Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword Review
When Ninja Gaiden DS was announced by Team Ninja last year, some new fans of the franchise may have turned their noses up in disgust that their favourite game would be coming to the DS, in apparently reduced form. I myself was sceptical also. as to whether you could recreate sufficiently the console game experience on the humble little DS.
Ninja Gaiden in it's modern form concentrates very strongly on fast paced combat of the highest calibre. It's a game filled with depth of control that requires you to attack in a almost rhythmic fashion, and to block so also. Watch a noob play and it seems like just another slasher, but watch a expert play and it can be wow worthy enough for you to drop your jaw. Also add in the fact it is notoriously hard. Trying to replicate that level of intensity, depth and difficulty on the humble the DS, was bound to have made some weary, not solely because of the machines technical limitations. but also because of the DS user base and how it's populous would take to the game. This is partly because of what they are normally use to.
Ninja Gaiden DS is made by Team Ninja, not a second string team, but in fact the real deal headed by Tomonobu Itagaki himself, that fact alone tells you how important they saw this title. So, the question is has their commitment been worth it, and in turn does it mean the DS has got a great action game?, well that will be answered in the conclusion of this review.
The Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword's story is set six months after the one told in XBOX game which was based around the Dark Dragon Blade Incident. It revolves around the story of Kureha and her sister Momiji in regards to the Eye of the Dragon, the jewel that will transform the Dragon Sword into it's true nature. The game opens to a beautifully drawn Anime style cut scene, of which there are many in this game. You see a village elder Muramasa calling upon Kureha at her grave, she then appears to him as he then reminisces about how she and Ryu were once inseparable. He tells her little sister Momiji and Ryu are practising by the waterfall..
The game starts with a degree of novelty, it sees you involved in a interactive cut scene with you actually in control Momnji, a beautiful female Ninja who is Kureha's little sister. You are sparring against the main protagonist Ryu Hayabusa in the Forest of Shadows by the foot of a waterfall. This area of the game acts like a tutorial teaching you the very basic combat techniques using stylus strokes. It's actually really more of a play around before the actual tutorial takes place, where you set off on a journey and are attacked by monsters. The tutorial works well enough to help you grow accustomed to the controls.
The game, as you may know, requires you to hold the DS in book format, all attacks and movement and selections are controlled by the touch screen, all the buttons on the DS as well as the D-Pad act as a block, and block only. It all works very well and efficiently. I found it to be very comfortable to play in such a way and am sure others will do also.
The Ninja Gaiden series is about being able to employ defensive and attack manoeuvres seamlessly, Ninja Gaiden DS does this also, and it does so very well. Basic movement of your character is done via the sword-stylus, when you touch close to your character with the stylus held down on screen your character can be moved around the screen in the directions you guide the stylus. Slashing across enemies with the stylus causes Ryu to attack them with a series of swipes which is dependent on the number of times you slash across them. When you slash across a enemy while at distance Ryu charges over towards them with a sword swipe. When slashing upwards with the stylus, you see Momiji or Ryu jump upwards. You can also double jump with two well timed upward slashes. and also initiate attacks while up there. When double jumping you create more time to plan a route of attack even it it is a mere milliseconds. It comes in very handy when playing the game on the hard difficulty which I thoroughly recommend this game is played at... *sigh*, but I will get to that later.
When performing a double jump, by slashing down on a enemy below while in mid air causes Ryu to charge down on the foes with a downward double handed sword slash. While you jump and slash horizontally across the screen it sees you perform a Flying Swallow attack. And yes, it looks as graceful as it sounds. Tapping on enemies directly at distance causes your character to throw Shurikens at them, while jumping and tapping on enemies while in mid air sees you float down gently while continuing to throw at your selected foes. There is also the powerful Inzuna Drop that adds some depth into your attacks. By slashing downward on enemies then twice upward it causes Ryu to thrust up his sword at a foe making them fly up into the air, he then grabs them in mid air and slams them to the ground with speed, and then jumps back into combat stance immediately. There's also the classic wall jumping segments reminiscent of previous games in the franchise. Zig zagging or double slashing upward with the stylus makes Ryu or Momiji rize upward in a acrobatic manner within chasms. It all looks very stylish and it's a hallmark of the series.
When you play Ninja Gaiden DS you will you are playing a Ninja Gaiden game, all the small subtleties are there like the stance Ryu takes as he enters a new area. It all looks great and will be appreciated by all regardless to whether you have played a previous game or not.
