Xbox Reviews N

NBA 2K3
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/2/27
Rating: Everyone


screenshotMy friends and I have been long time NBA 2K fans, having enjoyed all three iterations of the series on the Dreamcast. We expected XBox to continue the tradition, but we were sorely disappointed with NBA 2K3. Sure the graphics look terrific - the players even appear to have the sheen of sweat on their skin. The jams are rim-rocking, and the backboard reverberates appropriately. I especially like how players can save wayward passes by leaping out of bounds - it looks very realistic.

NBA 2K's gameplay is known for being tight, but this 2003 edition may be too tight. Compared to the EA's basketball games, NBA 2K3 is stiff and less fluid in terms of control and player movement. Players on the run stop immediately when they make contact with a defender, so it's nearly impossible to drive the lane. The scoring is ridiculously low, and even easy inside shots tend to clank off the rim.

The CPU is a monster on the boards, rebounding about 90% of the shots! That's frustrating! Fast breaks? You can forget about them because they never happen, thanks to players who don't run any faster in the open court. And then there's the much-maligned foul shooting system, although this year it seems slightly easier. CPU controlled players do dumb things like pass the ball out-of-bounds - on the inbound pass!

The ESPN license provides some familiar TV graphics and a solid two-man commentator team. Unfortunately, unless you turn the crowd noise completely OFF, you can barely hear these guys! And the new special effects laden replay system is stupid - it's looks like you're watching a negative of the play! The game has ample options, including a "slider" menu that lets you adjust everything from reach-in foul frequency to defensive stopping power. It's as if Sega felt they didn't have to tweak the game if you could do it yourself.

Play modes include franchise, two-on-two street, season, playoffs, tournament, practice, on-line, and a "Sega Sports Challenge" mode that lets you post your statistics to an on-line ranking board to see how you compare with other players. NBA 2K3 is not nearly as fun as the previous version. I'm going back to NBA Live, because this stinks. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

NBA Inside Drive 2004
Grade: B+
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
Reviewed: 2011/2/4
Rating: Everyone


screenshotYou might expect these old sports games to be pretty lame, but sometimes they turn out to be better than the latest stuff! NBA Inside Drive 2004 can stand toe-to-toe with NBA 2K11, especially when measured by pure fun. As with most Microsoft sports titles, the game offers fast action, realistic visuals, and crisp controls. For a 2003 title, Inside Drive is remarkably full-featured and even supports on-line play (or did).

The controls let you do everything you'd want to do, except without the mind-boggling control scheme of NBA 2K11. Advanced moves include protecting the ball, backing down a defender, taking a charge, and calling for a double team. The turbo button is effective, but your turbo meter drains quickly so you can't abuse it. Every aspect of the game is configurable, but the game is perfectly tuned right out of the box, and there's something to be said for that!

Inside Drive strikes a nice balance between realism and fast-paced arcade fun. It's not hard to penetrate the lane, poke the ball loose, or orchestrate a fast break. After a player hits several shots in a row, his icon will throb, indicating that he's in the zone. It's usually a good idea to get him the ball so he can jack up a three-pointer. The passing is probably the weakest aspect of the game. It's too touchy, and you'll often make an inadvertent extra pass. Pressing the Y button to bring up the players icons is a little unintuitive, and using those hard-to-reach black and white buttons for anything is awkward.

The player models look very much like the real NBA stars, and better yet they behave like the real players. The action is fluid, and it's fun to watch behind-the-back passes, dives for loose balls, and dipsy-doo reverse layups. Off the court there's not much to see. The spectators look flat and there's no half-time show or post-game analysis. The two-man play-by-play is exceptionally witty however, and if you pay attention you'll hear some really funny lines. All in all, NBA Inside Drive really delivers where it counts, and its arcade style has held up surprisingly well over time. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

NFL 2K3
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2010/12/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAfter a terrific run on the Dreamcast, the critically acclaimed NFL 2K series found new life on the Xbox. 2K3 is a good-looking football game. The stadiums look distinctive and the player models are more detailed than their Dreamcast cousins. The user interface is simple enough (no profiles to load) and the presentation conveys a professional telecast quality. The playbook offers roughly twice as many plays as NFL 2K2.

On the field, 2K3 has a fast, fluid, arcade feel that Madden lacks. The bone-crunching tackles are satisfying, and I love how runners can break tackles in the open field. The kicking game is a lot more challenging than it was in 2K2. In addition to aiming an arrow that wavers in the wind, you'll also need to time a fast-moving circular meter. I like the hang-time clock for punts, but I wish the game would give some indication of how long an upcoming field goal attempt is.

