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Virtual ninjas, James Bond and beyond

Mark Bermendorfer and Trevor Gass | Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Ninja GaidenMark: Finally, a game made by old school gamers for old school gamers. Games nowadays are getting easier than they were in the past. Am I the only one that remembers games that gave you three continues, marginal lives and expected you to defeat an army of super cyborg/ninja/zombie/squirrels? If one died, it was back to the start. Now, people tend to respawn in the same place with only a marginal penalty, or they can quick-load their last save.”Ninja Gaiden” uses the checkpoint system of saves with the checkpoints spaced far apart. This forces gamers to move with caution, and actually contemplate their actions carefully. A quick warning – this game is not for those easily frustrated. Many of the levels are designed without the survival of a lone ninja in mind.One particular area early in the game stands out as an example. After moving with less than ninja stealth through an army of soldiers armed with guns and rocket launchers, our hero encounters a tank. This tank is not of the ordinary video game variety that falls apart after being tapped a few times. This one withstands explosion after explosion, and is more than able to end one ninja’s life. After fighting a grueling battle, one would think a little break would be due. But no, as soon as the first is defeated, a garage door lifts open and out pops a second with no save point in between. Then, immediately following the two tanks comes an attack helicopter. This almost relentless slew of challenges could frustrate any gamer.However, just because it is frustrating does not mean it is impossible. This game will challenge you often, cause cursing even more often, but overcoming those challenges will bring a sense of accomplishment that hearkens back to the old NES days.

Trevor: Beautiful graphics and tight gameplay accentuate this X-Box exclusive platformer in the sea of mediocre knockoffs of the popular “Devil May Cry” series for the Playstation 2. The controls are quick to learn, but difficult to master. After watching stunning aerobatics and ninja quick reflexes destroy soldiers and tanks, I jumped into the game only to be destroyed by the computer within 10 minutes. Though the path of a ninja may look fantastically fun and dangerous, complete mastery of the many moves and weapons is necessary to make any forward progress.Strategy is key and foresight a must if you want to see the end of the game. Simple button mashing and good luck is not enough to overcome a dark army. This being true, precision and timing are key, as any ninja can attest. The weary gamer should tread lightly, for “Gaiden” is not for the faint of heart. This third-person ninja action draws on the strengths of its predecessors. The famed gameplay of “Devil May Cry” is brought to an entirely new level, with a combat system comparable to “Soul Calibur II,” and mind bending environmental puzzles reminiscent of those found in “The Legend of Zelda” series.”Ninja Gaiden” is a must have for the hardcore gamer, and something to be strongly to be considered by anyone else looking for impressive and challenging gameplay. If I could have only buy five games this year, “Ninja Gaiden” would be one of them.

NFL StreetMark: Following the tradition of games that don’t make it easy for the player, “NFL Street” will often cause the player to go off on a string of words that would make any mother blush. Similar to the “NFL Blitz” series, “Street” has a faster paced, arcade style game play that purists may scoff at. Those purists might be making a mistake.”Street” is a rather deep football game for those that enjoy football, but can’t quite get into the Madden or NCAA games. However, there are many elements of “Street” that football fans will enjoy, such as the building of a team from the bottom up. Building a team can get quite frustrating however as the season starts with average Joes off the street making up your team while your opponents are set NFL teams. A comparison of the stats reveal that your team is about half the skill level of theirs.However, once the initial hurdle is passed, the game becomes quite enjoyable, as your team is able to not only take on, but also stomp those of the NFL on a routine basis. Almost all of the aspects of your team can be customized, from their running stats to their dress apparel. True, this game does branch off of the Madden series in many areas such as the aforementioned arcade style of game play. The cartoonish look of the players may turn off some. However, all the players are recognizable and move fluidly. One thing this game may have above Madden would be the multi-player option. It’s fast paced sheer lunacy disguised as a football game. Never before seen in a football game, there are walls on a field that introduce a new element into the game. A big running back may end up charging the length of the field, bouncing off the wall while staying on his feet.

Trevor: Definitely a game to challenge your friends with. Not only can you run a pass for a 70-yard touchdown, but with the unique style points feature, your can rub it in their face by initiating one of several player taunts (my favorite is the “Figure Hate”) while racking up credit to the unlock the infamous “Gamebreaker” option (soupping up your players until there is a turnover or a touchdown).Customizing every individual player on your roster is half the game’s challenge. From names to apparel to height and offensive and defensive skills, you affect their playing ability with each change. Upgrading your player’s skills is done through defeating opposing teams while satisfying certain requirements and gaining development points. Then comes the dilemma as to either making your receiver taller to better his chance of grabbing a high pass, or increasing the quarterback’s weight to make his run power more effective. With all the customizing, the team you start off with is something you can truly call your own, which makes stomping your best friend that much more satisfying.As a single player game, “Street” can be insanely difficult with cheap artificial intelligence, but is rewarding in the end. As a party game, this is a must for any football fan.

