: Ninja Gaiden
: Team Ninja
: Mature, for animated blood and gore.
Yes, we all remember it. Ninja Gaiden, the classic trilogy for the NES that epitomized everything we loved about thumb-wrecking action games. But Ryu Hayabasa, living proof of the truth in the law of inverse ninjas, has been conspicously absent except for appearances in the Dead or Alive series for the past thirteen years now. It is long past time for a revamp of this long-favored character, but is Team Ninja up to the lofty challenge left behind by the classic Ninja Gaiden games?
In a word: Fuck yes!
Ryu Hayabasa is a member of the Dragon Clan of ninjas, charged with protecting certain items of great power. These items are the Dragon Sword, the Dragon's Eye, and the Dark Dragon Sword. The game begins with Hayabasa's trek to a school in the mountains. Once there, his village is attacked. He rushes back to find his clan slaughtered, and he is then badly wounded in a vicious battle by a man who has stolen the Dark Dragon Sword. After some time spent healing, Ryu hops an airship and mounts a one-ninja assault on the Vigoorian Empire, who he discovered was reponsible for the attack and the deaths of his brethren.
Before we get started on the rest of the gameplay, one thing needs to be said.
This game is bloody hard.
Tomonobu Itagaki is reported to have said during the development of this game that he did not want there to be an "easy" mode. There isn't. It says that there is a normal mode, but that is a bit of a misnomer. Normal is hard, Hard is bloody hard, and on the unlockable Very Hard mode Team Ninja sends a black van full of jackbooted thugs to your house who beat the everloving hell out of you before you even get to play the first level. This game is designed to challenge skillful, experienced gamers, and it certainly shows.
In Ninja Gaiden: Black, the expansion pack released over Xbox Live and later in stores, a mode was added called "Ninja Dog", which is the closest thing to "Easy mode" this game allows. However, you can't just walk in and select it. First, you must die three times on the first level, demonstrating your need through applied suckage. Then you are offered an option window which asks "Do you choose to abandon the way of the Ninja?" Choosing "Yes" to this brings up another window that asks "Are you sure?" Choosing yes to this brings up yet another window which asks "Are you really sure?". This begins a cut scene which shows Ayane walking up to Ryu's body lying on the ground, derisively referring to him as a 'young ninja', and stating that she had greatly overestimated him. She then throws a kunai at his feet and walks away in disgust. You are then instructed to save, and you officially begin Ninja Dog mode.
There is, however, one last catch - when the game resumes, Ayane gives you a gift, and instructs you to wear it at all times.
The gift is a pinkish/purple armband with a trailing ribbon. You are indeed forced to wear it for the rest of the game.
All talk about difficulty aside, Team Ninja has created an absolutely stunning game, masterfully blending action/adventure and Prince of Persia style platforming to create a truly FUN gameplay experience.
Ryu is a joy to control, moving with grace and agility at a touch of the controls. The game uses a system that alters his movements based on his surroundings. For example, jumping straight at a wall will cause him to run up it, while jumping at an angle at a wall will execute a wall run. His repertoire of acrobatics is impressive. One of the first techniques you will need to learn is how to roll and jump to avoid enemy attacks. He may triangle jump between walls to reach high areas, and the wall run technique is essential. Ryu can even leap from a wall run onto another perpendicular wall, continuing from there, which turns any small enough room into a convenient spiral staircase.
Combat is visually stunning, as Ryu's combat abilities are nothing short of superhuman. I will go ahead and give you the first commandment of effective combat in this game: Thou shalt not button-mash. Trust me, it just doesn't work.
Combat is executed using a variety of weapons, each of them suited for specific tasks.
- Dragon Sword - Fast and powerful, probably the best weapon overall.
- Nunchaku - Good for stringing together large combos, but not very powerful at all.
- Vigoorian Flail - Like the nunchaku, but with large blades attached. This weapon looks like it may be even more painful than swordchucks, yo.
- Dabilahro - This sword looks remarkably like Cloud's Buster Sword from FFVII. Slow, but powerful.
- Warhammer - Good for bashing down cracked walls, and not much else.
- Spear Gun - For some reason this is listed under melee weapons. Really only good for shooting things underwater.
