Ninja Theory’s second game after their delightful debut title Kung Fu Chaos on the original Xbox (as Just Add Monsters) suffers from the hype. If it was never called the flagship title of the PS3, I’m pretty sure it would’ve gone down better.
I have enjoyed my time with Nariko, the game’s well-designed protagonist. The story is very basic, but told with exceptional confidence and elevated by supreme acting. As hyped, the visuals are truly next-gen, something no game has attained before. Especially the faces are stunning. But as with everything else in the game, the actual gameplay falls a little short. I am disappointed by the framerate. The action would be so much more spectacular if they could’ve reached a solid 60 frames per second – as it is, I’m not sure if they can even hold the 30 frames per second steady. Otherwise, the post-processing, the lighting, the depth of field, the animation, the effects – everything is absolutely better than anything we’ve seen before.
The gameplay is enjoyable, but it suffers from the fact that you can hammer the triangle button for over 90% of time and do just as well as playing with the numerous combo attacks. Some have criticized the fact that Nariko blocks automatically. I don’t know why that would be a problem. You still need to select the correct stance to block and the automation just gives you time to focus on how you’re going to attack next. The whole game system is an evolution of Kung Fu Chaos. This is a good thing, because the two-button attacks, counterattacks and the three stances (speed, heavy and ranged) just work – it’s just complicated enough to keep your interest up.
The problems are repetition and shallowness. You basically advance from one gated arena to the next – there’s no exploration of any sort, no running battles, nothing to break the form except the identikit throwing puzzles (which begin to grate very fast) and the enjoyable shooting sections. The likes of Ninja Gaiden are vastly superior in this respect. The enemies are too alike to encourage tactical play. That said, they have nailed the massive furball of a melee they’re going for, with swords flashing, dramatic close-ups, enemies flying and furious kung fu moves abound. It is very satisfying to play, and spetacular to watch.
The game has been accused of being too short. I haven’t yet quite completed it and already it’s feeling long enough. There’s some incentive to go back to scenes you’ve completed and improve your grade – and some of the scenes are so stunning it’s a joy to revisit them, just for the spectacle. But overall there’s a feeling that they’ve put together a beautiful world, designed great characters, set the stage for a legendary swordsman adventure, and then lacked the strength to allow the player to, well, play in their world. I do hope they make a more fleshed-out sequel.