Saturday, May 9, 2009

Iga Ninden Gaou

Super CD-ROM

I'm a big fan of hack-and-slash games in general, and this one looked decent enough in pics. Internet reviewer consensus is that it's merely average, but as long as an action-platformer is remotely playable, I can usually forgive it for being lackluster and get some enjoyment out of it. Unfortunately, Iga isn't just below average; it actually borders on being flat-out horrible.

Crappy controls constitute the main issue I have with it. The hero of the affair is slow and very stiff: simply turning around in the heat of battle can be a chore for him. Jumping also feels awful, as our champion can leap for great height but barely any distance at all. His repertoire of techniques is quite limited, confined to the usual hacks and projectile tosses along with a little bit of "ninja magic." It's not that I demand lots of moves and whatnot in an action title, but I expect more from a 16-bit-era game of this type; the same period brought us Shinobi III and Kaze Kiri, after all.

Not that you'll need any special attacks to get through the simple, boring stages. They demand little but straightforward hacking along with some basic platforming involving small pits here and moving platforms there. Not a shred of ingenuity came into play during the design of these stages; in fact, I myself didn't have to put thought into my actions at any point in the proceedings. The bosses are jokes, while the regular enemies are an uninspired lot: many take after old Castlevania creatures such as Medusa heads and fishmen, while others come off as meek Ninja Spirit rejects.

While they aren't very challenging, the levels do look fairly nice at times (due to smart choices in color, not top-notch drawing or cool concepts and effects). Unfortunately, most of them drag on for so long and are so repetitive that even the appealing background shades can't prevent players from losing interest. To break up the monotony, there are quite a few "break scenes," which I'm reluctant to call "cinemas." They aren't graphically impressive in the slightest, and as they play out, a third of the screen is usually occupied by text. Voice acting was clearly too much to ask for.

The music is quiet and forgettable, though I could see it holding greater appeal if placed in a stronger context. It certainly can't compare to Kaze Kiri's; in fact, the only thing Iga can boast of when pitted against KK is level design that isn't completely flat. Kaze dominates it in all other areas: controls, techniques, bosses, music, and cinemas. At its best, Iga is an uninspired, repetitive, easy platformer; at its worst, it's actually quite painful to play.

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