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Old 02-27-2004, 12:24 AM   #1
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Ninja Gaiden Review

Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) Review from GameSpy

Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Genre: Action
Release Date: 02/23/2004
ESRB: Mature

By Christian "ferricide" Nutt

Tecmo revitalizes a once beloved series with aplomb. It may not be the Ninja Gaiden you knew and loved, but it's a new high watermark for the genre all the same.

GameSpy Review: 5 out of 5

Pros
Superbly realized gameplay and unmatched graphical quality.

Cons
Otherworldly difficulty, harsh learning curve, nonsensical and stale story.


The Ninja Gaiden series was one of the most beloved franchises of early '90s console gamers. The original installment hit in 1989, a stunning sequel followed in 1990, and the final installment appeared in 1991. For over ten years, no new Ninja Gaiden games were made, despite the fact that the vast majority of kids who'd started out with NES were growing into adult gamers with fond memories of the series and, if anything, an increased desire to slice demonic enemies into tiny little pieces with a mystical katana. It took Tecmo's Tomonobu Itagaki, most famous for helming the Dead or Alive series (and most infamous for mouthing off about his and others' games) to bring the series back into the limelight.

Finally, Itagaki has put his money where his mouth is: Ninja Gaiden is an astonishingly polished game with fantastic control, gorgeous graphics, and gameplay that wipes the floor with the rest of its genre. I'm given to skepticism, particularly so where Team Ninja is concerned -- previously I've viewed Itagaki as all talk, little substance. My mind has been changed. Team Ninja has found its calling -- the action game -- and while Ninja Gaiden isn't perfect, it's a full step beyond all of its competition. Game critics are often themselves criticized for being given to hype and hyperbole, but I assure you: Ninja Gaiden is the real deal.


Ninja Dreams

The game stars Ryu Hayabusa, a young ninja equipped with a legendary sword and fantastic amounts of training. His clan guards the Dark Dragon Blade, a sword so powerful that the bearer will become a monstrous entity simply by wielding it. Of course, evildoers can't resist such a treat, so the hidden Hayabusa Ninja Village is pillaged and destroyed by Doku, a fiend who seeks the blade for his master.

"Do I look cool or what?" The plot -- which has nothing to do with the original NG games -- is unoriginal in the extreme, ridiculous, and disjointed. Told like a Hollywood action movie, backwards, on hallucinogens, it's filled with bizarrely ugly characters and trite dialogue, but that really doesn't matter. The game is entirely about ninja action; exposition is kept to a minimum, quickly paced, and gorgeously rendered in both CG and game-engine; more importantly, it offers a necessary breather between crushingly difficult challenges.


Holding the Hilt

The game's control is the real reason Ninja Gaiden is absolutely head and shoulders above the rest of the action games this generation. Team Ninja's background in developing fighting games has absolutely paid off. Ryu controls flawlessly, with an arsenal of moves and combos unheard of for a character in an action game. Sure, Sega's Shinobi (PS2) let you run on walls, but it's executed so much better in NG. Flips, jumps, and wall-clings allow you to fully interact with your environment.

Even so, the combat system is the most vital facet of the game's control, and it's what really propels Ninja Gaiden to its heights. Ryu is simply capable of so much more than any other sword-swinging action hero. A developer weaned on the complexity and speed of a 3D fighter is obviously not going to settle for something shallow and simplistic, and Ninja Gaiden's gameplay is subtle and complex. As I played, I simply kept learning better and more effective ways to dispatch my enemies -- and I don't mean picking up new special moves, although you do that too.

If you fool around with the controls, you'll uncover combos and abilities you didn't even realize existed at first. I'm talking about still devising new techniques hours into the game, not mere moments. Moreover, you're not just limited to one weapon: you can find and buy others, both hand-wielded and projectile, which further mix up the gameplay with fully unique move sets and uses. The depth of the combat, and the speed at which it's carried out -- it's just as fast as Dead or Alive 3 or Soul Calibur II -- is what takes it so far beyond the competition.


Ryu's World

"Oh, he's sleeping! How cute!" A combat system can be robust and control responsive, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a great game out of it; check out Castlevania: Lament of Innocence to see what I mean. Fortunately, the time, effort, and money so obviously poured into Ninja Gaiden wasn't used simply to create a good-looking game with great mechanics. The levels start off small, but as the game progresses it becomes apparent that there's real meat here.

