"Some of the missions that I the hold high score for took literally months of daily playing," says Sneh. "You're looking at devoting hundreds of hours of gameplay time to get a three-minute High Score run recorded on video."
This kind of statement gives industry executives pause. Someone like Sneh finds satisfaction in playing a single game extensively, rather than many games casually. But Microsoft did not introduce the Xbox merely to revive the career of the modern super ninja. Consoles need many games to support them. If developers and hardcore players determined the market, studios would produce huge, deep, complicated games, and hardcore players would purchase just a few of these games each year. The whole industry would collapse.
What we have instead is a four-way compromise between money men, developers, hardcore players and casuals. Any game made today has to satisfy all of these parties. As one might expect, this often results in disaster.
The Leaderboards Fell Quiet for the Ninjas of Summer
On July 25th, Tecmo released Mission Mode for Ninja Gaiden II as a $10 download on Xbox Live. Ninja Gaiden fans had decried NGII for lacking this feature at launch. The 2004 Ninja Gaiden featured Mission Mode on-disc (that's where Sneh got his scores), and the NGII Prima guide listed the mode as an unlockable. When it appeared as downloadable content on Live, fans suspected Tecmo had held it back to soak up more cash.
Then things got worse. Installing Mission Mode causes NGII's story mode to crash in the later chapters. To remove the glitch, you have to clear your Xbox 360's cache of every update you've ever installed. Further, you must remain offline while playing NGII or XboxLive will force you to re-install the update, nixing your ability to upload scores from the end of story mode. If you've just aced Master Ninja difficulty (the hardest), your score will never see the light of the official leaderboards.
Tecmo has well and truly screwed its hardcore fans. But what else are they to do? Ninja Gaiden II rewards players for finishing the game multiple times, as does Devil May Cry 4. You get goodies for multiple wins: costumes, gamer pics, art galleries and, best of all, harder difficulty levels. You even get a New Game Plus, allowing you to play through the campaign again on the same difficulty level with all your accumulated experience, gear and stats. These features provide replay value, but they also evince a sort of economic madness.
Replayability is a selling point, but it also dissuades us from playing other games. When you play one game, you're not playing - and likely not buying - another. With NGII, Tecmo tried both to foster obsession and maintain a high purchase rate. They bollixed it up on both counts. However, they would not have done better by delivering bugless DLC. What Tecmo needs to learn is the lesson of schwag.