NFL 2K3's commentators describe the action with a conversational flow, and it's especially impressive when they break out the telestrator to diagram plays. The half time and post-game shows are informative but minimal. When selecting teams you get a break-down of ratings for offense and defense, but the lack of an overall rating makes it hard to find an even match-up.

2K3 suffers from intermittent glitches including balls that sometimes pass through ghostly defenders. In one instance I saw a quarterback throw the ball in the wrong direction! The stiff-arm controls are mapped to the black and white buttons, which are awkward to use. Passes are dropped too often.

The crowd tends to drown out the commentators by default, but there's a nice "TV presentation" audio setting that fixes this (why isn't that the default?). In some regards it may be a small step down from NFL 2K2, but this is still a solid alternative to Madden. Note: The next game in the series was titled ESPN NFL Football 2K4. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

NFL Fever 2002
Grade: B
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
Reviewed: 2014/1/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotBefore Peyton Manning was legendary, he was merely awesome. At that time he served as coverboy for Microsoft's short-lived NFL Fever series. Underappreciated in its day, this game is a real treat to play in 2014! It feels refreshing to play a high-quality, NFL-licensed, non-Madden football game. You know you're in for a treat when the intro features old-school rapper Chuck D. dropping incendiary rhymes over equally raw NFL game footage.

NFL Fever 2002 delivers a potent combination of realism and arcade action. Its enticing visuals feature bright stadiums, dynamic camera angles, and vivid team logos. The player models are pudgy as hell but move in a graceful manner. In contrast to Madden, the kick-off mechanism actually requires skill and timing. Lining up for the first play you'll notice the default camera angle is entirely too close, so be sure to switch to the classic view.

The action on the field is wide open, allowing running backs to exploit gaping holes in the defense. The passing game is not as sharp. Throws tend to float in the air, and deep balls often get batted around like volleyballs. Playing defense is fun thanks to responsive controls and a bright red player indicator.

The pacing is brisk, so you can squeeze in a game (with three-minute quarters) in well under a half-hour. Nifty bells and whistles include cheerleaders on the side-lines, chain measurements, and cool animations like receivers who tip-toe along the sidelines. Some of the player reactions after plays are unintentionally hilarious. Is that player celebrating, or did he just suffer a serious injury!?

There's a two-man commentary team, but it's nothing to write home about. There's no half-time show, but the post-game features a "player of the game" and a "key play" highlight. I really enjoyed playing NFL Fever 2002. It's a likeable title that takes you back to the days when football games were actually fun (but I'm sure you're too young to remember that). © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

NFL Fever 2003
Grade: B
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
Reviewed: 2014/1/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotboxThis game's box cover harkens back when Peyton Manning was a power running back! Nope, I don't remember that either. NFL Fever 2003 was a clear step forward in terms of realism, but not so much in terms of fun. The players are more realistically-proportioned, but their slimmed-down bodies have a "rubbery" appearance ("I'm Gumby dammit!"). Lighting effects have been added to the action on the field, but it softens the edges and makes the visuals look dull.

The difficulty has been ratcheted up from last year. Namely, it's harder to complete passes as defenders have a tendency to bat them down. On the other hand, it does seem much easier to break a run for a big gainer. New moves include pump fakes, fake snaps, and the ability to put a man in motion. The television-style presentation offers some fun camera angles, but there's still no half-time show.

The commentators have definitely gone off the deep end this year, shouting lines like "right on baby!", "he jacks it!", and "he banged that one good!". Ummm, we're still talking about football, right? It should also be mentioned that the game's colorful, glossy manual is a real treat to peruse (another relic of a bygone era). NFL Fever 2003 is an entertaining football game that added realism at the cost of some arcade flair. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

NFL Fever 2004
Grade: C+
Publisher: Microsoft (2004)
Reviewed: 2014/1/9
Rating: Everyone


screenshotWhenever a sports franchise attempts to ratchet up the realism, it runs the risk of compromising the all-important fun factor. NFL Fever 2004 falls into that trap. For the second year in a row, the series makes an unsuccessful attempt to refine its visuals. The sad result is an uglier version of last year's game! The "enhanced player models" are a joke! Instead of crisp, well-defined players, they look muddled and blurry.

