One of the most hotly anticipated games of this year, this game should be a mystery to no one. After a well received demo, Team Ninjaís new game is finally released. Team Ninja and Tecmo have always catered well to Xbox, by giving them exclusive games, which looked beautiful, but always lacked the overall polish in the gameplay department. Ninja Gaiden was heralded as the action game to end all action games, and supposed to be a crowning achievement. There were a lot of promises made involving Ninja Gaiden, but how do they stack up in the final product?
Ninja Gaiden starts off with you, a young ninja named Ryu Hayabusa. After your training, you find out that your village has been torched and that the other members of the Hayabusa clan have been slain. As you go to investigate who has done this, only to meet a Greater Fiend named Doku who is responsible. He was after the Dark Dragon Blade, a legendary sword, which possesses immense power. You have its sister sword, the Dragon Sword, another powerful weapon held by the Hayabusa clan. Doku severely wounds you and leaves you for dead. You go through a fairly lengthy recovery and then set out on your quest for vengeance. The story is a pretty cookie-cutter affair of a young ninja hellbent on revenge, it is poorly told and easily forgettable.
The gameplay is a mixed bag of good and bad for the most part. The action in the game is very fast and frenzied, and you have many weapons at your disposal. You start off with only the Dragon Sword and shurikens, but as your progress, you gain more and more powerful weapons from explosive shurikens, bows and arrows, a boomerang/shuriken hybrid, nunchukas, and many more. You can buy more weapons from shops throughout levels, by collecting yellow essence (money) from dead enemies, there are also blue (health) and red (Ninpo) raising essences. In addition to weapons, you also have Ninpo at your disposal to rid the world of enemies. Ninpo is your special power, which when used will cause something to the effect of you shooting lightning from you or being surrounded by flames. Ninpo is sometimes a necessity when surrounded by enemies who are relentlessly attacking you. This game requires quick fingers, as the enemies are relentless. Iím not sure why, but <b>everything</b> in this game absolutely hates you, not regular hatred, but unmatched, incessant hatred. From other ninjas, to animals, to exotic creatures, to soldiers, they all have a life goal of ending yours. The enemy and level design is well done and extremely varied. You traverse through many locations, from your village, Asian cities, caves, streets, military bases, sewers, canals, and more. The bosses are very unique, as well as menacing and they consist of giant creatures like worms or human-type ones possessed by the Dark Dragon Blade and turned into Great Fiends. The level design is pretty good, although sometimes you will be wandering around aimlessly, unsure of where to go.
Despite ninjas being masters of stealth, there is no stealth found anywhere in this game, itís more of kill everything you see. There really isnít a problem with the way that the action is presented, but more of how itís executed. For a lot of the game you use wall running in order to traverse other areas of the game, and for the most part, this is done pretty well, although it is too sensitive. Sometimes you wall run when you donít want to, which is pretty annoying, considering the fair amount of poorly done platforming elements implemented. Tomonubu Itagaki (lead developer) touted this game as having a superb camera in order to match the action, but if you spend even five minutes with this game, you can tell heís a blatant liar. The camera is absolutely horrendous, it spends more time looking at you, than behind you, where it should be. Normally, bad cameras can be overcome, just ask anyone who plays platform games, however, in such a fast paced and camera reliant game, such as this one, a good camera is imperative to a quality gameplay experience, unfortunately, there isnít a good one anywhere in here. This game even has some platforming elements which are ruined, because of the deplorable camera, and poor collision detection. The enemies, while intelligent and relentless, sometimes use cheap tactics to take advantage of you, which becomes more than annoying. Probably one of the most annoying parts of the game is that the enemies respawn, which means that an area you just cleared out will contain more enemies who hate you next time you go back there. The game has a fairly big emphasis on backtracking, which makes the respawning enemies that much more annoying. In a terrible decision, there are some save points which have enemies around them, so as you fight them to save your game, you have to fight them again if you load. The save points are sometimes infrequent, and it can be annoying to die near the end of level, only have to return to the beginning, because you did not reach the save point. For the most part, there are save points close to bosses, but not all the time, which can be pretty annoying. Probably the most commonly addressed complaint about the game is that itís needlessly difficult. Conquering the normal mode is a feat in itself, and Iím afraid to see what hard mode has to offer. The game is certainly very hard, but nothing impossible, although you will spend many tries conquering the levels due to unrelenting and sometimes cheap enemies, as well as hard, annoying bosses. Sometimes, the game even makes you fight multiple bosses in succession without a shop (to buy health) or save point in between, which makes it a necessity to stock up on health, as it is depleted fast. The game would be much easier, had the camera been something not spawned from the depths of Hell. Itís enough of a task to work against the countless enemies who all desperately want you dead, but to have to fight the camera as well is just inexcusable.
