An action packed adventure with a few inconsistencies that keep it shy from a masterpiece
The Ninja Gaiden series is a game by Tecmo that first appeared on the original NES in the late 80s spawning 3 titles. The game was fun but known for its really hard difficulty as it required memorization of enemies as you progress through the 2D playing field. Enemies would just randomly appear at you at the most inconvenient places as you jump across treacherous platforms.
Fast forward to 2004 where the series was rebooted after a long period of time and spearheaded by Tomonobu Itagaki and team at Tecmo. This is the game that would redefine the action genre which was well received and had upgraded iterations released such as ‘Black’ and ‘Sigma’ on the PS3.
The main protagonist is a Ninja known as Ryu Hayabusa who is out to defeat the evil Vigoor Empire and stop them from getting the Dragon Blade (Yes, this is not Hollywood level material). It is known that this takes place before the NES titles. Along the way you will gain new skills and have to rescue your friend Rachael as well.
First and foremost,let it be known that this is a challenging game. There is an easy mode known as Ninja Dog that is available if you find normal level difficulty to be too daunting. The gameplay is fun and rewarding, but a few sections in this game will make you wonder why you keep on punishing yourself by playing. Then you will come to the realization that you play because the combat system is just so much fun.
The key to the combat in this game is blocking. Don’t expect to go into this thinking that this is ‘God of War’ and just hack and slash your way through. Enemies will block as well as counter you too. Your main asset at your disposal is your Dragon Blade. This and your shurikans are your main source of offense including Ninpo (Magical) techniques you will gain as you progress. More weapons will be aquired as you progress from long-range to short range weapons. Mastering different combinations with weapons is the key to success. For the most part you don’t need to go in expecting to be frustrated by backtracking as there are plenty of save points throughout and health items you can collect throughout different areas or in shops.
The level design is astounding. A lot of thought went into the different areas you will progress through. These areas will range from period villages, caves and to magma and ice caverns (trope, yes, but still fun to traverse). Each new area you progress will require keys or other objects to delve further. Expect mid-bosses and varied enemies to stop you on the way.
An initial gripe I had was the unbalanced difficulty at certain parts of this game. Chapter 6 will feature what I consider to be the hardest boss in the game and with no warning whatsoever so if you are low on health items or none at all be in for a frustrating fight. Later chapters will feature platforming as well. The NES titles were known for these, but now in a 3 dimensional space and a not so cooperative camera things can get pretty frustrating.
Many areas will lead back to a town known as Tairon which makes for quite an interesting design choice and allow you to revisit areas at will. The gameplay is fast frantic and once mastered ‘fun’. Just don’t go in expecting a walk in the park.
The graphics are very well done. Especially taking into consideration that this is a Xbox title and if played on the Xbox 360 with added AA (Anti-aliasing) and such you are in for a treat. Up close especially you will see very nice detailed textures in the environment as well as the character models. From a distance it can surely do with a more AA, but other than that players will be in for a visual treat.
The music is Ninja Gaiden is nothing to really write home about. A shame since that was one of the factors the original NES trilogy was known for. Expect mostly generic guitar riffs or techno-esque melodies with maybe only 1 or 2 truly memorable scores.
If you set your expectations accordingly when it comes to the difficulty or just simply swallow your pride and play through in ‘Ninja Dog’ mode if normal is not your thing you are in for possibly the best 3D action game ever conceived from the combat standpoint.