Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Raenius Recommends II:
Hey! Is That A Ninja Up There?

This week's recommendation:
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for Nintendo DS

Published by: Temco
Developed by: Team Ninja
Released: March 25, 2008
MSRP: $39.99
ESRB: Teen
Download Play: No
WiFi Enabled: Leaderboards

It's sure been a long time since Nintendo fans got a chance to have an adventure as Ryu Hayabusa. We sure missed him. This is Nintendo's first Ninja Gaiden title since the original trilogy for NES (and the later compilation on SNES) as well as the first hand held version. Thankfully, Tecmo had Team Ninja (who made the console versions) develop this one too. The story is relevant to the series as it takes place six months after the infamously hard comeback XBOX game. As in typical video game fashion, Ryu must battle through 13 stages to save the female ninja Momiji who was kidnapped by the Black Spider Ninja Clan while collecting powerful Dark Dragonstones along the way. Let's see if Hayabusa-san still has what it takes.

The first thing you'll notice about this game is that you hold the DS sideways (like the Brain Age series or Hotel Dusk). The left side is used for a map and the right side displays the main gameplay. Don't worry all you southpaws out there, you can adjust the settings for left-handed controls. Almost all of the controls are done with the stylus for the exception of blocking. What's nice about this is that the controls are exactly what you think they are. Slash the screen to slash your sword. Make a vertical line up and make Ryu jump. Moving is done exactly in the same fashion as The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass as in you press and hold where you want to go. Advanced controls are explained pretty well on the map screen as you progress through the game. Movements are, of course, not perfect. The DS will interpret your taps and slashes wrong occasionaly, but it's not too much of a big deal in the heat of a chaotic battle.

The next thing you'll notice is how good this game looks. It's unfair to compare this to the console but, as far as pushing the DS to it's limits, Team Ninja sure did a good job. I only wish it had FMV cut scenes and better voice acting instead of still images and text. I'm not sure if it was due to DS cart size restraints or maybe it was the style they were going for. I probably would've gotten into the story more if it had them. What really draws your attention is Nicchae, the scantily clad female trying to stop you (and also helped this title get its Teen ESRB rating). Along with impressive graphics, it also has an amazing soundtrack. Definitely use headphones with this one! Some classic Ninja Gaiden sounds are a treat and will bring back some (bad) nostalgic memories.

Even with 13 chapters, the game isn't too long. Along the way you will uncover many different skills and Ninpo (ninja magic). But, it only took me under six hours to finish the game in Normal Mode. The reasoning behind this is very linear levels. There's not too much else to do other than the main quest. A few well placed side-quests would have been a nice touch. Another reason is easy bosses. There were only a couple bosses that really gave me a challenge. Most of them were pretty repetitive and didn't have too much in the AI department. Speaking of enemies, the game unfortunately reuses enemies from previous levels with different coloring. This is a old tactic that tons of games are guilty of and needs to be abolished!

Even with a few flaws, replay value is pretty high. I will definitely be taking Ryu and Momji out for a second or third time. There's harder modes as well as collectible prizes (unique to the level of difficulty you play) to be found including stories, artwork, character profiles and diaries. Leaderboards are a bit tacked on and pretty useless for this type of game. There's also a way to play the entire game as Momiji instead of Ryu. I won't tell you how, figure it out on your own!

Time to break it down!

Presentation: Clean and easy to navigate menus. Three save slots for multiple users. Good story structure that will hopefully be continued in it's next gen sequel.

Visuals: Near PlayStation quality graphics. Beautiful environments and effects but a lack of character models and no FMV cut scenes.

Audio: Voice acting limited to grunts, moans and groans distracting you from an amazing soundtrack going on in the background.

Gameplay: Pick up and play control scheme that sometimes will have a mind of it's own.

Multiplayer: None. Probably for the better.

Wi-Fi Functionality: You can tell the leaderboards were an afterthought, but it's nice to see 3rd parties adding Nintendo's WFC functions.

Replay: You'll come back for a second dose for sure. After that it depends how much of a completest you are.

Overall: Call it "Ninja Gaiden Lite" if you wish. This game looks great and takes all the fun elements of the console version to make a more casual and enjoyable experience on a hand held.