Easily the best part about Ninja Gaiden is the absolutely gorgeous graphics. Everything is incredibly good looking and extravagantly detailed. The graphics are phenomenal and up to par with previous Team Ninja games. The water ripples as you walk through it and it looks very realistic. The enemies are very well done, and all look incredibly intimidating. The level of detail that went into this game is remarkable, as everything looks polished. The only problem with the graphics is a very minor one at that. The graphics seem to lack a unique or artistic flair, they just seem somewhat plain and boring, especially when compared to other more incredibly artistic games, such as Otogi. The CG cutscenes however, make up for this, as they are incredible to look at, and just jaw droppingly beautiful.
The audio is pretty good, albeit exaggerated in some parts. You hear all the sounds from your footsteps, to water splashes, and it all sounds pretty realistic and well done. Somewhat oddly though, every enemy you kill seems to be made out of a blood filled water balloon, as when you kill them, their blood pours out and it makes a splashing noise. The music varies by level, but itís mostly sped up techno mixed with guitar riffs when there is action going on. While the music is nothing special, it does a pretty good job of reflecting the current atmosphere of the game. There are English and Japanese voices, which are not too frequent, only found in cutscenes. The English voices are pretty mediocre, while the Japanese ones are better and more fitting.
For the most part, the controls are pretty good, except in some parts, which seem just like stupid decisions on the developerís part. Most of the game has solid, responsive controls, although sometimes they just arenít responsive, which can be frustrating. Right before, or when an enemy may grab you, you may try to pause the game, and it wonít let you pause, which can be very frustrating. The pause button isnít as quick to respond as I wouldíve liked. The right joystick, which looks around in first person wouldíve been better suited to turn the camera left and right, and go into first person by clicking it, but alas, thatís not an option. The default controls are as follows:
Left joystick - Move
Right joystick - Look around in first person
A - Jump
B - Projectile weapon
X - Regular attack/action
Y - Strong attack
A & X - Wind run (jump towards enemy)
B & Y - Ninpo
White -Not used
Black - Show map
L - Block
R - Position camera behind you
Start - Pause
Back - Not used
The replay of this game is something that seems like it was desperately tried to be extended, while falling short. The difficulty of the game is one of the main factors why I wonít be playing this again. Some points just got hard to the point of being tedious and annoying, which detracts from the overall amount of fun to be had and appeal factor of the game. The original three NES Ninja Gaiden games are included and are unlockable, which does add to the gameís length, provided you can unlock them, which is very difficult. There is also the Master Ninja Tournament, which is just fancy talk for Scoreboards, plain and simple, and you canít even use it until E3, which is in the third week of May.
Ninja Gaiden is a game that couldíve been so much more. While not monumentally disappointing like Brute Force or Enter the Matrix, it certainly is an incredibly disappointing game. The game just feels incredibly average and boring in many parts, as well as being needlessly tedious and annoying. Some moments I find myself questioning, for example, when I missed a weapon, I tried to go back and get it, only to find the path blocked, and no way to get the weapon. The camera is absolutely deplorable, and one of the worst Iíve ever had the displeasure of encountering. With a poorly told story, coupled with immense difficulty, sometimes itís hard finding the motivation to continue the game. It looks great, sounds decent, and plays okay, but the gameplay is severely lacking, despite having very intelligent, unrelenting, and sometimes annoying enemies. The game is not terrible, but itís far from being great, and itís just another average Team Ninja game that has style, but lacks substance. Aside from the pretty graphics, there isnít all that much here. The very difficult gameplay, coupled with one of the worst and most unresponsive cameras ever make this a game that youíll either beat out of spite or give up on, and that you should only rent, and nothing more.
Gameplay - 7.3
Graphics - 9.6
Audio - 8.7
Controls - 8.2
Replay - 7.8
Overall - 7.6
Edited by Barnolde, 09 March 2004 - 10:03 PM.