THIS REVIEW IS DESTINED TO THOSE WHO, LIKE MYSELF, DIDN'T PLAY ANY NINJA GAIDEN GAME BEFORE
The gameplay is extremely well-designed and the control over Ryu is seamless, particularly when fighting enemies. There's no clunky lock-on system here, instead, when you press one of the two attack buttons, Ryu automatically hits the enemy closest to him and when you press the projectile button, he throws it at the nearest enemy in front of him with the accuracy of a true ninja – and all works perfectly, even when he is in the air and the enemy is on the ground or vice-versa or both are in the air.
In this game if you don't defend yourself or just mash buttons to perform the attacks, you will die many times without advancing much. This happens because different enemies have distinct behaviors and each one of them is strong, fast and has a clever and merciless AI. You have to be smart and thoughtful when choosing the tactics and moves to use, by studying the enemies' behavior, to be able to avoid or anticipate incoming attacks and defeat them. The action is always intense and brutal, so it's definitely not for the faint of heart. But the combat system in this game is the most gratifying one I've ever experienced, with some of the best and most stimulating 3rd-person action sequences I've ever seen in gaming.
I can understand why a good number of gamers found this game or previous versions of it frustratingly hard, even if they did what I mentioned in the previous paragraph. That's probably because they saw the game as if it was frequently punishing you for no reason and where luck plays a significant role. From my point of view, that's a misguided perception. Your movements have a direct influence over all enemies' behavior and they don't operate like bunch of independent individuals but as a team (although a not very well organized one) trying to defeat you. So when you encounter a group of enemies, you have to move in a way that avoids their attacks and forces them to change to a more vulnerable formation. Otherwise, half the times you hit one enemy, another will hit you back.
The enemies' somewhat coordinated performance plus the fast-pace of the action result in a demand for great eye-finger coordination and familiarity with the most useful attacks. So, although you can switch to "easy" after dying 3 times, a training mode and a more comprehensive tutorial could've been helpful to lower even more the number of times Ryu gets killed and also make the game less intimidating, especially for beginners and not highly skilled players.
With so many different weapons, each one with its own moves, when the story mode ends you'll feel like there's still gameplay potential to be tapped. Then you realize a new mode has been unlocked, the mission mode, that serves as a perfect complement. It's more focused on the best part of the game, combat, more challenging and gives you a reason to try weapons and moves you rarely or never used in the campaign, in search of the best way to defeat the enemies. Not that they become stronger but because you have to fight more and different combinations of them, including some new ones and bosses as well. There are 51 missions to conquer, with only 9 of them being frustratingly hard, at least for me, and you don't have to complete those to play the other ruthless 42.
Shaking the controller to increase ninpo attack power isn't fun but you won't use it very often and at least is a tad better than mashing a button, like in God of War. Another potential control issue is that, in the default control configuration, you have to press both triangle and circle buttons at the same time to evoke a ninpo attack. Although it can be annoying when you press one button before the other, the game lets you change the ninpo attack to the more practical L2 (the same button used in God of War to evoke the magic powers).
With the exception of a couple of frustrating bosses plus a couple of poorly designed sections in the campaign, the camera's problems aren't obstructive enough to hurt the gameplay in the normal difficulty setting. It becomes increasingly harder though, to tolerate the camera's inconsistency on tight spaces or near some walls when playing on Hard, Very Hard and Master Ninja difficulty settings.
So the lasting appeal could've been longer with a smarter camera system, because it would've made the game more enjoyable on difficulties above normal and therefore more re-playable. But it's still undoubtedly very fun to re-play the story mode on Hard and to re-play some of the missions on Hard and Very Hard (a few of them are also fun to beat in Master Ninja). Thus, with the 15-20 hours that it takes to finish the story mode the first time, plus a mission mode that requires a large amount of additional time to overcome and the bargain retail price of 40$, I think it's unfair to criticize the value of this product (and now it's sold for only 30$, so you're getting more than your money's worth).
The presentation is really well put together and makes it fun to just watch other people play the game. Both Ryu and Rachel's animations are incredibly fluid and dazzling and their character models are full of details. The game runs at 60 fps with a resolution of 1080p (amazing in a big screen). Soundtracks are appropriate for each situation and match well the theme of the game (although none of them will stay in your head). Also worth mentioning are the solid sound effects, that successfully inform you if an attack or projectile hit someone or not and if a fiend is preparing a powerful attack that's impossible to block.
The cut-scenes look fantastic but only last a few seconds each and aren't rendered in high-definition. And the game's creators seem to know they aren't good storytellers because there's almost no story in the game (it's better than having a weak or boring story).
If you, like me, didn't play any Ninja Gaiden game before, are old enough and enjoyed fighting enemies in the two God of War games or in the Prince of Persia trilogy, but now are hunger for a deeper, tougher and more rewarding combat action, don't miss this exceptional port of a modern classic.
SCORE ::::::::::::::::::::::::: ((( 9.5 / 10 ))) - (in a scale of 0.5 increments, without a formula)
GAMEPLAY = = = = = = = = = = ( 10 )
GRAPHICS = = = = = = = = = ( 9 )
SOUND = = = = = = = = ( 8 )
VALUE = = = = = = = = = = ( 10 )