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Ninja Gaiden

The return of Ryu Hayabusa to consoles in a form other than a straight up fighting game is a glorious one. The rumors you’ve heard about the game being hard are true, but honestly I welcome the return to times of old when games were rage inducing. You will get frustrated playing this game, but you will enjoy it.

The story behind Ninja Gaiden this time around deals with the thievery of a Dark Dragon Blade, which is said to be forged of dragon fang and bone and sucks the evil out of the world turning the bearer into “the devil incarnate”. Naturally, Ryu is the bearer of a smaller but equally as important Dragon Sword and is tapped with the task of recovering the stolen Dragon Blade from a demon named Doku. Along the way, Ryu will fight not only other ninjas, demons, soldiers but also tanks and strange human/demon/animal hybrids which are part of an empire dubbed the Vigoor Empire.

If you enter the game expecting to slash through it mashing buttons and kicking some ass, you are in for a severe whooping. From the get go, you will need to learn a few tricks to help you not only survive but also to earn enough essence to fully upgrade your weapons. Essence is the games currency, it is used to purchase healing elixirs and new weapons, as well as upgrade existing ones. With each enemy vanquished, a small glowing orb of essence will appear and can offer health, magic (ki) or currency as mentioned before. Interestingly enough, when you kill an opponent with a flashy move such as a large combo or an essence charged move, a larger orb appears and larger is always better. Some moves can be charged, the most basic by holding down the Y button until any essence that is near you is absorbed into the Dragon Blade, when you release Y any enemy that is in your vicinity will be sliced and dices with an automatic combo that looks as good as it is satisfying, plus the large essence orb that is left is a nice perk.

Fear not old-timers, for the Ninja magic that Ryu packed in the first three games are back here and don’t disappoint. The boomerang shuriken and even the wheel of fire make a triumphant comeback. And just like your weapons, the Ninpo is also upgradeable as the game progresses. I appreciate the translation from 2D to 3D especially well here. In the 2D world of previous games, if you shot a fireball forwards, you knew it was going to hit whatever was in its way. Here when you choose to use your Ninpo and shoot fire at someone, it automatically focuses on an enemy and will hit them. This takes out what could have been a major source of frustration as your supply of Ki is quite limited early on, and the last thing you’d want is to be relying on refills to be near you at all times.

Some will liken the movement that Ryu showcases in NG to what was seen recently in the fantastic Prince of Persia. Yes, it’s true in both games you use a sword as your primary weapon and have the ability to run not only on walls, but up them to reach other areas. Now I am not downplaying anything about PoP, but I feel that all aspects which could be compared between the two games were done better here in Ninja Gaiden, with one minor exception, and that is the camera.

With the pacing of this game and the abilities that Ryu has such as running on walls, doing flips off of other walls one would expect the camera to be top notch. The camera is the one and only downfall that I can see in this game. The camera tends to follow Ryu through the environments, however once a fight starts, inevitably with multiple foes, the camera has a tough time reacting because fights are so fast paced with all the acrobatics and weapon slinging. In a game this well polished having only one major flaw is forgivable.

NG was greeted with delay after delay but in my opinion, they were worth it. Graphically this game is polished, heavily. All locations, indoor and out have a shine to them that almost reaches the point of looking TOO polished, and even the characters themselves have a sheen to them that evokes thoughts of some Pixar animation.
Many will argue, and I tend to agree that good graphics don’t make a great game, but I also feel that great graphics can make a good game even better. Cutscenes that help propel the story forward are done here with such great detail that you’ll actually feel the flames and the swords clashing, they are rendered in exquisite detail.

Speaking of animation, Ryu has an enormous array of animations for each weapon he can use, which range from the Dragon Sword, nunchukus, a war hammer and more. Each weapon has its own set of combos which can be upgraded by visiting a nice old man who upgrades your weapon. With each upgrade, new combos are learned and good players can link together massive combos in the 100’s, I still haven’t cracked the 75 mark.

Aurally Ninja Gaiden doesn’t offer a whole lot to differentiate itself from other ninja action games. Sound effects seem like they are almost taken from a stock pile of sounds, and tweaked slightly to fit a newer game. The music however does what it is intended to do, during tense scenes it adds a level of drama and adds even more tension. The best part is that the music is not intrusive, so the subtlety of it is what really made the impression on me.

No doubt by now you’ve seen the Xbox Live banner on the case and you may have wondered what exactly can they offer over Live. Well, quite honestly what I tell you is hearsay, because until E3 starts, no one truly knows what the Master Ninja Tournament is going to be like. From what I’ve heard the MNT is going to be a level that you download and play through on your own console, then stats will be uploaded and stored for the world to see, and from those scores, a master ninja will be named. I for one am really excited to try this out, and hopefully more single player games can incorporate something similar into them in the future.

Another giant plus for the replay value of NG is the inclusion of all three original Ninja Gaiden games, but with the disappointing remixed audio. The three games need to be found in NG and are playable in an arcade game. In order to make the games playable from the main menu, certain tasks need to be accomplished but I’d rather not spoil that for you in this review.

So the real question still remains, should you purchase this game right now at full price or wait until used copies start showing up in the stores, or the inevitable price drop one year from now. My answer to this is “it depends on the type of gamer you are.” If you enjoy the challenge of taking on a game that will frustrate you purely for the joy of making it to the next level, and also to see just how beautiful this game plays and looks in motion, then yes, purchase this game now. But if you were raised on games released in recent times, games that are meant only to kill some time before taking you to the end without any real challenge, then I say either wait for this to be cheap and buy yourself a guide or better yet, skip this because it is hard. For those who choose to accept its challenge, I guarantee that the sense of accomplishment will be worth the heartache. Plus it will finally give you the chance to actually beat Ninja Gaiden 1, 2 & 3.