Sure, there are plenty of trite, nonsensical Resident Evil-style key puzzles, but after you demolish about a third of the game, the levels begin to get more complex and fascinating, moving over to environmental puzzles closer to something you'd see in Zelda. In actuality, they require more in the way of timing and active skill, but that gives you the general gist of it; this is a game where design is as important as technique.


Getting a Grip

Ancient taxis were uncomfortable to say the least. But there's a potential problem here, albeit a completely subjective one. You see, Ninja Gaiden is hard. No, harder than you think it is. It's the toughest action game of this generation. As Itagaki commented to Ray back in September, "I feel that Japanese gamers are a bunch of wimps. American gamers are more hardcore and I want to make it challenging for you guys."

The man was not kidding. Ninja Gaiden is a full-on white-knuckler. It's a controller-thrower if you're the type. The difficulty, though, is ultimately fair, by and large. If you're good at the game, the enemies are simply not going to break your defenses. Good luck getting to that point, though -- at times, Ninja Gaiden seems as much a game for ninjas as about them. It's remarkable that when playing it, sometimes I'd feel like the ninja messiah one minute and the biggest chump in the world the next. Forgiving, the game is not.


The game, consequently, is not for amateurs or dilettantes. You can set Devil May Cry to easy and slash your way around without giving it a second thought; in Ninja Gaiden, on the "normal" difficulty mode -- there is no "easy" -- there's always a very real possibility you will be killed by a normal enemy, and a certainty you will be killed by a boss.

The high difficultly actually serves to make the game more addictive -- at least for me. I've no doubt it will be incredibly frustrating to a large segment of gamers out there. What the game needs and doesn't have is a training and practice mode. I don't mean a boring tutorial; the first level attempts to ease you in but it doesn't offer a learning curve as much as a learning cliff. Ninja Gaiden needs a ninja playground that you can go back to at any time to practice combat moves and interacting with the environment.

That's not to say a lower difficultly level wouldn't be welcome. Casual gamers will be completely obliterated by NG. I have respect for Tomonobu Itagaki having the gumption to stick to his vision and create a game that will truly test the skills of hardcore gamers -- who will, undoubtedly, love him for it the same way they hate most creators that produce the easily beaten if flashy games that dominate the market today.


Final Conflict

"Private party? I'm a frickin' ninja." But the world isn't made of hardcore gamers, and I find it amazing that he was able to wrangle the massive resources from Tecmo that it obviously took to produce this work of visual and gameplay art without being forced to compromise his vision in hopes of reaching a wider audience. It's a risky move, and I'd even go so far as to say it's likely a mistake -- but it's one I have to respect. Unfortunately, his commitment to Xbox Live hasn't really borne fruit here; the game's "Master Ninja Tournament" isn't a versus game, but more of a time attack sort of thing. It's also not available until you beat the game. To tell the truth, Live support is icing on an already delicious cake.

Ninja Gaiden is simply the most polished and responsive action game we have seen so far this generation, and it's my belief it will likely remain so till the end. It fulfills the half-forgotten promise of the Xbox: to provide a gaming experience you can't get anywhere else. Sure, there are some games that you can point at and say, "That wouldn't be easy to do on PS2," but Ninja Gaiden is something the PS2 never even dreamt of. It would be coughing up blood trying to run a game with graphics this good, that moves this fast, at a constant 60 frames per second. And the gameplay backs that promise up, too; rarely have I felt so deeply engaged by an action game, no matter how much I'd been enjoying it. Castlevania had atmosphere, Rygar had level design, and Devil May Cry had cool. Only Ninja Gaiden has the whole package.
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Old 02-27-2004, 12:55 AM   #2
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Nice! It's been on my buy list for quite some time.
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Old 02-27-2004, 01:23 AM   #3
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i think he has it the other way around.....xbox dreamed of devil may cry and came up with this...

he must be an idiot...he said this game couldnt be done on the ps2 because (graphics..i may agree with him 60 fps maybe the ps2 cant do).....but (gameplay since when was gameplay decided on what system you worked on)......

