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Xbox 360 Review: N3 Ninety-Nine Nights (EU)

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Scrolling beat 'em ups, eh? Back in the 1980s, there was one to rule them all. It's name was Golden Axe, a Sega arcade game, which captured the hearts and wallets of many a young gamer. This opened the floodgates for many more, such as Final Fight and Streets of Rage.

While these were great games, it always felt like something was missing – the core mechanics of Golden Axe were present, but they never really gave that same feeling of satisfaction that Golden Axe did back in it's heyday. Many games in the same genre have since come and gone, but only one series has remained and is still selling strong – Dynasty Warriors.

Dynasty Warriors filled in the blank that Streets of Rage and Final Fight never could, and answered the question of why Golden Axe was so enjoyable.

You see, there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of taking on what feels like an entire army, making mince meat out of opponents with a sharp weapon, coupled with the sound effects of steel on skin, and the sense of power and sheer forced impact this morbidly beautiful sensation brings. Forget the historical value, forget the story, forget everything else – the pure adrenaline and blood lust is what made Golden Axe and Dynasty Warriors stand the test of time.

Now we have a new kid on the block.

Let's get one thing out of the way right this moment: Ninety Nine Nights (known as N3 from here on in) is a work of art graphically. I don't think I've ever seen a game this beautiful on any system. The models are detailed, even down to the scratches on the metal of their armour, plus the metal reflects the entire battlefield.

N3 uses a new evolution of cell shading (used in Jet Set Radio Future), but merged with highly detailed, lifelike characters. This gives the game a look I've never quite seen before. Some might not even notice it at first as it's so subtle, but sit back and look at the characters on HDTV, you just think "Wow! It's like they almost stick out from the screen like a pop-up book!".

What's even more impressive is the amount of these highly detailed characters on screen. There can be over one thousand enemies at a time! It's quite simply incredible. Add this to the fact there is virtually no slowdown or pop-up visible whatsoever, and you have a helluva showcase for what the 360 can do.

While it may not take your breath away as consistently as Oblivion did, there are certain moments in just regular play that make your eyes widen, your jaw drop, and you think to yourself "I can't believe I'm seeing this. Damn that looks cool".

So yeah, to sum it up: the graphics are badger's nadgers.

The sound is no slouch either. Fully orchestral pieces are the order of the day, which could almost rival even Peter Jackson's behemoth The Lord Of The Rings. The sound effects are suitably filled with screams, war cries, and the aforementioned pleasurably realistic sounds of steel on steel and steel ripping through skin.

The only problem is the voice acting is…. how do I put this? Let's say "lacking". The majority of in-game dialogue is text only, and the rest of it is so poorly acted it borders on laughable. It makes Resident Evil's "Master of Unlocking" speech sound like an Emmy Award Winner.

So, again, to sum it up: music and effects – Joygasmic. Speech: could make Keanu Reeves sound like a good actor in comparison.

So now we've got to talk about the story!

The story goes something like this: orb of peace broken, world split into Light and Dark, war started, seven warriors will determine who wins… yadda yadda yadda.

Unimportant bullcrap. All that's important is we get to kill stuff, right? Well, that's what I thought, but turns out I was incorrect. This is one of the areas where N3 really surprised me.

The majority of the plot comes from each individual character's reasons and their own personal plights and how they got into this mess rather than elaborating on the main storyline itself. Each of the seven characters has their own story, with their own take on events, and (more importantly) each character's missions is different – making this effectively seven separate stories set in one universe.

You start off with one character – Inpphy – and as you complete the game, more characters open up, giving vital new information about the main quest in chronological order. To find out everything going on, you have to complete it with all seven characters, spread across both the 'good' and the 'evil' sides. I put 'good' and 'evil' in quote marks because this is one of the few games that doesn't really have clear-cut goodies and baddies. Even good guys can do evil things, and some evil do-ers have good intentions behind their seemingly evil ways.

The way the story was handled is pretty classy, and is genuinely worth watching instead of hammering the Start button to skip through them, which is also possible if you just want to hack stuff up.

And hacking stuff up is what the core of N3 is based upon.

The controls are fairly intuitive. The left analog moves your character, while the right analog moves the camera, X is a light attack, Y is a heavy attack, B is special, A is jump, RT is dive, LT is block, and LR and RB in coordination with the D-pad assigns orders to your flanking troops. It's a pretty standard setup, and the game deals with button presses very responsively.

As you use these buttons to obliterate anything that steps in front of you, your character gains experience and items. These can then be used to increase your player's repertoire of moves, allowing for deadlier damage, more impressive special moves, and general showing off with incredible 2000+ hit combos.

Most missions are simple "kill anything that moves, and if it doesn't move, stab it a few times just to make sure" affairs, but there are a few that buck the trend, where you have to defend structures or key characters from the carnage that lies ahead.

While the game may be repetitive in nature, it gets increasingly more and more challenging the further you delve into the game, and no matter how far I delve in, and no matter how much I play, I still have fun working my way through it.

However, it does have its problems. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is the fact there are no identifying icons or health bars on enemies, so when you're in a middle of a thousand man battle fest, it can get a little confusing as to which units are friendly and which aren't at first glance. It's annoying, but I guess in real battles of this scale it would be the case anyway, so I can't really drop down my rating of the game for this one.

But there is one area in which I do have to mark the game down, and that's the lazy design. Some objects that should be easily maneuvered around (like a little stone) can't be jumped over, and some objects that should not be able to be traversed easily (like some trees and walls) can be walked through like they weren't even there! There's no excuse for shoddiness like that. Bad, Phantagram, Bad! Slap on the wrists for you laddies! Let's hope you fix this for the inevitable sequel!

At the end of the day, N3 won't be everyone's cup of java. If you don't like Golden Axe, Dynasty Warriors, Dead Rising, or if you want a game that will test your mental capabilities to its limits, then don't get this game.

If you want something mindless, fun, chaotic, and thoroughly enjoyable, with plenty of replay value and a nice little fairytale story thrown in for good measure, then grab Ninety-Nine Nights the next time you go videogame shopping.

N3: Ninety-Nine Nights is out now, priced at £49.99/$49.99.

N3: Ninety-Nine Nights is rated 12+ by the PEGI because the game contains depictions of violence.

N3: Ninety-Nine Nights is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Violence.

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