Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) review
Ninja games have become somewhat of an anomaly in this era of 3D gaming, and it's a shame, too. There's nothing quite like being able to jump extra high, run up walls, throw shuriken, and chop enemies up until little pieces with your katana. Ninja Gaiden manages to combine a lot of elements that make a good action game, including sufficient challenge, fast-paced battles, decent level design, and large, unique bosses.
When I first started playing Ninja Gaiden, I couldn't help but compare it to the Playstation 2 game Shinobi. Both are difficult games where you play the role of a badass ninja with near-superhero-like abilities. In Ninja Gaiden, you can temporarily run along and up walls, filp off walls, do front flips, back flips, ninja rolls, and the like. Of course, you can also wield a variety of different weapons, including the quitessential katana, plus nunchaku, a double-bladed flail, and several sidearms (shuriken, bow).
The game's action is based on two things; platform jumping/puzzle-solving, and fighting. The fighting is fast and relentless, with some of the more advanced AI I have seen in a game. Instead of other action titles where groups of enemies line up one by one to try their hand at fighting you, enemies in Ninja Gaiden attack simultaneously, each with their own individual ''plan.'' It makes for a chaotic, intense atmosphere seen in few other games. Your character can peroform literally dozens of attack moves, depending on the weapon, and to what means your weapon is powered up.
Weapon powerups, potions, and other useful items can be purchased from stores found in various places throughout the game. Every enemy drops money, which sort of doubles as experience points, because it allows you to buy stronger weapons and spells. This system is kind of refreshing in an action game, but I couldn't help but feel that skill is ''bought'' instead of earned. The game doesn't necessarily get harder in the later levels, the enemies simply have more health, and you get to buy stronger weapons, accordingly.
The platforming elements of the game range from light-hearted challenges to ridiculous nuisances. Missing a jump a few times is no big deal, but when it comes to running across a bridge, littered with spikes, meanwhile trying to dodge large, swinging spiked balls, just to unlock a door that leads to a boss...that's when things get to be a bit much. Were it not for the annoying, unversatile camera, these platforming elements might be more enjoyable. However, as it is, the camera is constantly moving around, making it death-causing in certain situations. This is one aspect in which the game could have been greatly improved.
However, despite the game's camera flaws, it still manages to be fun. I prefer the sleeker, more refined, skill-based gameplay of Shinobi, but Ninja Gaiden's attempt at doubling as an adventure game isn't a poor one by any means.
Above all else, the thing that Ninja Gaiden has going for it is a strong, worthy emphasis on visual quality. The graphics themselves are smooth, detailed, and pretty to look at. The animations are great, and everything moves wonderfully on the screen. Even the cutscenes are nice to look at, and add a nice cinematic quality to the game. However, though the graphics are great, the visual style of the game is quite inadequate. I feel like the people who designed this game were some of the poorest artists I have ever seen. The enemies often look ridiculous--robotic ninjas wearing as masks, along with the bosses--ugly, tentacled blobs with eyes. The game simply doesn't look very cool, though it suffers from no slowdown or technical graphical hinderances.
The visuals of this game are an interesting contrast to Shinobi, which I saw as stylistically appealing, though lacking in technical quality. Ninja Gaiden is quite the opposite--utterly defficient in style and artistic quality, but with an engine, textures and animations to please just about anyone. So it goes.
I wasn't expecting much of as storyline from this game. Sadly, premiere action/adventure games such as Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil 2 have taught developers nothing of how a good storyline can make any game that much better. As it is, the storyline in Ninja Gaiden is near non-existent, making me want to skip scenes of dialogue and plot sequences. If you think it's important for a game to have a decent plot that propels its gameplay, you'll be disappointed by Ninja Gaiden.
Another thing Ninja Gaiden has going for it is the difficulty of the game. However, like any very challenging game, it walks the thin line that borders between ''challenging,'' and just downright frustrating. Playing a boss over and over--that's challenging. Playing a boss over and over because the obstacles that come prior to it drain your health to a near-impossible state to beat the boss with--that's frustrating. When you feel that you have been outsmarted and beaten by the enemy because of your own fault, that's challenging. When you feel that you have been beaten because the game's camera system is so flawed and unforgiving, that's frustrating. As you might imagine, Ninja Gaiden is both challenging and frustrating. Buyer Beware.
Ninja Gaiden is a good game, in most aspects. It's reasonably long, very challenging, and has some of the funnest, most fast-paced Ninja action I have seen in a while. One can't help but compare it to Shinobi (One of its obvious inspirations) but it also exists as its own unique game, worthy of mention. It plays more like one drawn-out adventure than lots of more level-based action games you may have seen recently. It isn't by any means incredible, but is a solid, very worthwhile game that one should definitely rent, if not buy.
Community review by ender (June 17, 2004)
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