Nighshade

Nighshade

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 2/20/2004 for PS2  

I love playing games with female protagonists in the lead because it always opens up the possibility that my girlfriend will become interested and will want to play. It makes it even better when said female protagonist gets to kick tons and tons of ass because it gives me something entertaining to do. This makes for a pretty interesting formula but I’ll admit that it’s a difficult one to execute properly. Aside from the Tomb Raider series I can’t think of one highly marketable female lead in the past five years. Today SEGA throws its hat into this forum with the introduction of Nightshade, essentially the female counterpart to Shinobi.

Anyone who has played the 2002 update of Shinobi should immediately feel at home here. Most of the gameplay elements, including that awesome teleportation ability, have been transferred here and the end result makes for a pretty similar gaming experience. Where Nightshade really differs is in its ability to be more forgiving to gamers and newcomers to the action platforming genre. It’s much easier for gamers to jump in to and is thus more accessible to a wider array of gamers. Although the game is completely void of any Shinobi references (except for the fact that its lead, Hotsuma is an unlockable character) it still shares much in common with its predecessor. This means that players who were turned off by the earlier Shinobi entry will most likely be turned off by this title as well.

Everything that exemplified Shinobi is still here; twitch-based combat, annoying jumping puzzles, impossible bosses and an unforgiving level design. You essentially have to battle through each of the levels on the shoulders of one life. This wouldn’t be so frustrating if the levels were of normal difficulty but the stages here are just an absolutely pain in the rear to deal with. Each level is essentially a death trap filled with precarious ledges and instant death situations for the gamer to stumble into. As if getting through the stages wasn’t bad enough you’ll generally have to deal with some of the hardest bosses in the history of video games. It really depends on how you like to play you’re video games. If you’re the type who likes a real challenge (and I’m stressing the word challenge here) then this could be right in your ballpark. Make sure you know what you’re getting into though because this game could drive a man to do some pretty insane things. After some sessions I even had some mysterious cravings for Arby’s, ugh I shudder at the thought.

Where the game really differs from Shinobi is in its combat system. Although it technically operates the same way heavy emphasis has been placed on the TATE system. This system encourages you to link together kills as a gauge at the top of the screen empties. Doing so will treat you so a small cinematic detailing your destructive nature. It’s not just all for show though as the TATE actually serves a practical gameplay purpose. On some levels you’ll need to utilize it to essentially build yourself a pathway to your next destination. As you kill one enemy you’ll be able to teleport to the next one until you’ve left their destruction in your wake. This makes for an amazing aerial experience that will most likely leave you breathless the first time that you experience it.

But even then there are a few problems with it. I understand that it operates on the premise of skill and quick reflexes but it seems to be based more on luck than any sort of accrued ability. Most of the time when I tried to utilize deliberate button presses I’d find myself falling off of the roofs of skyscrapers en route to my untimely demise. The very opposite was true when I got frustrated and just decided to mash a bunch of buttons at will. Button mashing proved to be the key to success every time and pretty soon thereafter I abandoned the thought of precise and calculating button presses every time.My main gripes with Shinobi revolved around its torrid pace and unforgiving level design. The controls are far too sensitive as a minor push in any direction will send your character running at full speed. There were far too many situations where instant death could result and the herky jerky action and annoying camera didn’t do too much to ease the pain. For some reason the game seems like it moves far too fast for the gamer or the camera to keep up with. It’s very difficult to explain but it seems like our main character is operating in a world that moves at 100 frames per second while the camera operates at half that speed. This makes combat tedious and unnecessarily difficult and most of the boss battles just downright impossible. I can’t help but think that the game would have benefited more had the camera been zoomed out more and refined to work better with the game’s speed. It gives the game a very cheesy and difficult feel, one that’s almost Drake-like.

It doesn't help that most of the locations in the game are pretty boring and uninspiring either. In the beginning of the game you'll do combat on the roofs of some generic-looking skyscrapers before heading down into the subway and onto the city streets. Everything in the game looks really repetitive and doesn't really impress or dazzle the eyes. Even the destructive environments are hokey as huge stacks of lumber can be reduced to minor splinters with one swift slash. Very little is done to keep your eyes interested and it really remains a constant throughout your time spent with the game.

When you begin the game you might get the impression that you’re playing a futuristic version of Capcom’s Chaos Legion. You’ll be doing battle with giant mechanical spiders and other insect-like objects. I was ready to call the enemy design a failure and just get on with the game, but that was before I made some more progress. In the latter stages of the game you’ll be treated to some pretty interesting enemy designs that benefit from some neat technological tricks. It’s a shame that the rest of the game looks so barren and plain. Aside from the enemies there isn’t much for your eyes to appreciate or enjoy about the environments. It pretty much seems like the designers were content with using the same Shinobi engine to craft and develop its locales for Nightshade. Thus the game looks seriously dated and is pretty much on par from what you would expect out of 2002. No neat lighting or particle effects, boring textures and pretty generic looking design. To offset the bland visuals there are some really nicely rendered CGI sequences that give you some more insight on the storyline. These were a real treat and showoff what the artists at SEGA are truly capable of. It’s just a shame that they had to sacrifice nice visuals for a game engine that runs at a smooth and consistent frame rate.

In addition to the bland graphics you’re also left with some pretty basic audio options as well. Everything here sounds pretty much like it did in 2002 with the exception of a few additions and changes. Nothing here is really insulting to your ears but nothing really stands out either. Some of the voice acting is kind of lame but it’s nothing that we really haven’t come to expect from a game that has its roots in Japan.

In terms of longevity I’d say that the game is pretty short; about 8-10 hours tops and that’s being generous. As a nice touch you can always go back and revisit the levels that you’ve beaten to trash and pound on your foes over and over again. As mentioned before, there are a couple of neat unlockables including the star of Shinobi as a playable character. There’s nothing too major here to increase replay value but at least the developers had the foresight to throw in the level select feature.

What really frustrates me is that SEGA had published From Software’s Otogi so it had a really good indication of how an excellent 3rd person slasher should operate. There’s a fun game hidden underneath all of the frustration and tedium but the search really isn’t worth it. It’s a worthy pickup if you’re the world’s biggest Shinobi fan but otherwise you might want to stave off and pick it up as a weekend rental.
A decent platformer that can be just as addictive as it is frustrating. Simply put, if you liked Shinobi you'll love Nightshade. If you hated it you'll probably hate Nightshade too.

Rating: 6.3 Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

comments powered by Disqus