By now you probably know that I’m a Ninja Gaiden fan. If you’ve read any reviews, you probably also know that the biggest complaint leveled at Ninja Gaiden 2 is that the camera is broken–nay, adversarial. Here’s my take:
The camera is absolutely paramount to setting the mood and feel of the game. When Devil May Cry first came out, a lot of reviewers didn’t like how the claustrophobic camera affected game play. They liked the mood and feel set by the camera, but didn’t like that you would sometimes get attacked by enemies out of screen. So Devil May Cry 2 was created, headed up by a former game reviewer, and guess what? The claustrophobic camera was gone, the claustrophobic sets were gone; the world was big, there were no more out-of-camera attacks, and people hated it. People missed the feel from the first one. They wanted tight corridors, crowded battles; they may even have been willing to turn a blind eye at the next out-of-camera attack, sacrificing that bit of unfair damage in the name of love of game design.
Ninja Gaiden 2 is a game that is meant to be beyond intense. When you pull the camera back, a la God of War/Heavenly Sword, you rob a bit of intensity from the feel of the game, and it leaves you with a choice: do you want to play a high-intensity game with an aggressive camera that sometimes leaves you feeling a little cheated, or do you want to play a medium-intensity game with a pulled back camera that shows you everything yet somehow lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The camera is a design decision to evoke a certain mood. The game designer decides on the mood. To me, it’s almost as if game reviewers are looking at the game, saying “I didn’t like it because it’s not God of War,” and docking it 10-15 points for not being God of War. “I didn’t like Call of Duty 4 because it doesn’t have a cover system” is an equally valid complaint; I wonder why no one’s brought that up?
I think the core of the issue is that game reviewers have to really scramble to complete all of the new titles that land on their desk from week to week, preventing them from really soaking in the nuance and subtlety. Ninja Gaiden fanboys understand that the camera must add to the frenetic pace and, yes, be a little obnoxious at times, and that through time and patience it will become a necessary evil. Personally, I’m used to making mental notes as to where the out-of-camera baddies are and attacking what I cannot see–it makes me feel like a ninja. Reviewers, playing through the game at the easiest setting, simply jot down their first impressions: some dude from outside the camera killed me and now I’m pissed off.
I think the solution is a fanboy-only review site. Ninja Gaiden 2 reviewed by Ninja Gaiden fanboys, DMC4 reviewed by Devil May Cry fanboys, and so on.