Bravo’s series Deadliest Warrior got me thinking about all the great games over the years featuring ninjas, from the classic System 3 game The Last Ninja to various beat ‘em ups. But there is one series I am not a fan of – Ninja Gaiden. It’s just one of several similar games on the way.
I am not a fan of the “dojo game”, the genre typified by Devil May Cry and the God of War series (which is making its way to PS3, along with HD versions of the first two games). However, let me make it clear from the start I am not saying that they are “bad” games – I’m saying that they are not my cup of tea. That’s down to two main factors – the difficulty level and the button combos.
I do not see the challenge in mastering 100-button combos and posting a video on YouTube about it. One of the biggest problems seems to be balance. There is a fine line between rewarding high levels of skill and letting the player get through the game. Too often it seems easier to button bash than to time and execute moves, particularly when the combos rely on exacting timing. And hacking your way through wave after wave of the same enemy soon loses its appeal.
Then there are the puzzles – they rarely progress between simple switches or moving something from A to B. A sequence from the original God of War highlights why Nintendo’s new Demo-play feature (designed to give tips as you play) could work. And if you have not played God of War, consider this next piece a spoiler. A room with a gate can only be left by activating the large pressure pad in the middle of the room, which opens the gate for a short time when Kratos stands on it. But there is no way to get past the gate before it closes again (since you have moved off the pad). The answer is hidden in your inventory – the head of Medusa can be used to turn an enemy to stone, making it easier to kill. Freezing an enemy on the pad lets you get past the gate, but it wasn’t immediately apparent to me and I spent several minutes before the idea dawned on me. If Demo-play can highlight an area of screen or give a clue by suggesting you look in your inventory, it could help guide players through such a puzzle rather than relying on an online guide.
The most promising of this new wave of dojo games looks to be Bayonetta from Platinum Games. The team were responsible for bonkers PS2 beat ‘em up God Hand and the more recent Madworld on Wii, and with a heroine whose hair is a weapon it seems they are trying something different again. But will it get good reviews and sales to match? It seems unlikely, given the competition, and that could be disappointing and discouraging for a team that dares to be different.