The hack-and-slash genre gets reawakened with this follow-up to 2006's Ninety-Nine Nights, but only the most hard of the hardcore button mashers need apply here.
- Plenty of things to do
- No shortage of challenge
- Lots of unlockables and goodies
- Punishing difficulty often feels cheap
- No major advancements from the last game
- No proper co-op play
It’s been nearly four years since Microsoft brought Ninety-Nine Nights to these shores, showing off the power of its still young Xbox 360 by throwing hundreds and hundreds of mindless goons on-screen for you to cut into tiny bits. Konami has taken the reigns to bring its sequel to retail, N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights, a game that will punish those who are not fully prepared and frustrate even those who are.
N3II shares a name and a general theme with the first game but in terms of story it’s more or less unrelated, with new characters and new aspects still surrounding the orbs of dark and light, which risk falling into the wrong hands. You’ll start off playing as Galen, a prototypical badass warrior who pirouettes his way through squads of enemies like a little blonde girl through fields of daisies. Four others will join his cause, ranging from a sneaky assassin with a grappling hook to a giant orc with equally giant fists.
You five must stop the evil forces, with each character taking a slightly different path to the end of this game, seeing different aspects of the minimalist story. That said, many of the levels for one character are just re-hashed versions of the same events you’ve already played through as someone else. You surely aren’t getting five separate campaigns worth of content here, but you will find plenty to keep you busy.
Also, despite this game making a bit deal about its online co-op support, it’s important to note that you won’t be tackling any of those campaign missions with a friend. They’re all exclusively played offline and solo (occasionally with a brain-dead AI companion), and co-op play is limited to online survival-style gameplay modes. They are a bit fun and offer some choice unlockables, so online play is worth trying. But, if you were hoping to defeat the forces of darkness with a friend, you’d best look elsewhere.
This Is Gonna Hurt
When it comes to difficult games there’s a fine line between the okay world of challenging, fun gameplay and the hurt delivered by cheap, aggravating punishment. N3II definitely falls into the second classification for a host of reasons, starting with lengthy missions. The game’s levels will often take well over an hour to complete and you cannot save progress whenever you like. Checkpoints mid-mission will mark your progress, but they’re very unevenly scattered throughout, and the game doesn’t make it very clear when you’ve hit one. (A "saving" note flashes on-screen - blink and you’ll miss it.) Some levels save your progress regularly whereas others will have you three quarters of the way through before blissfully offering a waypoint.
That would be fine if the game didn’t entail dying so often. N3II is often a punishingly difficult affair that offers few opportunities for healing, meaning if you make a mistake early you might not pay for it until 30 or more minutes later when your green bar finally runs dry. If you make it to a checkpoint, you’re respawned there with full life - if you haven’t yet, it’s back to the beginning. Get ready to start throwing that controller!
To make things worse the difficulty here is often cheap. You’ll find yourself attacked by off-screen archers who don’t do much damage but do knock you down, allowing the hoards to team up on you. The same goes for flying enemies who attack at range, taking pot-shots while you try to wade through the sea of muscle to get at them. Throw magic tornadoes, earthquakes, rolling boulders, fireball-shooting obelisks, and even poison gas into the mix and you have a recipe for a headache - or for a delicious challenge if you’re the extremely patient sort who loves button mashers. And, with dozens of weapons, costumes, and abilities to unlock, hardcore completionists will find plenty to do.
In the years since Ninety-Nine Nights game graphics have improved quite a bit even if the hardware hasn’t, but N3II doesn’t show a significant amount of additional polish compared to the original. Yes, it is better looking, with flashier visual effects, shinier armor, and a bulletproof frame-rate. But, all the action still takes place in drab, simplistically detailed worlds filled with thousands upon thousands of cookie-cutter baddies.
The audio is just as repetitive, with basic tunes that won’t do much to get you into the action and sound effects that you’ll have heard millions of times before this game is through. Voice acting is at least decent, but you’ll probably be skipping the boring cut-scenes just the same.
A Punishing, But Proper Sequel
This is not a title for the casual player, as it’s hard to imagine anyone without the steely gaze of a serious gamer putting up with the constant cheap shots and frustrating lack of checkpoints. If you’re not ready for a serious challenge steer clear, but if you consider yourself Mr. (or Ms.) Hardcore, N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights gives you an opportunity to hone your skills - and your patience - like few current titles can.