The Dragon Sword is your primary weapon in the game, Shurikens and a Bow act as distance weapons, as well as that you also have "Ninpo". That's Ninja magic to the ill educated Ninja. By tapping a Sanskrit icon in the top left of the screen, when you have the required energy, you go into a character input screen as Ryu shouts "Nin-po!", you are then required to fill in a Sanskrit character with your stylus to initiate the special move. The first Ninpo you get in the game is a large fireball which can be moved around directly using the stylus in order to take out enemies. Ninpo is also used in the game in order to solve physical puzzles and open new areas also.
The controls in the game work very well for the most part, however, their are some issues. Due to the nature of some of the 2D water colour styled environments, and the way the playing field has been constructed with alternating playing angles, there are at times points where the accuracy diminishes a great deal. These areas tend to be when your character is in the far distance and you are expected to employ the same deft touch as required elsewhere in combat in the foreground. I myself found that keeping my stylus locked onto the touch pad and drawing enemies out of distance was a way around the issue in heated combat. It's certainly a shame, it should not have been a problem with clever level design to work around it. Thankfully though. it doesn't impact the game too badly as the combat elsewhere is fun.
Combat can be blistering fast at times requiring you to perform series of attacks and combos in quick succession. Touch input, the DS working to it's strengths have in a way brought about a great Ninja experience where reflexes are paramount. Combat for the most part sees you drawn into what are essentially combat arenas where you have to defeat foes thrown at you via the dark portals that appear. Only after removing the foes can you move onto the next area. It's old school and cool. and it works well.
There are sections in the game where after missions you go back to your Ninja village and speak to Muramasa the town elder, while taking the time to upgrade your basic abilities. It's a nice distraction for the combat and acts to add to the whole story. The combat is where this game really peaks though.
On the subject of sound, Itagaki as some of you will know has a liking for the ladies, some of the sounds Momiji makes at the start of the game sound suspiciously like little orgasms to me. Aural innuendo aside, the main combat sounds are fantastic and aid the intensity of the game very well. The soundtrack is composed mainly of Edo period harmonies, the sound of escalating Taiko drumming almost persuades a degree of rhythm to your fighting style. There's speech in the game also, albeit the odd line and murmur. It's nothing really note worthy, even if it's cute and stylishly done. The game uses cool comic book style cut scenes which hark back to days of old on the games on the NES, which were noted by many and revered at the time. They all look beautiful and use the dual screen ability well.
Sadly,l Ninja Gaiden DS is a easy game, especially for those that are seasoned Gaidenz. It will take six to seven hours or so in the default difficulty setting. It's understandable to some degree, but as I've said earlier. Ninja Gaiden games previously have all been very difficult. The bosses in the game can be easily beaten when you apply any decent amount of attention, it's simply a case of working out their attack patterns and doing away with them. Very rarely will you have to lose life. Also add into the fact the game molly cuddles you with save points that litter the game.
In the normal difficulty you can stylus slash like a maniac and get through to the near later stages of the game with rarely having to use your block. This is a first for the Ninja Gaiden series, and a disappointing one for the purists. However, and this is a big however, after completing the game once. the the hard difficulty is unlocked and this entire game becomes a bit of a revelation, foes will now take a much harder beating in order to die, and blocking is all important. The bosses also need a serious battering, requiring the very best of your skills. I cannot fathom why the hard difficulty wasn't selectable from the start for those that wanted it straight off, it's shame in my eyes as it would have made the initial experience of the game superior to seasoned players. Itagaki has stayed true to his word though, there is much depth to be had in the hardest difficulty, so much so that Wi-Fi functionality allows you to post your stats and high scores via Nintendo's WFC. This is something which will please the purists with fast reflexes.
Ninja Gaiden DS is certainly the best action game of it's kind on DS, and it also acts as a shining light for other developers to be so bold as do something only seen here so far. Itagaki and his team have created a little gem, the game has fast paced gameplay and excellent artistic direction, and story well told for a handheld game of this type.
This game really deserves to be played by all who own a DS, not just Ninja Gaiden fans alone. As Itagaki himself says:
"when you play this game for the first time you will wonder why nobody has made a game like it before" .
Do buy this game if it's your thing, heed my advice and see what this game is really about in the hard difficulty setting, you wont regret it.