29th Sep 2006 | 15:35
ASSUME, UNLIKELY AS IT IS, that you know nothing about Ninety-Nine Nights. You've not read any previews, not looked at the back of the box, not played the demo and you're most certainly not the sort of person who reads manuals. While you're able to connect immediately with the basic hack and slash mechanic (button X hacks, button Y slashes), you're still a little confused about the story or rather what seems to be the lack of one.
To you, playing N3 is akin to wandering into a room full of telly addicts watching a Mexican soap opera. It seems like everything should be simple, but there's so much assumed knowledge implicit in even the simplest sentence - and the sentences never go past extremely simple - that you have no clue as to what's going on. The dialogue hints that it requires some kind of abstruse specialist knowledge, that there's something enormously explanatory and wonderful waiting just over the rise of the hill. It just so happens that the rise doesn't happen soon enough so, by the time you hit the third mission set, you'll be pretty bored of just hacking and slashing.
Let's be clear about this; N3 is an action adventure with a storyline told through the missions of several different characters. The various stories in the game aren't supposed to make sense if you haven't played the other sections, although we had trouble making sense of what was going on having played all of them. Basics aren't explained, such as where this is set, who all these people are and so on.
Despite its simplicity, the combat is easily the best part of the game, a viscerally satisfying slashing system that looks absolutely fantastic. You basically use the two attack buttons and jump around, firing off various long chaining combinations that kill increasing numbers of enemies. You level up, unlocking more moves and more item slots in your inventory (you get items from chests or as rewards), but the game doesn't change. Your best tactic is still to run into a mass of enemies and bash the buttons until the cows come home.
If you come across a boss, you can hack at them in the normal way - though not if they're attacking or being attacked by someone else, as they're implausibly invincible at those points.
Though the game looks pretty mind-boggling, you will get bored of spending hours running across the maps. While they're more interesting to look at than the equivalent Samurai Warriors 2 levels, they're still spirit-sappingly dull.
Your rating for each mission is dependent on your combo rating, how well your troops performed and several other factors - it's not really explained in-game how this contributes to the rating. However, the mostly gorgeous (if brainless) cutscenes also hold a problem. They break your combo chains, which is frustrating and, even more irritatingly, if you've used one of your super-killing Orb powers it'll be wiped out, meaning you might not achieve the rating you could have through no mistake of your own. Games should never make players fail when they've behaved perfectly well, unless it's part of the plot.
How does N3 makes use of the rest of the Xbox 360's capabilities. Custom features? No. Xbox Live? Not a whiff. Multiplayer? None. Ninety-Nine Nights does one thing well; making an easy hack and slash combo look pretty. However, it reminds us (developers take note!) that beautiful graphics do not a good game make.