Apologies in advance: this was meant to be an article about Greed Corp and a tribute to the brave men and women who played it at a bar called Cine Express. That article is taking a little bit longer than expected so, in its place, here is a piece on Trine 2 and Ninety Nine Nights 2.
Trine 2 is a massive disappointment.
Every level is beautifully realised; light dances off delicate leaves, goblins climb up intricate stone towers and crystals scintillate in dark, treacherous caverns. Everything in this game, from a visual perspective, feels crafted to perfection.
It is also extremely fucking dull.
The core concept is that there are three characters – a Wizard, a Knight and a Thief – who have been fused into one via the mysterious artefact called the Trine. Fortunately they can shift at will between the three, which comes in handy. As a shape-shifting entity the player must negotiate a series of 2D levels and solve puzzles while a story about two sisters unravels. The stories of the three fused characters and these sisters slowly intertwines as you progress, and big la-di-fucking-da; it is so insignificant that you will barely notice it occurring.
So too is the smattering of combat: both the Knight and Thief can deal out damage with the Knight excelling at it, but the fights are so routine that you basically spam the button until everything is dead. The combat is largely irrelevant because it is merely there to break up the platforming and puzzling sections that constitute the lion’s share of the game. Unfortunately these chunks of the gameplay are as repetitive and poorly implemented as the combat.
Despite their unique skills (the Knight can use his shield as a barrier to protect against elements, the Thief can shoot and grapple onto platforms for traversal and the Wizard can conjure items) you will spend a lot of time finding a way to actually use the Wizard. Conjuring boxes from thin air is fun, and finding inventive ways to use them feels good, but then you do the same thing for two hours and what might have been clever or fantastical feels routine and pointless. Then this carries on for another four hours and it just drags.
The multiplayer also feels like a missed opportunity with puzzle-solving becoming a case of using the Wizard to levitate the other players around all the puzzles, breaking the challenge completely, and if play the game in the mode where everyone can be a Wizard it becomes even more of a joke: you literally fly through every challenge with scant regard for the limited thought put into the obstacles’ resolution. The only incentive to continue is to see what else Frozenbyte’s art team are going to throw at you.
These screenshots don’t do the game enough justice as it all looks even better in motion. The flow of the Wizard’s robes, the glint of the Knight’s armour (that bulges over his gut) and the furtive steps of the Thief as she skulks through the shadows: so much effort has gone into this world and the way it looks that I really wish the best for the developers and hope that Trine and Trine 2 are financially rewarding enough that they are able to do something else. I want to see their imagination used to make something truly inspiring.
In contrast to Trine 2, which followed all the positive reviews the original Trine received, Ninety Nine Nights 2 was a sequel that no one wanted and certainly not in the guise it came in.
The first game was created by Q? entertainment, known for the addictive (but unplayable if you are colour blind) block matcher Lumines. Ninety Nine Nights (N3) was a colourful hack-and-slash game in which players waded into the midst of hundreds of enemies and wiped them out. I played a fair bit of it as I was looking for an alternative to Dynasty Warriors and it definitely scratched that itch, but the original was bogged down by some weird camera issues that meant that you spent half the time trying to get a decent enough view of the action to use your special attacks, which were devastating if used properly and otherwise pathetic. The game also featured huge disparities between fights with plebs, who were easily despatched, and the boss fights, where you would regularly witness half your health being taken off in one hit.
Frequently the game would require you to go back and replay earlier levels to grind for more experience. This was fine if you were playing to wile away a few hours and were looking for a therapeutic, rhythmic game in which you were essentially super human. For anyone else I can see it would have been a slog, and potentially a very frustrating one as there would be hours without any real forward momentum where the level you were playing required you to be several levels better than you actually were.
I did enjoy the whole thing but mainly as this type of play was my comfort food. A bad day at work could be washed away by swathes of enemies being annihilated in gratifying explosions of colour.
The critical and public reception was less than great for N3, yet Konami forked out for a follow-up.
N3 the 2nd is exactly the same game as N3, competently thrown together by Feel+ (the makers of Mindjack) in collaboration with Q? entertainment. This time it is edgier and darker. Most characters’ designs are reduced to blacks, greys and browns with the most colourful permitted to wear a dark blue. All of the loading screens show off moody gothic architecture and count down to the ominous 99th night.
Even though it is now possible to share secondary attacks and passive buffs between characters they still need to level all their equipment up individually, so the grind is still there to artificially inflate the play time by several hours.
Still, the number of enemies onscreen at any one time is impressive and some of the missions requiring you to hold out for several minutes while you are swamped by hordes of enemies feel suitably epic.
The developers have genuinely tried to address some of the grind of the first game by placing enemies possessing unique items in each level. These enemies are far too hard to beat on your first run, and are hidden away in harder to find areas or only appear during certain situations. This means that the second – or even third or fourth – run through a level can be invigorated by now being powerful enough to take on these super creatures and win unique rewards. Some could justifiably argue that this does not excuse the grind but hey, at least they tried.
From a narrative perspective it is also better, and by ‘better’ I mean that all those people in their late twenties and early thirties who are under the delusion that somehow the zenith of video game story telling is Final Fantasy VII will find something to enjoy from the multi-threaded plot involving a group of reluctant heroes uniting to overcome a threat that will destroy the world without their resistance. Everyone else will find most of it to be a load of old shit-stained cobblers.
Despite all my grievances the game still has the therapeutic joy of running into hordes of enemies and calling down a meteor in order to watch the Combo count go up by thousands and think “Man, I am brilliant.” This is what N3 the 2nd gets right; it really is satisfying to just go crazy and feel like you are a game god. There are no real puzzles, just a scant few platforming sections and then tons of utterly gratuitous violence.
Given that it is now very cheap, abandoned by publisher and developer alike, the game should provide at least a couple of days’ satisfaction for you Dynasty Warriors fans out there. It might not seem like a lot but, when placed up against Trine 2, at least it is something.