One of the most recent gaming trends has been taking old franchises from the 8 and 16-bit days and adapting them into current 3D games. The results have been mixed, with most titles, like Maximo and Castlevania turning out to be solid, but less than perfect games. In 2002, Sega brought back one of their beloved classics, Shinobi to mixed reviews. The game was thought to be too hard, and it wasn't much to look at either. Now, almost two years later, Sega's released a sequel to Shinobi, entitled Nightshade. The main characters are different, but the games play very similar to one another - too similar, as Nightshade ultimately ends up sharing more than a few of its predecessor's faults.
Nightshade follows the adventures of Hibana, a Ninja for hire, who has been retained by the Tokyo government to defeat hordes of Hellspawn newly awakened by the ancient Akujiki curse. Hibana must defeat all of her enemies, and collect all the pieces of the Akujiki sword, which was the sword from Shinobi that sucks the souls of those that it comes into with. The story is a little hard to follow at first, but as you progress further into the game, the pieces come together and it starts to make some sense.
Right off the bat, Nightshade throws you into action, which is something you'd better be ready for, because you're going to spend the entire game mashing buttons franticly. As the game opens, Hibana finds herself on top of an in-flight Stealth Bomber, fighting off hordes of Ninjas. In addition to the Ninjas, there are machine guns that spawn up and shoot, and there's also a Stealth Fighter trailing her, shooting missiles. The game completely disregards the fact that any missile that hits Hibana is also going to take out the Stealth Bomber that she's on, but if you can look past the fact that she's standing on top of it while it's flying, little things like this won't bother you.
If you played the most recent Shinobi, you'll be familiar with Hibana's moves, though this time around she's got new kick in her arsenal. You can double jump, run on walls, and do a speed dash, which allows you to not only kill enemies faster, but when used with the double jump, gets you to some tough to reach spots. Nightshade's combat is fast, and is made even faster by the use of the "TATE" attack. This is essentially a combo system that encourages you to kill all your enemies as fast as possible before the TATE meter runs out. If you can kill all the enemies on screen, a brief cut-scene where each defeated enemy is shown appears, Hibana talks a little smack, and you are awarded a bunch of points. At the end of the level, the points go towards a level ranking, and you can unlock VR-style missions, cut-scenes, and the ability to play any level at any time.
Unfortunately, Nightshade's combat is as repetitive as it is fast. You'll face hordes of the same enemies over and over, just mindlessly pressing the same buttons repeatedly. Fortunately, the game's difficulty has been tweaked, and while it does start on Normal, you can drop down up to two levels in difficulty, which makes the game a little less frustrating. I didn't find the game particularly difficult, but I seem to be in the minority on that topic.
Nightshade's camera is simply put, terrible. No matter how much time you have, it's near impossible to get it in the position you want, and you can just forget moving it around effectively when trying to finish a TATE. Yes the game moves fast, but there's absolutely no excuse for the camera to be this inept. It's quite possibly one of the worst cameras of any videogame in recent memory.
Speed is a key part of Nightshade, so it would make sense that it would have a framerate that could keep up with the action, and it does. The game is locked in at a blazing 60fps, and very rarely slows down. The game also has a unique style, and it has a lot more of a modern feel to it than you would expect from a Ninja game. Alas, those are the only good things Nightshade has going for it aesthetically. For starters, the game has got a bad case of the "jaggies" the likes of which hasn't been seen since Ridge Racer V. The game's artists probably didn't even have to put points on the edge of the swords because they knew the game could turn even the most round surface into a pointy, deadly weapon.
Nightshade also sports some of the most bland textures and uninspiring level design since, well, the last Shinobi game. The levels feel like nothing more than a few rooms connected to a few other random rooms, and the game's frequent loading of new areas adds to this problem. As you move from one area to another, you're teleported to the adjoining area, with no way to go back. If you look behind you to see where you came from, you simply can't - it's just not there anymore. The game's TATE cut-scenes are also pretty boring, filled with clipping, and since they drop you right into the action again, often cause you to become disoriented, falling off a ledge. A consistent 60fps is commendable to be sure, but it comes at such a sacrifice to the rest of the game's visuals, the price isn't worth it.
The music found throughout the game isn't very interesting or even very good, but the pulsing beats do a good job of keeping you moving. After hearing the lousy music in Sonic Heroes, the music here, while out of place is better than that, but not by a whole lot. Nightshade's voice acting is downright nauseating. From the annoying attitude of Hibana, to the monotone voice of her superior, the dialog is laughable.
Deep down, Nightshade isn't a bad game, but it's got so many problems that it's impossible to really enjoy. The camera is atrocious, the graphics are bland, and the voice acting is lousy. The concept is cool, but after two mediocre games, it looks like it's time for Sega to put down the Shinobi series once and for all.
2/18/2004 Aaron Thomas