Ninety Nine Nights II makes a fantastic first impression. Upon starting a new game, you'll witness mysterious protagonist Galen brutally throw down on hordes of foes before getting to have a go yourself. Everything is much crisper, darker and sharper this time around, with a deep colour palette and distinct dark gothic style replacing the washed-out foggyness of the original... but chances are that you'll be too busy dicing the enemy into chunky kibbles to notice. Much like the Dynasty Warriors series, the nightmarish adversaries attack in groups of between a dozen and over one hundred, but Galen can literally cut through them like a massive sword through butter.
Using a combination of fluid light attacks and massive flourishes, it's possible to hack entire phalanxes into bloody slices with a single hit. Incoming blows can be blocked or evaded using the triggers- and whilst it's impossible to cancel a move once it's in progress, the combat is a streamlined delight. Torsos, blood and severed limbs fly around with merry abandon, and collected enemy souls can be used to trigger devastating super attacks that will splatter enemy squads all over the mountainside. Action fans will soon find their cheekbones hurting after their face contorts into an involuntary rictus grin.
After slicing the last enemy combatant in half and completing the first level, N3 II rewards the player with a hilariously bad cutscene displaying truly po-faced fantasy cliche and utterly awful lip synching in equal measure. Never mind, though, because slaughtering all of those has unlocked upgrades and an entirely new character. What new enemies will you face now? What incredible new fighting styles and experiences await you in the brutal and beautiful world of Ninety Nine Nights II? Could this in fact be a surprising exclusive ace in the hole for the Xbox 360?
Absolutely not. In fact, it's all downhill from here.
Each of N3II's five characters may look distinctive and unique (and have their own storyline to trudge through) but they feel exactly the same. You'll still hammer X and Y to kill enemies with similar combos, in broadly identical levels that frequently entomb the player within monotonous labyrinths. Even the most stalwart Dynasty Warriors fan will need quit playing or play a DVD in the background to avoid becoming irrevocably insane through sheer boredom. Enemy variation is absolutely pathetic, with palette swaps unbelievably appearing by the second level. Each stage also feels far too long, which makes the samey action feel all the more repetitive and dreary. N3II is great fun in short bursts... but delight soon turns into anger, resentment and despair as you realise that you'll be fighting the same battle over... and over... and over again.
Several more design decisions ruin what could have been an exclusive sleeper hit. Several enemies can unleash knockdown attacks... that can affect the player whilst they're already prone. Being unable to move while enemies constantly reset the 'unconscious' animation is genuinely shameful- and I can't understand why so many Japanese game studios continue to rely on Knockdown attacks despite constant critical complaints (Lost Planet 2 being a recent main offender).
The bosses are also surprisingly tough, employing cheap attacks that seem out of place next to the rest of the sword fodder cattle. Their twisted art design and bizarre skillsets are worthy of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry... but with only streamlined crowd control skills at their disposal, players will have a hard time dealing with them. By the way, ragequitting forces you to start the whole 20-30 minute level all over again... but that almost certainly won't stop you.
- Fluid, brutal combat against hundreds of foes
- Distinctive visual style and frequently impressive graphics
- Unparalleled addictive feeling of raw untamed power ...
- ...right up until cheap bosses, overly long levels and knockdown attacks ruin everything
- Experience becomes a depressing, dull and dreary grind
- Laughable backstory, voice acting and lip synching
The Short Version: The new visual flair and improved combat system can only hide the dreadfully monotonous grind for so long. However, fans of button-mashing hack 'n' slash experiences will actually discover a lot of cathartic fun if experienced in short bursts. N3II rivals (if not improves upon) most of the recent Dynasty Warriors titles- and whilst most gamers should avoid it like the plague, it's probably worth at least a rental for action junkies.