself buzzing across the flight decks, dodging Macross-style missile tracers while battling mechs and navigating between the gargantuan legs below. Unfortunately, the gameplay just isn’t slick enough to pull it all off. The best I could do was duck back between the huge legs while sniping at missile bays from below with my tiny robo-pistol. Not exactly the thrilling mecha experience the trailers have been pimpin’ out. But, like Koei’s Dynasty Warriors, Armored Core has its base of rabid fans who make the most of the gameplay for the fanservice and intertwining storyline and I’m sure AC4A will deliver on those accounts. For the rest of us, it just hasn’t evolved quite far enough.

Done Playing: Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires (Xbox 360)

I know how most of you feel about Dynasty Warriors and your opinion is rightly justified. Outside of a rare original offering (I’m thinking fondly of you Gitaroo Man) Koei doesn’t stray far from their own well worn path through feudal Asian history. But when was the last time you played a Dynasty Warriors game? If you wrote the series off years ago Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires is the perfect opportunity to take a fresh look.

For starters, the zoetrope framerate of the PlayStation 2 original is optimized to an acceptable level and the visuals have been notched up with improved textures, a fogless draw distance, and loads of flashy effects. It’s not going to win the graphics crown but the Xbox 360 definitely offers the most technologically pleasing Dynasty Warriors in years.

The other big advantage that the game has is in its Empires subtitle. Empires is what Koei calls the strategy-enhanced spin-off of each Dynasty Warriors release. Between battles of hack-and-slash man-flaying you’re presented with an increasing number of “policies” to build your army, recruit ranking officers, collect tax money from your kingdom, research weapons and items, and more. Policies are presented like cards in a game of Magic: The Gathering with shaky alliances and military maneuvers lasting a set number of turns while others increase your stats or bulk up your forces. As you conquer China’s 25 territories you’ll gain new policies and faltering rulers will call on you for aid which you can accept or deny.

I really enjoy the subtle strategy that Empires presents. It’s not as complex as Sid Meier’s Civilization and you can delve as deep into it as you want. It’s easy to spend over an hour weighing your policies and relocating troops but it’s just as easy to step aside and let your allied Generals (read: the game’s A.I.) play policy maker. After playing a few rounds as the Ruler that everyone looks to for brilliant tactical decisions, sometimes it’s just nice to get back to the action and conquer another territory.

Besides the monstrous roster of hard-to-keep-straight character names, the thing you probably remember most about Dynasty Warriors is the gameplay. Hack-and-slash by definition, there is more to it than simple button mashing but once you bulk up and find a good combo you’re pretty much set. The gameplay offers a series of combos for each weapon type, archery for the rare sniper moment, a few mounts to ride on from time to time, and the almighty Musou attack. Charge it up or let it build as you slay countless cookie cutter goons and tack it onto your longest combo for maximum damage. Empires’ strategy flows onto the battlefield as well, requiring you to capture enemy strongholds to weave a path across the territory towards the main camp. Surprise reinforcements, natural disasters, and status effects keep you on your toes as your pre-chosen policies come into play for your benefit.

Stampeding your way across China doesn’t take long; we’ve managed to finish off an Empire Mode campaign in just a few sessions. Thankfully, Koei is all about replay value and if you haven’t worn out your thumbs on the first play through there’s plenty to see and do. Special events come once per campaign and their outcome can greatly alter the game, there are always new items to research and upgrade, famous warriors to enlist and build up, and Achievements to work for (even though they cheaped out with only 36 to unlock).

The sound design — another series hallmark — is also in full effect, belting out guitar rock anthems backed by some of the most hilarious voice acting this side of the Canadian border. Bad as it may be you’ll come to appreciate the vocal cues to keep you abreast of what’s happening across the battlefield.

Plodding along over the years, refusing to really innovate, the Dynasty Warriors franchise has refined its own unique form. It doesn’t look especially good, its gameplay isn’t as slick as some, but Empires brings all the right elements in just the right proportions to offer a lengthy and fun feudal romp with the added bonus of some strategic thinkery.

Done Playing: Brothers in Arms (DS)

It seems that the Normandy campaign that I had some gripes with was just the game’s really long learning curve. I was finished with both Tunis and Ardennes — and ultimately the whole game — before I even had a chance to post about them. So is it worth the full retail asking price?

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