Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
There have been a lot of challenging video game series over the years;Gradius, R-Type and Ghosts & Goblins are just a few that come to mind. However, with the exception of the latter, no series other than Ninja Gaiden has managed to both invigorate and alienate gamers because of its difficulty.
This series of games tracks the exploits of Ryu Habayusa as he fights evil, wherever it may be. His adventures began in the arcade and were since transferred to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo, Nintendo’s Game Boy portable, Microsoft’s original Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 3. While each of these experiences differs in terms of scope, size and directive, each of them have one aspect in common: they each require players to focus from the first action until the final strike.
This perfection aspect has caused gamers to either champion its cause or decry it as being ‘too hard’ to comprehend. This split view point was especially apparent in the game’s Xbox iterations and its PlayStation 3 incarnation as well.
Despite these viewpoints, Ninja Gaiden is consistently regarded as one of the premiere action series in the gaming community, standing alongside Devil May Cry and God of War. This high regard has translated into successful sales and the announcement of a sequel for the Xbox 360 and a portable iteration called Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for the Nintendo DS.
While the sequel is not due for release for a while, the portable edition is now readily available, and it is time to see if Ryu can challenge and overcome the DS in the same way that he handles consoles.
When a player turns on the DS to begin the game, it becomes immediately apparent that the existing structure is starkly different from what is usually present. This is even apparent in the game’s manual, which tells players from the beginning to position the system akin to reading a book; an action that has been used in relatively few games. Once players start up the game, they are greeted by the familiar Team Ninja logo, and are immediately prompted to touch the screen with the stylus to begin play.
The use of the stylus is an instrumental part of Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword; expect to use it for jumping, attacking, operating switches and even casting magic. The sole use that you will get out of the buttons is for blocking, where you can press any button, including the directional pad, to defend if necessary. The start and select functions are used for inventory management, and that is essentially it.
It does take some period of adjustment to become fully comfortable with the stylus controls; fortunately, the game addresses this problem succinctly through giving you detailed instructions on how to use the stylus. Once these tactics are learned, players will be slicing through enemies like butter and progressing through the adventure quickly.
Or perhaps too quickly; unlike the console iterations of Ninja Gaiden, this DS version is much shorter than what is expected, though that is to be expected considering that nature of the portable. There are also very few instances of any platforming or puzzle solving elements; players will spend about 75% of their game experience in combat-oriented situations, with the remaining 25% in exploration and puzzle solving situations.
Players who have conquered the console Ninja Gaiden adventures may also dislike the game’s lack of challenge. Bosses are far less challenging than in the console experiences once you become comfortable with the controls and are able to exploit their weaknesses. Of course, for players who found Ninja Gaiden’s difficulty an inconvenience, they may actually find solace in the relaxed nature of Dragon Sword.
The graphics in Ninja Gaiden DS are stunning, Team Ninja was able to push as much processing power as they could out of the Nintendo DS, and the result is a game which visually rivals graphics seen on the original PlayStation. This graphical proficiency is also shown in how Ryu moves; he is able to move from one location to another without a trace of slowdown or graphical problems. The sound is excellent as well; players can hear every one of Ryu’s chants and grunts, and the sounds of the enemies are captured well. The clanging of weapons, both by Ryu and his enemies, are also captured well. The DS’s microphone is also used to solve puzzles, in another clever implementation of Nintendo’s device.
All in all, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is a good game, and executed well in terms of in graphics technology, system implementation, and gameplay. If only the main quest was a bit longer and the difficulty balanced throughout, this game would be a classic. As it stands now, it is merely very good on the cusp of being great.