Kathryn Bailey

Nights into Dreams was one of the most popular games on the Sega Saturn, but for that reason alone I’m willing to bet that more than a few gamers have never heard of it before the Wii sequel was announced. For those who don’t know, the series centers around the sensation of flight, with boys and girls banishing their nightmares by taking control of a jester-like creature called Nights.

I know about Nights, but this is my first time actually playing it. As such, I didn’t really know what to expect until I picked up the Wiimote and got started. Like most Wii games, the graphics are certainly nothing to write home about, though they are definitely colorful and interesting to look at. They do a good job of leaving the impression of a dream world, which I imagine was the designer’s goal.

The camera remains fixed at a somewhat awkward isometric view, only periodically moving behind Nights as she flies around the stage. For the purposes of the demonstration, I was directed to the dream park stage, where I floated around collecting jewels and other objects for a while amid the foresty green. Flight feels like its on rails – Your character is always moving forward, with an occasional burst of acceleration used to catch up to targets.

It took a while getting used to the controls. I kept wanting to push forward to make Nights fly ahead (intuitive, no?), but I kept doing backwards. Finally, after much prodding from my Japanese assistant, I realized that I actually had to press right to move forward, which felt wrong from that perspective. I was eventually able to get used to it though, snagging all three birds in the stage and grabbing the keys they were carrying.

Once I cleared the first stage, it was on to the boss, a large, floating beach ball-like clown creature that mostly floated about the stage harmlessly. My goal was to push it all the way to the top of the stage, but it was difficult as the perspective kept shifting. I was finally on my way up, but alas, I ran out time and my dream was over.

Anticipated as this game is by some, I was left feeling underwhelmed by the demonstration. With so many AAA games hitting the market soon, it’s difficult for me to recommend what felt like a relatively simple game with somewhat confusing controls. No doubt fans who remember the Saturn will pick this one up, and there are indeed some things to recommend it, including the use of different masks to change speeds and the use of the Forecast Channel for various features. As for me, if I want a starry platformer-like game, I may just stick with Mario Galaxy.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical the first time I saw the trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4. Sure, it looked great, but hadn’t we been through all this with the launch of the PS2? Same series, same hype, different number – Metal Gear Solid 2. And yes, it was terrific, until the big bait and switch (which, by the way, was and still is overblown).

One year later, I’m ready to change my tune. Metal Gear Solid 4 is incredible. Truly, you can’t really understand why this game is great until you finally get your hands on it. Yeah, it’s generally the same MGS with a lot of cosmetic improvements, but it’s never looked or played this good. It’s obvious that Hideo Kojima has pulled out all the stops in what he says is his final (this time for real) Metal Gear Solid game, and we’re richer for it.

Konami too has gone the extra yard in presenting it. Showgoers were A

Tecmo sure hasn’t wasted any time. Barely a week after finally announcing the true successor to the Xbox original, numerous screenshots have made their way to the Internet. And now at TGS 2007, Snackbar Games has been given a chance to see the actual game in action.

The demonstration took place within what appeared to be an old-style Japanese temple/cave set in the Microsoft booth. Shoes had to be removed to sit in the rocky seating area, which had a mat and several sitting pillows for spectators.

The mood set (developers sure love setting the mood this year), we were treated to a dark opening cinematic. The camera panned slowly over a wasted battlefield, swords and bodies dotting the landscape. Finally, it settled on a buff-looking Ryu, who was sporting a blade strapped to his arm as well as a peculiar sword that looked quite different from his trademark Dragon Sword.

After the quick cinematic faded to a splash screen, the presenter took a moment to explain the controls in Japanese as well as point out a few of the available levels. Ryu wasn’t exactly a homebody in the original game, but it looks he’ll really be globetrotting in the sequel, even taking time to sightsee in Nifleheim, the cold land that is home to dishonored warriors in Norse mythology. Why exactly he is going to Nifleheim remains to be seen (it may just be a name), but knowing Ryu it’ll probably have to do with ass-kicking demonic swords. Other available levels include a watery Venice like level, and an image that resembles the Statue of Liberty.

The approximately ten minutes of gameplay that came afterward were not so different from what we’ve come to expect from Ninja Gaiden in the past few years, but still had a fair share of surprises. Three new weapons were shown as Ryu rampaged through Aqua City (the Venice-like level), each of them nice additions to the ninja’s arsenal, and very cool in their own right.

