Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 04/30/09

Hotel Dusk and Phantom Hourglass...with ninjas

The first Ninja Gaiden game I played was the original clear back on the NES, and I found it to be a phenomenal action game that borrowed a lot from Castlevania. A bunch of sequels, spin-offs, ports, and remakes later, the world finally got Ninja Gaiden II on the Xbox 360. The game definitely had some issues, but it was still fun…and it kinda reminded me of a combination of Prince of Persia and Devil May Cry. See a recurring theme? The Ninja Gaiden games have never really been original, often borrowing mechanics from other great games, but still, the series has managed to remain relevant all of these years. Enter Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword, the series’ first foray onto the DS that, unsurprisingly, also borrows ideas from popular games a little extensively, but still manages to be wildly entertaining and just an overall awesome game.

Firstly, the game is held sideways, kind of like Hotel Dusk or Brain Age to give the effect that you are holding the DS like a novel I guess. This design decision works very well for Ninja Gaiden DS the angle helps you traverse throughout the environment much easier than you would have been able to otherwise and it also gives you less room due to the vertical and narrow view. Why would the latter possibly be a good thing? Well, it helps make the combat more accurate and keeps things from getting too bloated.

Secondly, the game borrows heavily from The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Like Phantom Hourglass, the entire game is played using the stylus and the touch-screen to move around, and even the combat is based entirely on the touch-screen. To use projectiles, you simply tap at whatever enemy on the screen and to use your sword you slash your stylus across the screen. I absolutely love this and I hope it is used in more games to come. Ninja Gaiden DS pulls it off quite well, too, with virtually no gameplay mishaps as the game can seem to tell what you’re doing, unlike other games that have attempted this like Dragon Ball: Origins.

Regardless, as you progress through the game and build up combos, you will quickly master the combat system and figure out the best way to kill certain enemies. You can really build up some pretty gigantic combos, too, but you aren’t limited to just swordplay as a way to take down the fiends. You also have magical abilities, but you can also use your magic once until you manage to absorb a red orb from an enemy or until you find a save point. Anyway, to use magic you simply choose the color-coded icon and then trace an outline that appears on the screen to perform your magic. Sometimes you will have to tap on enemies or drag the stylus around to make your attacks hurt your enemies though, so it’s actually very interactive and quite a nice feature.

The way Ninja Gaiden DS is set up is like as follows: you go through the game level-by-level, fight as many enemies as possible, reach a boss, and then go to a sort of hub area to do various things. Sometimes you will have to complete short puzzles in the levels to progress, most of which take advantage of the microphone (thank GOD! I love the DS’s microphone), but essentially this is how the game is paced, and it works. While in the village in-between levels, you can converse with the villagers for background information or clues on what to do next or you can converse with shop owner Muramasa to buy upgrades using the yellow orbs you get from enemies. You can buy things like new spells, new combos, and other helpful things.

However, you can’t buy any health items, which is where the series’ signature difficulty factor comes into play. You have to beat bosses without getting healed, usually, and this can be quite the challenge, especially later in the game. On higher difficulties, bosses can seriously be a pain in the ass, but the rewarding feeling you get after you finally accomplish in defeating them is worth the frustration. Ninja Gaiden DS isn’t anywhere near as difficult as other games in the series, which is a tad disappointing, but it will still have its moments that will make you swear and give you the feeling that you want to snap your poor DS in half.

Platforming is a little more apparent in Ninja Gaiden DS, but that’s not always a plus. Some of the platforming segments aren’t the greatest in the world, but at least the developers tried. Regardless, the touch-screen and stylus work together in Ninja Gaiden DS very well and you shouldn’t run into any control issues, plus the way the game utilizes the DS’s other features like the microphone are a serious plus.

I really liked Ninja Gaiden DS’s storyline better than previous installments, but some parts can still be a little confusing and odd, especially with the pretty big shift in tone from the console versions. The game takes place after the remake and before Ninja Gaiden II, with the village rebuilding after the events of the first game. Some fiends show up and kidnap a local village girl, and Ryu is called upon to rescue her and discover some hidden secrets about his lineage, the fiends, and all this good stuff. I didn’t think it was executed in all that great of way, but the characters were pretty likeable though.

Where it lacks in storyline, Ninja Gaiden DS makes up with its graphics. Adopting a style similar to Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, most of the backgrounds are pre-rendered and the character models are displayed in a beautiful 3D. While the game can’t handle all that many enemies on the screen, which can make some of the gameplay feel a little muddy, they are nicely detailed and done quite well. The magic effects are neat and there is no lag and a very minimal amount of technical issues. The cut-scenes are displayed in a sort of anime/manga sort of way that works well for the storyline, and I liked it better than the super-gritty feel that the console Ninja Gaiden games tend to strive for. A lot of games use the two screens of the DS in a dumb way that just seems rather pointless, but Ninja Gaiden DS use them to display things from multiple views, and I like this a lot better than games that just put a giant creature that has to be both on screens because they think it’s cool for some reason.

I liked the soundtrack in Ninja Gaiden DS. It wasn’t all that memorable honestly, but it didn’t grind on your nerves and it was exciting enough. The sound effects all work nicely and while the game goes for a text-based format with very minimal voice acting, the occasional spoken words coming out of your DS come out surprisingly crisp and clear. Overall, I feel that Team Ninja did a pretty damn good job here as well.

Now to where Ninja Gaiden DS fails in a major way: the game is just too short. You can easily beat the game in less than six hours, but the problem is a good chunk of those six hours is recycled gameplay, whether that be back-tracking or facing bosses that have just way too similar attack patterns to really provide much of a new challenge and just take a long time to kill. This gameplay inflation coupled with the lack of a new game+ option really hurts Ninja Gaiden DS, but on the bright side, there is a decent amount of unlockable content. You can collect two higher difficulty levels, various extras, and there are even a couple of Easter Eggs to hunt for. So, you will probably squeeze more than just six hours out of it, but really how much more?

Innovation definitely isn’t where the Ninja Gaiden games shine. Instead of fixing things that aren’t broke, the games are notorious for taking the great things from great games to make a pretty damn awesome experience. By borrowing Phantom Hourglass’s heavy stylus usage and by using the microphone in awesome ways, Ninja Gaiden DS deserves its spot in everyone’s DS collection, but the short gameplay, the average storyline, and the occasional gameplay flaw hold it back from being perfect. I can’t wait for Ryu’s next console adventure, but until then, I think Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword can hold me over.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (US, 03/25/08)

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