i definetly think the game is extremely high calibur...but his points in his closing coments make it seem like this was a ps2 vs xbox thing...i thought it was another game being released
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Old 02-27-2004, 03:26 AM   #4
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Gameplay can be seen in other areas. Like say character AI and surroundings moving/breaking/etc, is all due to the power of the system. The less powerful, the less it can do. So that adds to gameplay. Ofcourse I'm just throwing that up, not defending either systems. I haven't played this game yet but have always been looking forward to it. I think Sega should sell Tecmo their Shinobi line.
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Old 02-27-2004, 03:37 AM   #5
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No, you're not throwing it up Alucard. It's a fact that the more powerful the platform the better realized a game can become. I honestly do not see any PS2 game playing the same as NG will, even if it seems similar to some past experiences such as DMC. I'm willing to wager that NG is far and away a better game than Halo 2 will be. (Not that that's any accomplishment. What's Halo 2? The millionth FPS, that's what it is.)
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Old 02-27-2004, 05:29 AM   #6
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Amazing. Folks, I think I'm about to get this.


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Old 02-27-2004, 06:37 AM   #7
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I didn't know you owned an XBox, Twelve.
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Old 02-27-2004, 07:42 AM   #8
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Is it just me or is it stupid to give a game that is nonsensical and has a stale story perfect score?
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Old 02-27-2004, 09:25 AM   #9
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Depends how you see the game. If you're playing a game thats ONLY action, then you grade it as an action game.
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Old 02-27-2004, 10:11 AM   #10
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No matter what kind of game it is, I don't want to run around 25 hours beating everyone just to find the lost corn cake or something.

Come on people, this is not a Nintendo game!
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Old 02-27-2004, 10:58 AM   #11
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Thats true... You dont sail everywhere!

Hey I just noticed something... Zelda Wind Waker...sailing..water.. Mario Sunshine...water pack...OMG MIYAMOTO HAS A WATER FETISH!!!11
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Old 02-27-2004, 11:03 AM   #12
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Consider that a) the story in action games is superflous anyway, this isn't an rpg. It it's intriguing, then it helps, but even if the story seems stale to one reviewer that doesn't mean it will be stale to others. There will be an audience that hasn't been exposed to this story before, and to them it will seem new.

All action games are "nonsensical". We don't play video games for a real life/common sense simulator, we want the "only-in-a-video-game" style escapism. Logically, why would a plumber run around collecting coins, ride on the back of dwarf dinosaurs, or use a waterpack to clean environments? It fundamentally doesn't make one bit of sense, or nonsensical if you prefer, but that is what makes it fun.
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Old 02-27-2004, 11:59 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by Alucard
Thats true... You dont sail everywhere!

Hey I just noticed something... Zelda Wind Waker...sailing..water.. Mario Sunshine...water pack...OMG MIYAMOTO HAS A WATER FETISH!!!11
BE QUIET!! Miyamoto DID NOT Direct or write or anything either one of those games! He was just a producer, throwing ideas here and there! Super Mario 64 was his last game you monkey!
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Old 02-27-2004, 01:24 PM   #14
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You need to read the IGN review before you go faming the game as stupid. NG has a lot more than just slicing and dicing ,it has platforming ,puzzle and asome adventure elements according to IGN and even outdoes POP in some major areas .
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Old 02-27-2004, 01:37 PM   #15
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Yeah, but seeing how DOA is in term of narrative, I'm very skeptical about the way the story of this game goes... The problem is, the best gamemakers don't normally turn out to be the best "screenplay writters: You just see that in small exceptions: Like it or Not, the MGS series are very well written, and the action actually makes some kind of "filmik" sense. Ninja Gaide, has an Action game, and being story driven like Devil May Cry, should at least have a story of that (small) calibre- What I'm expecting, from what I read, is something in the lines of the DOA 2/3 Cutscenes- Terrible, non-sensical, gorgeously rendered.

That is, indeed, a big downpoint. If they left it like the original ninja gaiden, and let imagination and a little phrase here and there make the story, that would certainly be better than to be left with a frustated "What the Hell is going on" feel when you go trough the game. Most definetly a down point for the game...
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