Part of the problem is the controls, with all attacks performed using combinations of X and Y, with the A key to jump for good measure. Its simplicity adds to the pick up and play factor, but as XXXYYY isn’t that much different from XXXXY, it also means that you soon forget about artful combos and settle in for prolonged button mashing. As for the strategy aspects, well these are even more basic. Most heroes have two squadrons of troops under their command (to whom you can assign simple orders) plus a couple of spare hero mates who tag along. However, as in many cases these only do limited damage to the enemy, you tend to forget they’re there after a while. In fact, there are only a couple of occasions when you can actually put them to good use, guarding an objective or keeping a certain enemy off your back.
In effect, then, the only major tactical decision you make is which foes to attack in what order, and when to use your special powers. As with Capcom’s Onimusha, you have a red bar that fills up as and when enemies are despatched. Max it out, and you can unleash your first special attack: usually a range of devastating blows that can fell whole monstrous regiments in minutes. This in turn fills up a blue bar, and after three or four ‘red’ attacks you’ll have filled it up enough to unleash a devastating uber-attack that practically annihilates everything onscreen (bar any big boss baddies). Saving the red and blue attacks up for a special occasion is crucial to success in the game, and it’s about the only bit that really engages your brain.
Now, simple isn’t necessarily bad. When it’s working, N3 is quite good fun, and who wouldn’t get a kick out of throwing whole gangs of angry orcs around like toys in a kid’s sandpit, or sending another cadre of leather-clad dark-elf ladies to their doom while their tame dragons wheel overhead. Admittedly, Spartan: Total Warrior did a lot of this last year in a more tactically complex and interesting way – and on the humble PS2 to boot – but if I just wanted a gobsmacking, simple action game to while away the odd half hour, N3 would have fitted the bill quite well. It was never going to be a classic ten out of ten sort of game, but it should have been a solid seven, maybe even an eight – if it weren’t for a barrage of disastrous game decisions that have all but wrecked the experience.