"Another thing they did which generally works is set it so that if you're hovering about and an enemy appears in the general vicinity of where you have the cursor positioned, your aim will snap to that foe. You can practically lock on as the enemy skitters about, reloading as necessary. Not always is this the blessing you may think."
When you're a big bad ninja wizard...and you're also dead, you spend all your days lying around in a coffin. Or so a person would think. But this is a ninja world we're talking about, and apparently dead people don't let a little thing like death get in their way. Instead, they move about, commanding their minions, hoping for a resurrection so they can have a human body and become weak.
At least, such is the puzzling storyline driving Ninja Assault, the latest shooter from Namco, a company we've by now learned pretty much has a monopoly on good, arcade-style shooters.
There are all sorts of things about this game that will make you scratch your head if you think about them too long. Why is a dead ninja wizard trying to resurrect himself? How is he able to move about, even? Why wasn't the princess he kidnaps better protected? And what in the world are three ninjas doing trying to rescue her with guns? Aren't ninjas supposed to use stealth? Ask yourself questions like this long enough and you'll miss the point. Ninja Assault is not about making sense, but rather giving you an excuse to blast things.
And there's plenty of stuff to destroy in this game. Choose one of the storylines or the arcade and off you go, rushing through one level after another, quickly shooting all manner of foes. These can range from the typical ninjas with swords, to demonic creatures, to shield-bearing soldiers, to mechs, to dragons...the virtual gamut is run several times over. You really never know what's around that next corner until you're there.
Often, unfortunately, that next corner covers an enemy who is waiting to spear you in the gut. For this reason, success in the game quickly becomes a matter of memorization. Each stage runs along a smooth track. Face the opponents, shoot them, or get slaughtered. You have only a limited amount of time to react and on you go to the next foe, who will also be trying to turn your heart into a meal or whatever the case may be. If you have a gun this is all fine and dandy. If you're stuck using the controller, the issues begin to rise.
See, there's no way you can really get your cursor from one side of the screen to another in time. Namco handled this to some extent by providing patterns of enemies that seldom require this. Another thing they did which generally works is set it so that if you're hovering about and an enemy appears in the general vicinity of where you have the cursor positioned, your aim will snap to that foe. You can practically lock on as the enemy skitters about, reloading as necessary. Not always is this the blessing you may think. There are plenty of times where you see an opponent. He's lifting a huge boulder over his shoulder and there's no chance of finishing him off before he chucks it. Now, if you could aim at the boulder, you could break it apart as it flies through the air. So you try, but you're forced to watch as it nails you because the cursor won't leave the guy who threw it. Pulling away from one target to switch to a more important one just isn't as simple as it should be. This means you can die a continue or two because the game is ripping you off in order to allow you to play with the controller.
That's a fair trade-off, really, as annoying as it may seem. And continues are somewhat easy to obtain. Play through the game enough and the number of continues at your disposal gradually climbs. You can also choose from five difficulty levels, ranging from my personal favorite (very easy) to the nightmarishly challenging 'very hard' mode.
And happily, the arcade and story modes aren't all there is to the game. There are also plenty of bonus games. Some of these are more fun than the actual missions. Some of them will have you pulling your hair out. For the most part, it's like the rest of the game: hit or miss.
Nowhere is this game more 'hit or miss' than in the graphics/sound departments. Visuals range from something that looks like it belongs in a second-generation PSX title to something that makes it clear you're playing this title on your Playstation 2. There are some nice effects, such as snow or rippling water in an underground temple. Bosses also can look nice, depending on the one in question (the afore-mentioned wizard is well animated in an Andross sort of fashion). For each accomplishment, though, there's a failure. Many of the enemies look very similar to one another. The textures quickly get old.
Sound is worse than you might hope, too. There's text and voice acting. The actors chosen in this case sound like they came in for the evening and read their lines over tea and crumpets without ever seeing the game in motion. Almost none of the right words are emphasized, resulting in the stiffest dialogue you've ever likely to see in this modern age where professional actors have been known to lend their talents to production.
Of course, we are talking about a shooting game. At its heart, this is meant to be an arcade-style experience. In that regard, the title mostly succeeds. This certainly would make a fine weekend rental. And if you have a Guncon 2, it's not like there are a lot of other options for you. The final suggestion, then, is that you should buy this if you're a hardcore fan of the series, or if you want to expand your collection to include this rather niche genre. Otherwise, it's probably best as a rental or even a game not experienced.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 26, 2002)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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