- Kitetsu - This no-dachi slowly drains your life, but you can suck life from enemies with it. One of the more powerful weapons.
- Wooden Sword - The weakest weapon in the game. It has few combos, and does next to no damage. If you upgrade it enough, though, you get...
- Unlabored Flawlessness - This is the fully-maxed out version of the wooden sword. It looks like a large oar, but you can lay some massive beatdowns with it. Perhaps this a reference to when Miyamoto Musashi killed an opponent with the oar to his boat?
- Dark Dragon Blade - A hidden weapon. To get this weapon, play through the game on "successive play" after beating it. Go back to Hayabusa Village in Chapter 13, and check the building above Mayamusa's shop. You should find it there.
As if this isn't enough, Ryu has a variety of ranged weapons that he can interweave with his melee attacks.
- Shuriken - Small, but not very damaging. They are best used as an opening salvo before a combo, or for interrupting an enemies attack.
- Windmill Shuriken - A large, four-bladed folding shuriken which will return like a boomerang. This can decapitate enemies. Very useful.
- Incendiary Shuriken - A small knife with an explosive device in the tip. These hurt. A lot.
- Bow - A bow. Duh. Can be fired from third or first person perspective.
- Strongbow - A stronger version of the bow. The arrows follow a straight line rather than an arc, as with the original bow.
- Explosive Arrows - Like the incendiary shuriken, but launched from the bow.
- APFSDS Cores - Made from a titanium alloy, these arrows have superb penetration ability. "Death on a stick"
Ryu just kicks major ass in this game. Even new players are able to choreograph breathtaking fight scenes. There is just something wonderful about wall running past an RPG and leaping from the wall to decapitate the offending soldier. Ryu's defensive abilities are superb, as he is able to dodge or block everything from shuriken, to machine gun fire, to salvos of missiles. He is able to use counter-attacks to instantly switch from defensive to offensive and back with ease, making him a truly formidable combatant. He even has magical attacks, called Ninpo, which he can use in combat to supplement his physical capabilities.
Speaking of which, Ryu is not so lame as to only fight other martial artists. Oh, if only it were that simple... If I may toss in a couple of other spoilers below, here is a small list of things I have sliced-and-diced into bite-sized pieces in this game.
- Sai-wielding magicians.
- Mounted spearmen and archers.
- The living dead.
- Pistol-wielding security guards.
- A four hundred pound fat man in powered armor with a laser cannon. On top of an airship.
- Infantry armed with machine guns, bayonets, and rocket launchers.
- A Greater Fiend.
- Two tanks. That's right. Two. Back to back.
- A Tomahawk helicopter.
- Colossal electrified sewer-snakes.
- A big... thing.
- The Lord of Hell Himself.
- And bats. I fucking hate bats.
Did I mention that this game is hard?
You may want to keep a roll of paper towels handy, as you will be drooling while playing this game. The animation is fluid and beautiful, and runs at a clockwork-steady 60 frames per second. The scenery and level design is nothing short of breathtaking, as you run through European cities, underground ruins, and military installations. Battles are simply amazing, as Ryu unleashes all grades of ninja-badassness on his opponents. Particle effects are common from blocked strikes, rockets, grenades, and the copious geysers of blood from Ryu's latest decapitated foe.
The CGI cutscenes are some of the best ever created, rivaling even the work done by Square in the Final Fantasy series. If one starts playing, try not to blink.
Superb. While traversing a mountain ninja monastery, you will be treated to sweeping orchestras, but while fighting in a military installation against technological enemies, the music switches to modern electronic music, helping to establish the mood of the stages. Many of the bosses have their own soundtrack. Sound effects are wonderful as well, with different sounds for different weapon impacts, the anime-style sound of steel cutting through flesh, and the realistic battle cries of Ryu as he fights his way through the Empire.
Did I mention that this game is hard? I did? Ok, good.
In the end, Team Ninja has taken the lofty ideals left behind not only by classic gaming, but by one of the most beloved classic games of all time, and created a game that not only meets, but exceeds those expectations. This game provides a challenge and experience that many of us miss from the Golden Age of video games. The new Ninja Gaiden is easily one of the best games available on any console, period.
Damn it feels good to be a ninja.