2004's gameplay is similar to last year but suffers from a series of ill-conceived control changes. The Y button used to bring up a simple route preview, but it now presents you with a bunch of confusing options. WTF?! The default passing mode forces you to press multiple buttons to throw the freakin' ball! Really?! An unwanted new running mode lets you perform moves by pounding on a single button. Did you hear that noise? It's the sound of a football series being crushed under its own weight. My friend Scott and I played a game in the snow, and while the accumulation effects were cool, they slowed the action to a crawl!

On the bright side, I like how coaches are prominently featured in cut-scenes, and even chew you out on occasion. The commentators are wacky as ever, tossing out lines like "There he goes! Heavy metal thunder!" and "Look at him go! Like Hopper on the chopper!" They're bizarre, but give the game an odd sort of charm. NFL Fever 2004 isn't terrible, but clearly the series was headed in the wrong direction. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

NHL 2K3
Grade: D-
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/4/26
Rating: Everyone (violence)


screenshotIs there something wrong with my TV? Why are these graphics so frickin' DARK?! It looks like someone turned my brightness all the way down, and I can't even adjust it! Actually, Sega has a LOT of explaining to do for this game. After seeing rave reviews for it in some video game magazines (who got paid off no doubt), I was stunned by how excruciatingly bad this is.

The first thing you'll notice is the high camera angle, which gives you a birds-eye view of the action. This view may bring back fond memories of those old Genesis hockey games, but all the subtle details and fluid animations are lost in the dark, muddy graphics. The players move smoothly enough, but close-ups reveal player models that are definitely a notch below EA's NHL series. The audio is good, with authentic skating sound effects and realistic crowd noise. The announcers stay on top of the action but rarely have anything interesting to say.

But the basic gameplay is NHL 2K3's real downfall. It's impossible to maintain possession of the puck because whenever a player touches you, you momentarily lose control. Trying to "thread the needle" is futile because opponents always intercept passes. Worst of all, scoring a goal is like pulling teeth. The goalies are like brick walls, and you'll need a lucky second-chance opportunity to get the puck into the net.

Yes, I did attempt to tweak the numerous option meters myself to fix the gameplay, but this didn't do much good. I don't think those things even work! And the fights look like two little girls in a slapping contest - embarrassing! NHL 2K3 may not be the worst hockey game ever, but it's certainly the most disappointing. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

NHL 2K7
Grade: B-
Publisher: 2K Sports (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotHere's a fun, arcade-style hockey title that even non-fans can enjoy. NHL 2K7 for the Xbox plays just like its Xbox 360 cousin, but the graphics are slightly degraded and the camera is pulled back further. The graphic quality isn't much of a factor, but the more distant camera makes you feel less "in the game" than its 360 cousin. Still, there's a lot of fast-paced, head-to-head fun to be had. See the Xbox 360 review of NHL 2K7 for further details. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 

NHL Hitz 20-02
Grade: A
Publisher: Midway (2002)
Reviewed: 2014/6/8
Rating: Everyone (violence)

screenshotBelieve it or not kids, there was a time when multiple companies released hockey games in the same year, each with a unique style. We called this "choice", and little did we know that one day EA would take it away from us. In retrospect, NHL Hitz is pretty amazing, cast in the same mold as NBA Jam (SNES, 1993) and NFL Blitz (Playstation, 1998).

Its three-on-three contests are pure arcade action with no penalties to interrupt the fun. All the NHL teams are represented with five-man rosters, and recognizable names include Lemieux, Messier, Roenick, Jagr, Federov, and Yzerman. The graphics are just plain fun, with huge players that literally ignite when they go on a hot streak. The default arenas are small and lame, but the fact that you can unlock coastal, castle, and graveyard-themed rinks means this is one hockey game you can enjoy all year long!

The control scheme lets you deke, fake shots, and execute one-timers. The turbo button hardly seems necessary considering the breakneck pace. Speaking of breaking necks, ferocious body checks send helmets flying and launch players into the bench. The quick fights add some spice without wearing out their welcome. The head-to-head contests are so fast and intense, I nearly broke my wrist during one adrenaline-fueled contest against my friend Steve.

