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M (Mature)



February 10, 2004



- Greater scalability of difficulty

- New moves

- Lots to unlock

- More to explore in the levels



- Hardcore gamers will find it easier than Shinobi

- Visuals are a bit weak

- Music is uninspired

- Poor English voice acting, and no Japanese option whatsoever



Review: MDK2: Armageddon (Playstation 2)

Review: Shinobi (Playstation 2)

Review: Gungrave (Playstation 2)



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Score: 7.9/10

nightshade.jpg (25325 bytes)   nightshade-2.jpg (18270 bytes)   nightshade-3.jpg (26011 bytes)


When Shinobi was released on the PS2 last year it was embraced by a number of hardcore gamers for the title’s high level of difficulty, a noticeable departure from many of its contemporaries that were cakewalks by comparison.  Now we have the sequel to that sleeper hit with Nightshade.  Unfortunately for the hardcore crowd, the difficulty that they held in such high regard has been noticeable toned down in this game.  While this may partially alienate fans of Nightshade’s predecessor, it does allow the game to be a far more accessible title that more casual gamers will greatly enjoy, as the this title is far less intimidating in terms of challenge.  But while a little easier, there's still being difficult enough at higher levels for more discerning gamers to feel like they have to earn victory.  With some new moves, greater chance for exploration, and some nice unlockables, there’s a lot for both casual and hardcore gamers to like about this game.


Taking place after the events of Shinobi, the cursed sword, Akujiki, has been destroyed and we have a new hero, Hibana, a kunoichi, the female equivalent of a shinobi.  Working for a government agency, her responsibilities revolve around thwarting corporate espionage and all manner of other criminal activity.  It’s not long, though, before it is discovered that Akujiki has been broken into pieces and it becomes a race between Hibana and outside forces to gather all of the pieces of the cursed blade and the power that comes with it.





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It’s a fairly typical romp, Nightshade’s plot, with a number of parties racing for a powerful item.  The whole thing is presented through a number of cut scenes, some in-game and others as CG.  It takes on a very comic book-like vibe in how the plot unfolds.  While not overwhelmingly engaging it gets the job done, though the story can get a bit dull making it tempting to hit a button and skip the dialogue scene to get back to the action.


And action is where this game excels, with wall walking, multiple jumps, 


Tate attacks, and a number of new moves.  For those who missed out on Shinobi, Tate is a combo system where players attack power increases with every enemy they kill, assuming they can keep the killing streak going in short order.  If you take too long to kill the next enemy you have to start building your Tate all over again.  In Nightshade players now have more opportunities to make huge 30 Tate attacks, killing 30 enemies and getting an extra spiffy animation as a reward, not to mention potentially unloading a monstrous attack on an enemy when the opportunity permits.  One downside to the greater ease in using Tate is that it has become much easier to defeat bosses than in Shinobi, as much of the time players need only wait around for a few underlings to spawn, kill them and as such building up Hibana’s attack power, then striking the boss.  Repeating this process makes it very easy to defeat bosses in no time, as opposed to in Shinobi where you really had to earn your Tate, making it feel like a major accomplishment in killing a boss.


The other problem with the Tate is that it all feels rather brain dead by comparison to Shinobi.  There was a lot more maneuvering necessary in Shinobi to defeat enemies and build up your Tate.  Now all players need to do is lock onto an enemy, hit attack, then continue to hit attack and Hibana will automatically go to the next enemy, continuing to build up the Tate.  It causes the attack button to be an instant kill button and takes a lot of the strategy out of the combat.


But all of this isn’t to say the game is a cakewalk.  This time out, Nightshade’s difficulty is far more scaleable than Shinobi was, allowing it to be reasonably accommodating to gamers of a wide range of expertise.  More casual players can play at lower levels of difficulty and have a grand time, while the experts in the crowd can crank the difficulty to full and still feel a reasonable level of challenge despite the above grievances.  In latter stages of the game, hardcore gamers can really get a workout on high levels of difficulty.  The instant kill combo phenomenon is still present through Nightshade, but by the time you reach the high levels, the required high-flying aerial combos, and strategically defeating enemies for maximum effect will give gamers seeking a challenge enough to enjoy.


On top of this far more scaleable difficulty, Nightshade’s other major addition is the new moves added to the game.  On top of the stealth dashing and double jumps of Shinobi, Nightshade throws in some fancy foot work with some new kicking moves, such as flying kicks, as well as knocking an enemy into the air, then doing a drop kick on him causing a huge shock wave as a result.  This coupled with running along walls, doing aerial combos to traverse huge pits, and knowing when and where to use magic attacks will give players plenty to sink their teeth into in terms of gameplay.


One area that is a mixed bag in Nightshade is its level design.  To its credit the levels are generally fairly big, and with that comes the ability to do some exploration, finding alternate paths and some helpful power-ups.  There are even some hidden rooms where players can take on swarms of enemies and pull off massive Tate attacks.  But what hurts the game design is that it doesn’t feel as organic or lifelike as in Shinobi.  Nightshade’s predecessor did a far better job of brining its levels to life, while in this game everything feels a little more sterile.


Also, the visuals in general just don’t feel as inspired this time out.  The character designs are very plain, almost like painting by numbers in how it prescribes to what people expect monsters and bad guys to look like in an action game.  On the plus side, though, the animation is very smooth throughout the game, with the frame rate never missing a beat.  Even better, the camera is actually quite reliable in Nightshade, staying locked on Hibana very well, rarely swinging around to a horrible angle at the worst possible moment.


While the visuals clock in a couple of notches above “so-so”, the audio in Nightshade falls flat.  The music is very generic electronic.  Uninspired break beat and drum n’ bass are used quite a bit, and does little to add to the atmosphere of the game.  On top of this, sounds are unmemorable.  The one other fault of the game’s audio experience is that the Japanese voice acting has been taken out of the game, which makes very little sense because the title still has subtitles when the English dialogue plays.  The voice acting in English just isn’t very good, with Hibana sounding a bit like a whiny valley girl who should be spending her time in the mall, not running from rooftop to rooftop blade at the ready.


But despite my complaints to Nightshade, the game is still very fun.  The level of easy compared to Shinobi may be a turn off to ardent fans of that game, but this title is still worth taking for a spin with its fast action.  This game may not be on par with its predecessor, but it has done a fabulous job of becoming a far more accessible game to a number of different types of gamers, be they newcomers or seasoned veterans.


Mr. Nash


(February 27, 2004)

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