I could reminisce olden days when I’d hit up Ninja Gaiden at the arcades but it’s not necessary. Seeing as how the head designer at Team Ninja has gone on the record to state that he hadn’t even touched the source material, it’s safe to assume that the game is designed with an entirely new audience in mind. It’s a good move too because while the original had a pretty massive fanbase, today’s audience isn’t quite like the gamers of yesteryear. Did it pay off? Well let’s just say that Tecmo’s latest masterpiece is the best action game available on the Xbox thus far.
Many people who play Dead or Alive aren’t aware that Ryu Hayabusa, one of the game’s playable characters, was lifted from the Ninja Gaiden universe. While he’s a mere bit player in that franchise he’s the heart and soul of this one. You assume control of the extremely nimble ninja as he deals a hell of a lot of damage with the aid of some ridiculously sweet moves. There’s a whole storyline revolving around revenge, hatred, vengeance, conspiracies and of course a stolen priceless artifact but it’s not too important here. All that matters is that it provides the gamer with a wide and varied setting that takes them from feudal Japan style settings to modern day villas that look straight out of Sicily.
Ninja Gaiden’s selling point is the action and it delivers it in spades. Some of the designers put in some quality time with DOA so they had a pretty good idea of what it took to develop a deep and compelling combat system. This gives Ninja Gaiden one of the deepest and most diverse movesets ever seen in a platformer. At your disposal is a quick slash, a stronger slash, a projectile attack, a jump maneuver, a block, an evasive roll and a charge attack that has the ability to dismember and decapitate opponents. This might not seem like a lot but the combo system allows you to string together some pretty impressive chains that provide you with plenty of variety. There’s also a pretty intriguing aerial combat system in place here. Like any good ninja out there, Ryu can run along runs, run up walls and jump off of walls. While the wall maneuvers play a role in some of the game’s sparse platforming elements they play a crucial role to your success in combat. As you progress you’ll encounter newer more powerful weapons that expand your moveset. Some of these include explosive shurikens, flails, a bow and arrow and many more devastating weapons. Perhaps most important is that each of these new weapons isn’t just for aesthetics as they provide you with entirely new movesets that give you a new approach for combating your foes. You can also gain access to magic but I felt that it was more of a sideshow attraction and found myself resorting to the core weapons to get the job done.
You’ve probably beaten some rather difficult games in your lifetime but I’m not sure that you could call yourself a hardcore gamer until you’ve completed Ninja Gaiden. It’s one the hardest, if not the, games that I’ve ever encountered. Some designers like to artificially inflate the difficulty by doing inane things like limiting continues or tossing you into situations with impossible odds. Tecmo doesn’t resort to such tactics. Instead it does something refreshing; it provides you with smart foes that actually seem like they serve a better purpose in life than to become your fodder. In fact, you rarely face more than three foes at any given time but the game makes up for the lack of quantity with an excess of quality. All of these enemies are smart and actually seem to coordinate their attacks at you. While in most games you can move on by looking for patterns and attacking the enemies in Ninja Gaiden don’t adhere to any recognizable patterns. It’s like when you try to attack the enemy will sense what’s coming and adjusts to your maneuvers. This makes every fight dynamic, almost as if you’re constantly doing combat with humans instead of computer controller characters. And I’m just talking about the regular enemies here; boss battles are an entirely different story.Not only do bosses fight with amazing variety and intensity but they also seem to adjust to your attack plans. They’re tough and at times they can feel almost invincible. I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t even touch the game’s first boss on my first encounter with him. I came in with a reasonable amount of health and being the cocky self that I was, decided that I could pummel him into submission by mashing all of the buttons. Huge mistake as he countered my attacks before I could even get halfway through the animations. Next I thought I’d block his moves and then wait for an opening. That was mistake number two as he thought it would be pertinent to grab me and crack my skull on the hardwood floor. Eventually I decided that I would be a cheap bastard and resort to aerial tactics. About six tries later I finally defeated the game’s first boss. I felt humbled but damn did I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.
Dispersing of foes will yield you various colored orbs that are helpful in your quest. Yellow orbs are your currency and can exchanged for a number of items and armaments, blue orbs replenish your health by red orbs replenish your magical ability. These are all important as health is often a premium throughout the course of the game. You can always find health vials throughout the game’s levels but you’ll probably find yourself purchasing a great number of them at the game’s few shops. Since the game is so difficult you’ll probably spent the majority of your funds on them as opposed to amassing up a massive amount of money that you get the opportunity to spend.