The first was a deadly scythe that Ryu appears to take apart and keep on his back. When attacked, the weapon is assembled in a blink of an eye and slices through the air in a nasty arc that typically cuts the enemy in two. Ninja soldiers (yes, they sported katanas and bazookas) and demonic creatures alike were deftly sliced in half by the powerful new weapon, and it appeared that Ryu could even cleave an enemy in two by tossing the blade while hanging from the wall.

The second weapon was not one, but two katanas. Apparently not content to be surpassed by Master Chief, Ryu has taken his example and is now dual-wielding himself. Pretty much everything you would normally expect from double katanas is there, with the overall effect being generally quite cool. Finally, Team Ninja has borrowed yet another classic weapon and given Ryu long, Wolverine-like claws. These were demonstrated toward the end of the demo, with the demonstrator impaling several demonic attackers and staining them green with their blood. The overall effect is quite cool, and it’s made even cooler when Ryu clangs them together to shake off the blood when he’s finished.

At the end of the demo, Ryu is accosted by a large, man-spider creature that wouldn’t look out of place in a Resident Evil game, and the screen fades to black. No doubt this will be an excellent, well-designed game, though I have to echo a recent comment from another Internet news site and cry Ninja Gaiden fatigue. The graphics are crisp and smooth (though they didn’t quite match Ninja Gaiden Sigma’s eye candy in my mind), and the new weapons were definitely cool, but the sequel doesn’t look to be terribly different from the original.

No doubt fans will be appeased, particularly with the original’s fearsome difficulty level appearing to have made an encore in the sequel, but lesser fans among us may be ready for something new (Ninja Gaiden DS?) Despite the caveats, it’s hard to fault Team Ninja for bringing back a winning formula, particularly when it entails ninjas staining their claws with neon demon blood. Ryu Hayabusa will strike again in 2008.

With every passing year, it becomes more and more apparent that Nintendo did something fundamentally right with the Nintendo DS’s interface. Whether its with rhythm games (Elite Beat Agents), adventure games (Phantom Hourglass) or even first-person shooters (cramped hands aside, Metroid Prime Hunters revolutionized handheld FPS’s), a company willing to put in a little time, thought and effort can apparently pull off almost anything with the DS’s touchscreen and stylus.

Enter Tecmo and Ninja Gaiden. Just a year ago, gamers and critics alike scoffed at the notion of a Ninja Gaiden game for the Nintendo DS. Aside from not having enough buttons, the seemingly underpowered DS didn’t even match the PSP, let alone the Xbox. When Ninja Gaiden DS was revealed with a touchscreen a year later, some gamers were even more skeptical despite the outstanding graphics and the demonstration given by lead designer Tomonobu Itagaki. How could the tight, elegant controls of the Xbox classic possibly translate to the Nintendo DS?

Let all doubts be put to rest here – Ninja Gaiden DS controls like a dream. Given a chance to try it out at the Tecmo Booth, my hand didn’t once stray toward the directional pad as I sliced, diced and shurikened a bevy of enemies with a series of stylus pokes and slashes. The controls are quite intuitive, with a vertical slash down through the enemy bringing Ryu’s Dragon Sword down, and the horizontal slash cutting across. Draw up, and Ryu will leap into the air to come down for a powerful sword smash. When confronted with ranged enemies, simply pointing at them was enough unleash a flurry of shurikens.

Despite being a relatively brief demo, it did a great job showing off Ryu’s myriad moves. The exhilaration and fast-action inherent to the game’s big brother on the PS3 and Xbox 360 is present here, and even without the wall jumps, Ryu still manages to zip around the screen slashing enemies. But while the graphics are some of the best available on the DS, the handheld’s visual shortcomings are still apparent in the occasionally flat textures and jaggy enemies. It’s not a huge issue on the DS’s small screen, but it’s worth noting that this game isn’t quite up to the level of the PSP, as some fans have suggested they might be.

However, while the aforementioned games are notable for their extreme difficulty, I had no problem at all plowing through the demo’s enemies and the red dragon waiting at the end. I’m aware that Team Ninja wants to tone down the difficulty somewhat for the more general audience that the Nintendo DS brings with it, but it would be a shame if the series’ famous difficulty was abandoned entirely. Here’s hoping that there will be multiple difficulty levels for true ninjas.

Despite its relatively lax difficulty, the brief demo was extremely enjoyable, and the final game will most likely be an excellent addition to the Nintendo DS’s extensive action library.

Images from TGS 07