The wide range of interactive options helps maintain interest for the first few hours, obscuring the basic, button-mash nature of the interactions through variety. Not only that, but experience orbs collected from fallen enemies can be used to upgrade not only your character and his or her chosen weapon, but also any spells they've learned or abilities they picked up, and this RPG-lite element helps push you further into the game when the initial, visceral excitement begins to wane.
However, neither of these factors can distract from the pedestrian nature of the level design, the repetitive and uninteresting boss fights, and the slim range of mission objectives, all of which damn the experience in the long term.
After the first clutch of missions you'll have access to five different fighters, each with their own interweaving storyline and set of missions. Characters conform to fantasy archetypes. Maggni, for example, a giant blue-skinned Hulk-alike with shield swords strapped to his arms, is slow and powerful, while Levv is short, fast and lithe, with his low HP made up by speed on the ground. There's no shortage of content here, and with the majority of missions taking well over half an hour to complete it will be many hours before you finish a single character's storyline. But the story, such that it is, will provide no incentive to do so, and by the midway point of each the prospect of doing the same again is wearying.
Stages contain a number of key and optional objectives, all of which remain hidden until triggered by stumbling into the appropriate area of the battlefield. Your grade rating for a mission is dictated by how many of these objectives you complete and how quickly, and there is some enjoyment to be found in uncovering all of an area's secret corridors, even if they are unlocked merely by whacking at them with a sword. Nevertheless, it's unlikely you'll return to a stage to improve your score: the length of time it takes to work through just one is simply too high.
Multiplayer modes, allowing players to co-operatively work through stages, are a welcome option, but reviewers were unable to test these ahead of the game's release, not least because they are not available locally but only over Xbox Live. The chance to take a character you've levelled in the single-player game out into the wilds of Xbox Live is appealing, even if the lack of visual customisation options makes it all the harder to showboat.
There's a sense in which Ninety-Nine Nights II is an easy target. It sits within a genre that has always been unpopular in the West, and some poor checkpointing and overlong stages do nothing to endear it to unbelievers. But there are flashes of inspiration here, clues to the competence and ingenuity of the developer. Sadly these are drowned out by unnecessary bulk and repetition, resulting in an experience that's flabby and uninspiring regardless of your appreciation of its aims.
4 / 10
Ninety-Nine Nights II is due out for Xbox 360 on 10th September.