Most of your enemies are fun to fight but I had a few problems with the enemy design. In the beginning of the game you’re doing combat with fellow ninjas. Sure some of the designs border into the realm of absurd (there are ninjas with pistols and grenades later on in the game) but at least you have a good frame of reference when it comes to who you’re doing combat with. It doesn’t matter where you’re from; you know that a few good slices to the human body will do that person in. That’s not the problem though, it’s when the game decides to go all crazy and throw dinosaurs and the walking dead at you. It’s a strange design decision that doesn’t necessarily cripple the game but seriously detracts from the overall experience. Why tease me by letting me get comfortable with reality only to toss me a heavy dose of the absurd?
Beautiful, gorgeous, masterful. It’s a few of the words that I’d use to describe the gameplay but those words also apply to the game’s visuals. When the game was revealed at the Microsoft pre-E3 press conference a few years back it was praised for two things: its excessive violence and its lush visuals. After the game’s release, both of these aspects have held up their end of the bargain. I haven’t been so taken aback by a game’s visuals since I booted up Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell for the first time last year. With the exception of Ubisoft’s Far Cry, I’d say that Ninja Gaiden is the best looking game available on the market. Every single model in the game is just gorgeous and is comparable from what we saw from the combatants in Dead or Alive. I especially adore the massive helping of bump mapping on all of the character’s fabrics. It gives all of the garb an appropriate sheen that makes them even more convincing to the eye. Neat lighting and particle effects give fights that extra oomph that many other games seem to be lacking. While all of these aspects are brilliant they can’t hold a candle to the gorgeous animations. Everything moves so perfectly that all of the fights look like a meticulously planned ballet of death. Some of the environments don’t look as amazing when compared to the models but they’re still competent in the entire scheme of things.Tecmo made good use of the Xbox’s Dolby Digital support but I wouldn’t say that it’s the game to use to show off that brand new surround setup that you just got. It’s good but it’s not “piss off those neighbors that live two streets down” good. What’s here is what you’ve probably become accustomed to in the past few years. Clean samples, competent music and decent separation. It’s action heavy but most of it comes from the front so you can expect the front three channels to get some pretty heavy use. I rarely heard anything come out from my rear channels so don’t expect those to get much use. I enjoyed some of the music although I wouldn’t be the first in line if Tecmo were to release an OST for the game.
If I had one recommendation to the guys at Team Ninja it would be this; get a new camera man. All of the sequences in the game move at a scorching pace and the camera does a terrible job of keeping up with the action. You can always reposition and re-center the camera but you never can get a competent overview of the situation. This instead focuses you to rely on instinct instead of knowledge. This is especially frustrating during combat sequences where you often find yourself fighting a foe that’s sitting off screen. Some of the platforming elements can be frustrating as well because you can never catch the full scope of things. It’s not crippling to the game but it definitely mars the overall experience. To be fair similar games have the same problem but that doesn’t mean that a better camera couldn’t have been designed.
Yes, the packaging touts Xbox Live support but it’s probably not what you had hoped for. All of you junkies out there who had diluted visions of tearing up the levels with a bunch of strangers around the globe will just have to keep on dreaming. There are no multiplayer modes to be found here, what is here is the Master Ninja Mode. Very few details have been announced except that a tournament will be held this summer to test the mettle of the world’s best players. It’s a nice addition but I think that many people would have much rather preferred a true multiplayer mode in which they could slice up their human opponents. Other extras include an even more difficult mode, unlockable outfits and emulated versions of the classic trio of Ninja Gaiden titles.
Aside from the camera issues I’d say that Ninja Gaiden is everything that I could have hoped for in an action game. It’s got intense action, a deep and varied combat system, lush visuals and the overall challenge that I had been waiting for. It’s, dare I say, the best action game available on the Xbox and probably the first true must-buy game of 2004. If you’re even considering Ninja Gaiden I say that there’s no reason that you should hesitate to pick it up. If you’re not considering it then you should because it’s the best $50 bucks that you’ll spend this spring.
I'm a hard person to impress but Tecmo's action title left my jaw on the floor from the opening moments and kept it there for about 20 hours. Probably the first true jaw-dropper of the new year and a worthy purchase for all Xbox owners.
Rating: 9.5 Exquisite
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile