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You'd figure that a video game company that is famous for what are arguably two of the most engaging titles available for the PlayStation would know what makes a great game. You'd also figure that this same company, being a bit older and a bit wiser these days, would put what they learned in the making of those blockbuster titles into practice when producing a new game. You probably wouldn't expect that this talented team of video game extraordinaires could be capable of producing a lackluster, uninspired game. Didn't your mom ever tell you to quit setting your expectations so high?
Yep - the folks at Eidos, so hallowed in the video game hall of fame for their Tomb Raider series, have struck again, and the game's name is Ninja: Shadow of Darkness. Now if you'll remember, Ninja has been in the works at Eidos for quite a long time. They even advertised the game in the booklet for Tomb Raider II. Well, time has not been on Eidos' side because Ninja is simply an under-par game.
It's not that Ninja is all that bad of a game. The graphics are fairly appealing, the music is well composed, and it does have some challenging gameplay elements. But it just ain't all that much fun.
The problem with Ninja is that it offers nothing in terms of innovation. Let's take the title, for example. Ninja ? C'mon boys, that's like calling a restaurant "Restaurant." As far as story goes, you get a brief FMV at the beginning (Eidos does know how to do these, by the way) and a few paragraphs in the book that basically explain every ninja game ever made: Ninja ticked off that Japan is overrun by demons, ninja decide to go kick some butt. Oh yes, and like most other video game heroes, this ninja thinks that he can conquer this evil demon horde by himself. Well, more power to you, grasshopper.
You are in control of the young Kurosawa, who, dressed in a blue jumpsuit (kinda looks like underoos to me), gets to wander through ten levels that range from your typical "I'm walking through a forest" setting to the slightly more appealing Japanese village area. All the levels are done fairly well, and most of them have a boss to beat at the end. And although Eidos is capable of some fantastic boss characters (the dragon from Tomb Raider II, anyone?), these bosses are all looks and no challenge.
Ninja comes off as a cross between Eidos' own Fighting Force (a 32-bit Streets of Rage) and Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle. You get a little bit of Fighting Force's combat, and a dash of Pitfall's adventure.
Now, one thing that Eidos advertises about this game is that it is "arcade-style." Yeah! This game is just like the arcades! One thing that Eidos may have overlooked, however, is that gamers buy home systems because they don't want to have to deal with the arcade game credit system. Yes, you can save your progress on a memory card, but every time you save, it remembers how many credits you have left--when your four credits are up, you're toast. Sure, each credit gives you three lives, and you can get extra ones, but you'll find yourself starting from the beginning at least a few times so that you can conserve lives for the later levels. This is just plain annoying!
Another "arcade-style" goodie that Ninja features is a point system. You get an extra life every time you hit 25,000. My, how very Defender. Now, my guess is that you aren't running off to tell your buddies that you got the high score in Ninja, so let's get together and figure out a better way to accumulate extra lives.
Ninja also has a few kinks in the gameplay department. Chief among my complaints here is the fact that you can't use the analog controller. Huh? This game screams for the analog controller, and these days, every title out there's got it. Say you've got an enemy just shy of the upper right-hand corner and you want to throw a dagger at him. Sorry dude, you can't do it. It's also excruciatingly difficult to jump onto small platforms that are anywhere but left, right, up, or down (remember Pitfall? This is even worse). Camera control you ask? Nope, it's all automatic, and like most automatic camera 3D games, you can't always see what you want to see.
As far as moves go, Kurosawa seems to have trained at the same gym as most of his video game compadres. You can punch, kick, jump, and throw a dagger. There are also a few combos, and you can grab weapons (sword, staff, etc.) every once in a while. Not terrible, but again, nothing spectacular.
Where Ninja makes up a bit of ground is in the graphics and sound departments. Although not breath-taking, the graphics are solid. There's very little slowdown, and Eidos has managed to add a few tricks (the water on the second level is cool) that make the game a bit more immersive. I was also pleasantly surprised by the sound. The tunes have a Tomb Raider-esque, cinematic quality, and there's very little generic, pseudo-traditional Japanese music. And although some are lifted straight from Tomb Raider, Ninja's sounds are quite authentic.
In the end, Ninja's dull title says it all - there just ain't anything new here.