BreakdownTrevor: Before you start breakin’ it down with this innovative first-person shooter/fighter for the X-Box, you will want to break out an industrial size bottle of Dramamine. Not only does the action throw you through burning skyscrapers and across alien planets, but you might find that your travels will send you to the bathroom as well due to the nauseating camera motion.The “Breakdown” storyline is fast-paced, and though it is nothing we haven’t seen before – you play as an amnesiac on a quest to save the planet and discover your identity – it manages to remain engrossing This makes up for the repetitive play through the first half of the game. It may be intentional to allow gamers time to become accustomed to the realistic viewpoint’s disorientating gameplay and for them to nail down the numerous alien crushing melee combos that are an integral part of the game given that it is insanely hard.A downfall in “Breakdown” comes from the targeting system that automatically locks on enemies. This is made into even more of a chore given the camera becomes fixed on the enemy, so don’t be surprised when you find yourself caught up on obstacles outside of your view. The combat mechanics could have been more polished as well.You will find that the main weapons in the game are neither effective nor accurate and that many of your hand-to-hand combos will end up short of their mark. The fighting itself is repetitious and can quickly turn into a tedious game of block and strike. When you break it all down, “Breakdown” is a solid title worth looking into. Rent before buying.

Mark: Breaking down “Breakdown” can often break down your tolerance for breaking Alien neck Insanely hard? More like insanely cheap.”Breakdown” is exactly what every gamer has been waiting for. Finally, here is a game that truly simulates the sensation of deep-sea fishing in stormy weather. Too bad it actually has nothing to do with fishing. On a positive note, due to the nausea breaks that people will be forced to take while playing this game, it will last awhile and gamers may feel like they got their money’s worth.Mentioned earlier were the amazing variety of environments, from alien worlds to tall buildings. It’s a shame all of these environments are plain and almost ugly when compared to the other games out there. The corridors in the burning building, pre- and post-explosion, are almost all identical with the only indication of where to go being the doors with green access plates as opposed to red. For a game as innovative as this is supposed to be, not much is actually new. The story, although cool, feels recycled. The human bad guys feel lifted out of the superior “Half-Life,” while the aliens seem to have traces of the Borg from Star Trek. The only thing truly innovative is the fact that it is a first-person fighter.However, that alone could have redeemed the game slightly if Namco had spent a little more time revising it. Too much motion and routine actions further diminish what may have been a revolutionary title. I know it’s supposed to be immersive, but why must I bend over and manually pick up, examine, and pocket every single item I come across?

James Bond 007: Everything or NothingTrevor: With fighting games taking on the first-person perspective, James Bond jumps into the third-person arena for the first time in “Everything or Nothing.” Gameplay is reminiscent of the Playstation 2’s “Metal Gear Solid” and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series (check out “Pandora Tomorrow”). “Everything or Nothing” opens with a bang in typical Bond style – having you rappel from the top of a power plant, drive your Aston Martin in a high speed pursuit, duke it out with the ever popular Bond nemesis Jaws in hand to hand combat and destroy an enemy base after a chase down with in a helicopter. All these action-packed sequences are found within the first few stages of the game. Bond takes the gaming experience to another level with its cinematic storyline featuring actors Pierce Brosnan, Willem Dafoe and singer Mya. “Everything or Nothing” introduces a new benchmark in movie-like gaming.Bond as a multiplayer game shines as well, with its cooperative option throwing you and your best friend into a supplementary storyline that requires direct cooperation between players. If you own a Playstation 2, you will be able to engage in online gameplay. Since communication is necessary, a headset is essential to relay information.Gameplay wise, “Everything or Nothing” is in essence, a duck and shoot game. The lock on aiming system isn’t perfect when the computer refuses to target the desired enemy or throws the camera around into awkward angles, which can be problematic in tight hallways or hazardous areas. Shooting the enemy consists of holding one button to aim and the other to fire, something very reminiscent to Koei’s Winback or Namco’s kill switch.”Everything or Nothing” is a game worthy of the James Bond name. It delivers in the action and storyline elements and graphically, Bond has never looked better. Since “Everything or Nothing” is on all three major gaming systems, there is no excuse for any respectable gamer to not own a copy.

Mark: Bond certainly likes to throw a lot at the average gamer. Possibly the best Bond since “Goldeneye,” “Everything or Nothing” is certainly the most differentiated game out on the market right now. From driving to flying to free-falling off the face of a cliff, there are not many things that have ever been in a Bond movie that does not occur in this game. However, even though it does a good job imitating various genres, each one feels rather shallow in its own right. All the segments excluding the third-person shooting feel kind of shallow, as if they ran out of time while designing them. The car, nor the bike control quite right, and the cliff diving segment was an exercise in frustration.The multiplayer was great, well, the co-op part was. A lesser third-person arena based fighter has replaced the multiplayer first-person shooter. Fans of “Powerstone” for the Sega Dreamcast will know what I mean by that. Odd Job also makes a return as a playable death match character, but due to the new nature of the multiplayer death match, his diminutive stature is no longer a benefit. It was awesome to see the likeness and voices of famous actors used in the game, particularly that of the exceptional Willem Dafoe. It’s too bad this was just a game with no movie backing it. It would have been great to see Dafoe as a Bond villain.