Nightshade review

This Shinobi spin-off isn't easy. But, discovers Edge, those after a nostalgic challenge are in the right place

The best word to describe Nightshade is 'traditional', with 12 levels containing monsters to kill and scaffolding to negotiate, each culminating in a boss denouement. While 'traditional' need not be a dirty word, it's a shame that Sega also dredged up some design features that were perhaps best left in the Mega Drive era. It's not the boss battles - some of which can take upwards of 15 attempts to complete - that particularly infuriate, it's the instant deaths from falling that make Nightshade so uncompromising.

Play it on the default Normal setting and your reserves of patience will deplete as quickly as heroine Hibana's energy bar. Reach the unrelenting Tokyo highway section, and you'll be forgiven for wanting to give up (see 'Tokyo highway battle'). It's here that the flaws are most clearly exposed (though don't expect an easy ride on any of the preceding levels). You see, Hibana is an acrobatic lass, and along with the general leaping, ghost-dashing and wall-running she shares with Shinobi's hero Hotsuma, she can lock on to enemies, hit them in mid air, then dash toward another foe or leap back to safety.

All good in theory, but the camera cannot hope to keep up with Hibana's clever acrobatics. Worse: missiles fired off-screen are often enough to put an end to her balletic mastery of the skies and cause her to plummet like a grouse full of lead shot. The emphasis on air-dashing across chasms becomes more pronounced as the game unfolds, and so does the irritation at having to play through long sections again.

Take the difficulty down a notch and things become a touch more enjoyable, allowing the game's finer points to shine through. The graceful combat combined with the cumulative 'Tate' system engenders the player with a real sense of empowerment, and altering your fighting strategy to suit individual opponents prevents everything getting too repetitive. And then there are those pesky bosses: again, they're traditional - you find the weakness, move in to deliver some damage, avoid a counter-attack and repeat. Each is idiosyncratic, however, and the preceding FMV is stylish enough to give you some payoff for your efforts.

An unforgiving experience, then, but Nightshade still has enough chutzpah to give those weaned on games without saves a stern and nostalgic challenge. Those afraid of tough bosses need not apply.

Nightshade is out now on PS2

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