A lot of goals seem random/lucky, but I guess you could argue real hockey is like that too. The game's loud, brazen style is reflected in its abrasive soundtrack, which incorporates artists like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Good Charlotte. Thanks to the Xbox progressive scan output, this game still looks and plays great even in high definition. The ultimate arcade hockey experience, NHL Hitz amps the exciting parts of the sport and ditches the rest. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

NHL Rivals 2004
Grade: C+
Publisher: Microsoft (2004)
Reviewed: 2010/11/3
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI truly regret failing to support so many of non-EA sports franchises back in the pre-monopoly days. Had I been paying attention, I would have discovered that NHL Rivals offers a respectable alternative for hockey fans. My friend Steve and I only recently played this for the first time, and we were impressed. Rival's razor-sharp visuals and fast gameplay even compares favorably to the latest crop of hockey titles. The arenas look sensational and every person in the crowd looks like a unique individual.

On the ice NHL Rivals delivers an arcade-style hockey experience with a high camera that makes it easy to track players and line up centering passes. Each player has a circular turbo meter, and since it drains quickly you'll need to use it sparingly. The action is smooth and the instant replay system is fun to use. The "inside-the-net" view has got to be the best angle I've ever seen in a sports instant replay!

NHL Rivals 2004 exceeds expectations on a technical level, but its gameplay could benefit from some fine-tuning. It's way too hard to score, so expect a lot of 2-1 games. The goalies gobble up everything that comes their way, and the puck rebounds too far away for a follow-up. You really need to capitalize on break-aways and one-timer opportunities.

On defense, the over-effective body checking makes it too easy to dislodge the puck. It's hard to maintain control, much less execute a crisp pass. The roving referee tends to confuse matters, especially if your team is wearing black uniforms. The fights are unintentionally comical because it looks like the players are gently patting each other's faces. It's like as a kid when your mom would wipe something off your face with that balled-up Kleenex she kept in her purse (gross!). A laundry list of flaws bring NHL Rivals 2004 down to average territory, but I still enjoyed its original take on the sport. I suspect this could have evolved into something special had Microsoft stuck with it. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2
Grade: B
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/11/3
Rating: Everybody


screenshotRecently I've been lamenting how most new racing games are incorporating the "Gran Turismo" style of play, which involves earning money, buying cars for your garage, buying parts for them, or worse, having to earn licenses. Just let me drive for Pete's sake!! Well thank goodness the latest edition of Need For Speed marks a return to a more sensible style of play. You just race to your heart's content, and more tracks and cars become available to you as you progress. Cars do not incur damage. This is a no-holds-barred arcade-style racer.

There are two modes of play: championship and hot pursuit. Championship is your standard racing action, but Hot Pursuit throws in some police cars to harass you. While both modes are fun, the police cars certainly ratchet up the excitement and add more strategy. The smooth graphics are quite attractive and realistic, and the scenic routes make it look like you're driving through a state park. Many tracks look a bit washed-out, but the autumn tracks are vivid with color. I think the programmers went a little overboard with the shadowing, making some tunnels and turns very dark and hard to see (especially if you have any kind of glare on your TV screen).

Another thing I don't like is the length of the races. Most are very long, and it can be painfully frustrating to lose on the final lap. Initially I found the steering to be touchy and conducive to over steering, but eventually I was able to come to grips with the control. The game also features some slow motion, Duke-of-Hazzard-like cut-scenes when you catch enough air. Personally, I didn't think any of the ones I saw were spectacular enough to warrant this kind of treatment. Overall, I like the style of this new Need For Speed, but even after countless iterations, there's still room for improvement. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Need For Speed Underground
Grade: B
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/2/22
Rating: Everyone (mild language, suggestive themes)

screenshotWhat a great game to pull out late on a Friday night after you've had a few drinks. Inspired by the film The Fast and the Furious, Need For Speed Underground combines the arcade action of Burnout (Acclaim) with the realism of Project Gotham Racing (Microsoft). Unlike previous Need For Speed (NFS) games with their dusty country roads and quaint seaside villages, Underground takes place at night in strictly urban locations.

In addition to conventional street races, there's drag racing, time trials, and power slide competitions. Like Burnout and Gotham, you're awarded "style points" for catching air, sliding, or executing "near misses" of other vehicles. Winnings are used to purchase car upgrades, including "nitrous oxide" which provides a considerable turbo boost.

The most remarkable aspect of Underground is its spectacular, high-resolution graphics. The city looks stunning, with towering skyscrapers, majestic arches, and neon lights everywhere. Certain areas are very upscale, while others look run down, but you'll barely notice once you get caught up in the delirious racing action. The roads are covered with a shiny wet sheen as though it had just rained, and car windows sport realistic reflections.

