Review by jsx5623

Reviewed: 03/14/06

Ninja Gaiden offers near-perfect gameplay and stunning visuals in exchange for a frustratingly harsh difficulty setting.

*This review was written for both Gamespot and GameFAQs.

Brrrsh. Talk about an adventure. Several years ago Ninja Gaiden emerged as one of the most difficult games ever made for the arcade and SNES systems. Two console generations later, here we are with a fresh, and revamped Ninja Gaiden game. This is by no means a sequel to its sixteen-year-old predecessor. Although Ryu Hayabusa has been a playable character in the Dead or Alive games, this is the first time in over a decade that Ryu Hayabusa has starred in his own game. This fresh, new Ninja Gaiden offers near-perfect gameplay and stunning visuals in exchange for a frustratingly harsh difficulty setting.

Unlike the past Ninja Gaiden games, this new Ninja Gaiden game is a lot less story-driven than its ancestor. The revenge-themed plot is simple, yet very nonsensical and stale. The player is told of the "evil Dark Dragon Blade" and its katana cousin the Dragon Sword in the opening scene, and that seems to be the foundation of the story throughout the entire game. Sure, information is fed to you slowly throughout beautifully rendered cutscenes, but there are no significant twists or turns in the plot, save one that was very predictable.

Then again, who cares?

Ninja Gaiden's main focus is centered on the awesome gameplay. You play as Ryu Hayabusa, an angry, powerful ninja looking to avenge the death of his clan and the razing of his village. The gameplay is focused around the sort of sword-swinging crazy smilar to the of the last two Prince of Persia games or perhaps God of War. Ryu's acrobatic movements are also similar to Prince of Persia. The game's physics are easy to get a custom to, though hours into the game you will perform new combos with your weapons that you didn't even know existed.

While speaking of weapon combos, Ryu Hayabasa is equipped with the Dragon Sword, with which he is able to string together powerful combos used to dispatch his enemies. Like I said before, the most powerful combos will only be able to be performed by button mashers who have a good memory of the buttons they've been mashing. Every move made is fluid and next to that it looks damn cool.

Before playing Ninja Gaiden, I had never really thought of an Xbox game graphically going to its limits. Agree or disagree, but I'm gonna go ahead and say it. Ninja Gaiden is by far the best looking Xbox game I have ever played. That says alot, because I have owned an Xbox for quite some time now. The pre-rendered cutscenes look fantastic , and strangely enough, the in-game cutscenes seem to look even better. Everything in-game, EVERYTHING runs at a smooth 60 fps framerate, and I don't even know how long those Tecmonian technicians were crunching those zeroes and ones to create such art. The only other place I have seen that is in God of War (whose gameplay is really the only thing running that fast). Load times in the gameplay are very rare and will last no more than three seconds. The environments and visuals will strike the player as anything from beautiful to downright strange. Even the game's menus have an artistic touch to it.

Ninja Gaiden's sound is great. Every swing of the sword, splash of blood, and death of an enemy is well recorded. Even though the dialogue is cheesy, the cheesy lines are delivered well. The musical score will vary as your environments do. The musical themes are catchy, but they aren't so incredible that you'll find youself humming them on the way to work/school. The reason the sound doesn't get a 10 is because there isn't really anything groundbreaking or revolutionary about the sound. All of the music in the game is nothing more than your generic martail arts percussion music plus the occasional morbid theme parallel to the story.

The world of Ryu Hayabusa is a strange one. All fantasy elements a side, the plot will initially make you think you are playing in a world far, far off into the past, possibly medieval Japan. Later on though, you will come across advanced technology that both does and does not exist today. The game has both a ancient and futuristic touch to it, but this is fairly tolerable due to its somewhat mediocre story. The wide range of environments Ryu explores ranges from dojos, villages, sanctuaries, gardens and tombs to fancy airships, military bases, sewers and modern-day-looking cities. Hell, you even get to go to Hell. :D

Despite all of this, Ninja Gaiden has some noticeable flaws. The most prominent one being its extreme level of difficulty. Ninja Gaiden is a tough game. Your enemies are as tough, if not tougher than you are yourself. It's been said before by Tecmo. Enemies aren't put there to for you to kill. They're there to kill you. And that they will most certainly do. That being said, there are no real grunt-type enemies. All enemies are powerful, ruthless, and will definitely kill you if you're not careful. If your ass doesn't get handed to you by the enemies, it will definitely do it is the bosses. For the average gamer, there will probably be two pushover bosses throughout the entire game. That's two out of about twenty(including mini-bosses). Challenge is good for a gamer and all, but what makes Ninja Gaiden so frustrating is the face that the save points are the only real checkpoints in the game. I'll use the first level as an example, seeing as that one may be particularly frustrating. It's about a 20 minute level (on your first time through) and there is only one save point in the whole level thats close to the end. So let's say you get killed by the two ninjas guarding the room with the save point. You wanna start back there again? Tough. It's not just that either. Just about every boss that isn't defeated will set you pretty far back when you die. And trust me, you will die.

Another thing that also bothered me was the camera. The camera tries its best to be centered behind Ryu no matter what, but when enemies are nearby and you're at an awkward camera angle, you can consider yourself screwed. The only method of camera control is the right trigger, which is obsolete when the camera is inside a rock that Ryu is in front of. Next to that the control scheme is a wee bit sketchy as well. The "attack" and "interact" actions are both assigned to the X Button. This can be very problematic if you're in a room where you must kill every enemy to proceed, you're fighting near a door, and you accidentally get too close to a door and you press the X Button. Now you have to go back through the door and go through all the hell again, this time knowing to avoid the door.

Again with the story. A revenge plot will eventually become a video game cliche. I can accept a weak revenge plot, but this weak revenge plot makes little to no sense whatsoever. Of course you will know what's going on, but you will never know why. As an example, at the end of Chapter 2, Ryu Hayabusa is killed (no, no, not seriously injured, he is killed). After the event of apparently nothing happening, Mr. Hayabusa is alive and well, this time wearing a cooler outfit. All I can say to that is Double-U Tee Eff. The one good-but-predictable plot twist even seems to have now sense behind it. Next to all of this, Tecmo has been able to retain the competely misogynistic nature that was present in their previous Dead or Alive games. Specifically, I mean to speak of a certain character whose ridiculously large breast seem as if they're about to jump out and attack. If you're the sort of young boy whose thrilled by the idea of ridiculously huge breast, this game is even more for you. I personally think somebody should tell Tecmo one thing about boys my age: we're not all that horny. Geez.

Ninja Gaiden has plenty of incentives to go back and play through it again, practice being one of them.This game's normal difficulty compares well to God of War's God Mode challenge. If you beat the game once, you get to start again with all the golden scarabs you had originally, which gives you a slight advantage the second time around. The game has hundreds of little secrets that can be found via exploration. Of course, nobody shouldn't be thrilled to go back and play through all of the eye candy and thumb hell one more time.

Those who play this game should remember one thing: patience is the key. If the first boss kills you six times, go for a seventh. I happened to get lucky with the first boss and find out a method on my first try, but believe me when I say that that was just luck. If you have tolerance for difficulty, an itch for a challenge, a lack of good-looking games, and a controller you are willing to throw as well as a good temper, this game will definitely satisfy you.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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