Behind me, suddenly and at first very quiet, the sound of certain death steps up to me. Without turning around I prepare myself, firmly strap my ninja-suit and I close my eyes. My fingers stretch around the black handle of my old friend and with one jump I turn around swinging my blade with a mighty blow into the surprised fiend… One moment, I freeze, only to hear the sound of it’s severed head falling onto the floor. Only now my eyes open and behold the many enemies rushing towards my position. With my sword still trembling I swear not to stop until I have my revenge and I continue my bloody quest
Let’s do a short introduction. You are Ryu Hayabusa, a descendant of the Dragon Lineage, and entrusted with the Dragon Sword. Another sword, the Black Dragon Blade, has been stolen and it’s up to you to hunt down the people who took it. There are many dragons involved and some very cool swords, one more doomed than the other, containing powers unseen to men. We’ve been there before, but the style and the panache of the story-telling, the fantastic graphics and movies that progress the story draw you deeper into the attractive world of Ninja Gaiden.
But let’s be clear: you don’t play Ninja Gaiden for the story, you choose it because of it’s unprecedented gameplay which combines the brainless fun of button-bashing with the need for real tactics and strategy. This combination calls for dedication. Dedication to learn all the moves and combos, to control yourself and your moves and to think about what move to do when, when to hit, defend, retreat and use the magic items.
Action and challenging action for that matter. The first two hours were very frustrating, sometimes I hated the game but once you’re a little bit further in it and after defeating the second boss, I was hooked. The key is clearly to learn the moves, use them intelligently and defend when necessary. Just pushing the buttons randomly, not blocking attacks or just using one move will get you killed literally in seconds, even in the first level and at the easiest setting. I’m not really an action gamer and still I loved the game after some time. One of the main reasons are the controls that are very reactive, they feel fast and sturdy and you really have the feeling that what you do with the buttons matters in the outcome of the battles. Playing with Ryu definitively gives you the impression of controlling an extremely powerful human being with the agility and moves resembling those of “Prince Of Persia”. For example you can run up walls, alongside them or jump to higher locations by jumping from one wall to another.
The number of moves is incredible and you’ll be able to learn new ones as you progress through the game. They look awesome and Ryu executes them with great style. You can also do some blocking (which is actually very effective), move while blocking, perform counter attacks, do jump-hit combos and next to this you also have a range of close combat and long range weapons as swords, shurikens, bows and nunchakus. Nevertheless, most of the time you’ll be playing with the sword since the other weapons don’t really offer different gameplay or advantages.
All of them play great thanks to those excellent controls that are necessary to be able to use all the moves consciously in order to defeat your enemies that are very deadly, smart and don’t seem to follow fixed patterns or moves too often. The normal characters are already quite challenging, and some bosses are a real handful. Prepare to replay some bosses many times before you’ll be able to beat him! Once defeated, enemies leave orbs, which can be used to increase your money, health or which can be absorbed to perform special deadly moves.
Next to the near-perfect action gameplay you will have the opportunity to experience some adventure-like puzzles and exploration. Pull a lever, find an entrance, open a door etc. For me this was very close to the typical puzzle-aspects of an FPS, complete with secret areas with extra goodies or health potions. Although less important than the action part, it’s quite fun and it never gets in the way of the flow of the game; on the contrary, it balances the game perfectly.
There is also a part that one could describe as a very simple RPG-element. You can upgrade and buy or find weapons, magic attacks, all kinds of items and health potions. Although it’s very limited, it fits with the rest of the game and it makes you want to play better all the time to get all the cool items.
The save-function is done via booths that are placed in the levels. Most of the time the fact that you can only save at fixed locations is not a big problem but now and then the booths could have been placed at better moments. Another frequent console problem is the camera, but also this is handled very well in the game. You can center the view easily and most of the time the camera positions itself in a good way. Still, sometimes something gets in the way but this never poses real problems.
The graphics are as good as they get on the Xbox! Brilliant effects, beautiful outside sceneries, bright colors, fast moving action without frame drops, great player models, engaging movies etc. The settings themselves are very different and however you start in a classic ninja-style area, in the subsequent levels (16 in total) you’ll encounter air balloons, robot-like enemies, European towns etc. The variation is excellent and always great-looking.
The sound is likewise, great effects that strengthen the action and quite good ambient music which will draw you in the game and its settings.
Is this game perfect? Almost, but there are still some things that could’ve been done slightly better. Some bosses early on are very hard and frustrating (demanding a lot of replays), while some later bosses are very easy. Also the inventory is a bit clumsy since you can’t use a potion with a ‘short-cut’ button. It’s also very difficult to find the cool extras (like the old NES versions or special weapons and outfits) so that without some help from a FAQ it’s very easy to miss them. I would also like to point out that people who hate action games shouldn’t touch this one if they don’t want to take time to learn how to play it. Once they do that however, they will have to admit that even action games can be real A-class games.
I did not have the time to play it, but there is also an online option allowing you to play tournaments via Xbox Live!
Ninja Gaiden is a great game, it boasts fantastic and deep gameplay, some of the best looking graphics on the Xbox, an involving setting and superb action. It’s a game you will fall in love with if you like action games but also one you will have to invest some considerable time, patience and exercise in if you want to reach the end of it. When you are prepared to do this, you will be rewarded with the best the Xbox has to offer and every gamer will admit this is a must-have classic.