Need For Speed Underground certainly lives up to its name, as the races convey a genuine sense of speed. Still, the detailed graphics take their toll, causing the game to struggle to maintain a consistent frame-rate. That may also explain why there are no computer-controlled racers available in the split-screen mode, which kind of sucks. Each circuit has multiple routes and shortcuts, but it's sometimes hard to tell where the road leads. Executing power slides requires practice, but in general the controls are terrific.

The one-player "underground" mode is relentlessly addictive, and even when I got stuck it was hard to pull myself away from this game. One less impressive aspect is the crashes, which look pretty tame compared to the devastating wrecks of Burnout, and the cars don't model damage. I'm not a fan of the abrasive soundtrack either. As usual, EA tried to be "edgy" in their music selection, but most of these tunes are just irritating. I actually turned the music off completely, which I normally don't do. Still, this is a winner. Need For Speed Underground effectively combines the best aspects of other games with first-rate visuals, resulting in a spectacular racing experience. . © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Need For Speed Underground 2
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/3/22
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first Need For Speed Underground featured a slick racing engine and gorgeous "downtown at night" tracks. Underground 2 improves upon the original by trashing the linear menu-driven system, allowing you to seek out action on your own. It may seem tedious to have to "search" for the next challenge, but you never had to go far and I really enjoy just cruising around town, checking out the sights. Besides numerous racing contests, certain locations allow you to tune up and customize your ride. Occasionally you'll encounter a rival on the street and be challenged to an impromptu race.

NFSU2's graphics are even better than the first game, with its awe-inspiring skyscrapers, palm tree-lined streets, glitzy nightspots, and familiar destinations like Burger King and Best Buy. The glowing neon signs against the dark night sky is a beautiful sight, making this the best-looking racer I've ever played. And thanks to the realistic highway system, road signs are actually useful in guiding you to your various destinations.

Unlike the last game with its permanently shiny roads, the streets here look more realistic and it actually does rain periodically. In fact, the rain effects are superb, slightly distorting your vision but not enough to impair your driving. The booming thunder is also a nice touch. My main objection is that the city looks almost too pristine, hurting the sense of realism. Okay, enough fawning over the graphics. You can rest assured that the underlying racing engine is high quality as well.

Underground 2's sensation of speed is palpable, and I love the "whooshing" sounds as you whiz past signs and concrete pillars. Rubbing against guardrails produces a colorful display of sparks, but doesn't slow you down much. The races are intense and you always need to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic. Many times I wrecked just before the finish line, but every now and then you'll catch a break and the car ahead of you will be involved in a massive pile-up. The racing circuits feature easy-to-see red arrows to keep you on track, but the one-on-one races do not, which can be confusing. Car nuts will love Underground 2's customization options, but personally I'm thankful for the "packages" which let me bypass all the excruciating details.

Like the first game, Underground 2's main weakness is it's poor soundtrack. What's with all of this head-banging bull[expletive]? I turned the music all the way down. Why can't EA allow you to change stations on the fly like the Grand Theft Auto games? Also, an auto-save feature is badly needed. You can only save after a win, and there are too many annoying prompts. Finally, it took me a while to realize that the steering controls in the drag races are completely different from the rest of the game - be aware of that. Despite these relatively minor flaws, Underground 2 provides the best night driving action I've ever experienced in a video game, and it's a game I enjoy playing almost every weekend. Check it out. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Nightcaster
Grade: D
Publisher: Microsoft (2001)
Reviewed: 2003/5/13
Rating: Teen (Violence)


screenshotHere's a little medieval action game that tries to add a twist to the standard overhead shooter formula. Like Gauntlet, you wander through different environments hurling projectiles (spells) at monsters and destroying their regeneration portals. A floating orb aims your shots, and the control scheme uses one joystick to move your character and the other to move the orb.

I've heard this game likened to Robotron 2084, but Night Caster is nowhere near as fun or intense. You can shoot in a somewhat rapid-fire manner, but your shots are slow and their range is short. The gimmick that's supposed to make Night Caster unique is the four classes (colors) of spells you can cast. Certain monsters are more sensitive to certain types of spells, so you'll want to use water (blue) attacks on red (fire) creatures.

