Ninja Gaiden

Review

posted 4/12/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: Xbox
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.
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