It might sound pretty innovative, but it's not much fun in practice. Once you get swarmed by creatures of all colors, you'll have to constantly switch spells, and it's a real hassle. In terms of presentation, Night Caster is a fine looking game. Although the graphical detail is mostly lost in the dark environments and high camera angle, the environments are quite lush and the monsters are painstakingly detailed.

Likewise the understated musical score and clear, natural sound effects are outstanding. Whether it's the crackling of a fire or a flowing brook, it sounds like it's right in your living room. But overall Night Caster is pretty forgettable, and only worth your while if you can pick it up cheap. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Ninja Gaiden
Grade: B
Publisher: Tecmo (2004)
Reviewed: 2006/3/1
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotAs one of the most noteworthy titles in the Xbox library, Ninja Gaiden is also one of the most overrated. Yes, this engaging fighter has A+ potential, but it's practically ruined by its outrageous difficulty level. A hack-and-slash platformer with sky-high production values, Ninja Gaiden stands head and shoulders above similar games like Sega's Shinobi (Playstation 2, 2002). The original Gaiden series was born on the NES, and the three original 8-bit games can be unlocked from this game, although I hear it's practically impossible.

The gameplay of the new Ninja Gaiden maintains the spirit of the originals, combining platform jumping and simple puzzle solving with a whole lot of fighting action. In fact, the level of whoop-ass in this game is unprecedented - we're talking 60-hit combos here. Gaiden's superb control scheme makes it easy to pull off fantastic attacks, and you can often strike a number of surrounding foes at the same time. The blood flow reaches gratuitous proportions at times, like when an enemy slashes your throat from behind, releasing a fountain of blood. Your ninja is quite agile and can vault between walls and even run along them for short distances.

A wide array of weapons includes swords, stars, arrows, and my personal favorite, nunchakus. Using a first-person vantage point, you can even shoot enemies from a distance with a bow and arrow. In one particularly memorable altercation, I was pummeling some thug who was continuously blocking my sword attacks - until I pulled out my bow and shot him right between the eyes! Good times! The blocking mechanism is quite effective and crucial to defeating more powerful foes.

Gaiden's visuals are superb. The cut-scenes are spectacular, and Rachael, a top-heavy secondary character, is drop dead gorgeous. The early stages are set in traditional Japanese temples and villages, but the game really hits its stride in the airship stage - one of the best stages I've ever witnessed! As a violent thunderstorm rages outside, you can look down and see the lighted towns below, which look magnificent. Ninja Gaiden's bosses are also spectacular - not only are they completely original, but exceptionally scary as well.

But for all the "wow" moments, gamers will still find themselves slamming down the controller in frustration. When you find yourself on the receiving end of "exploding darts", you'll experience a level of frustration you never knew existed. The bosses are disproportionately tough, so be sure to load up on health elixirs before you face each one. You'd think that a game with such high production values would have a decent camera system, but you'd be wrong. When fighting in open spaces, you can't even see your opponent half the time! You can pause the game to use items and power-ups, but I wish health elixirs were used automatically, because you often get killed before you get a chance to use your supply. Ninja Gaiden is definitely exciting and addictive, but its glaring flaws cannot be overlooked. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Ninja Gaiden Black
Grade: B+
Publisher: Tecmo (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/3/12
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)

screenshotAlthough the first Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox was critically acclaimed, it was plagued by severe camera issues and an unreasonable difficulty level. In response, Microsoft released two "Hurricane Packs" to on-line players. While these were marketed as "enhancements", it could be argued that their main purpose was to shore up the game's flaws. Afterwards, Microsoft realized that if they added a few more features, they could justify re-selling Ninja Gaiden as an entirely new game.

Hence we have Ninja Black, which incorporates both Hurricane packs, a new mission mode, additional cutscenes, and a badly-needed difficulty select. I assumed this Ninja Gaiden would be close to perfect, but sadly, that's not the case! The problem is, most of the new stuff is locked until you play through the entire game again! Yes, even the new difficult levels! I'm sorry, but this is not only dumb, but it's false advertising considering the box claims you can now "choose your difficulty". While sure to annoy players who persevered through the original game, Ninja Black is obviously the way to go for newcomers.

Gaiden is one of the best hash-and-slash platformers around, with fantastic stages and awe-inspiring bosses. I still detected some issues with the camera controls and difficulty, but those looking for a challenge will relish every minute of this. If you haven't played the original Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, this game is a safe bet. But if you had your fill the first time around, this isn't a necessary upgrade. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, GameSpot, Xbox Addict, Playstation.com, Moby Games