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Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) artwork

Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) review


"Ninja Gaiden is a mean game. The enemies you encounter are absolute ass-kicking, in-your-face, unforgiving, top-of-the-line butt-whooping badasses, and they know nothing but your demise. So determined are they to bring about your end that I received the impression that the game itself was out to get me. The free-floating sense of hostility I picked up from Ninja Gaiden is so extreme that I’m somewhat surprised the load screens don’t say, “Loading, bitch!” "



Ninja Gaiden is a mean game. The enemies you encounter are absolute ass-kicking, in-your-face, unforgiving, top-of-the-line butt-whooping badasses, and they know nothing but your demise. So determined are they to bring about your end that I received the impression that the game itself was out to get me. The free-floating sense of hostility I picked up from Ninja Gaiden is so extreme that I’m somewhat surprised the load screens don’t say, “Loading, bitch!”

But this review is not about that.

Perhaps this review is about Ryu Hayabusa, the game’s star. He’s a dark, brooding ninja whose special powers include the ability to be boring and generic. His town and tribe (I guess) were destroyed by an evil, unknown militant force. Why, surely Ryu, armed with – are you ready for this? – The Dragon Sword, will find the courage to hunt down and kill the people responsible for bringing this tragedy upon him! He’s a ninja, you see, and ninjas are cool. They can do anything.

Yeah, no, this review isn’t about him, either.

Nor is it about the game’s eye-opening graphics, showcasing the Xbox’s power to display slick particle effects and painfully detailed character models. Nor is it about the larger-than-life boss battles, so intense and so imaginative and so great a contrast to the many nameless videogame villains of today’s modern world that are so very afraid of providing a challenge. Nor is it about Ryu’s impressive moveset or his expansive collection of weapons (which I mostly ignored, anyway, in favor of the sheer balance of The Dragon Sword). Indeed, this review is not about the fact that Ninja Gaiden is, in most aspects, a great game.

Instead, this review is about the only thing that matters when playing Ninja Gaiden: The camera system, and everything that’s wrong with it.

If my time spent playing Ninja Gaiden has done me any good, it’s in teaching the importance of having a functional camera system that always shows the player what they need to see. Without a good camera, nothing else matters. From a design standpoint, Ninja Gaiden packs the challenge, depth, and variety to make it a classic. As it stands, if you ever hear me describe the game as “playable,” take that chance to ask me for money, because I am in a very generous mood.

The game’s camera controls are extremely simple. All you can do to adjust the camera is tap the left shoulder button, positioning it behind Ryu. This alone is not entirely the problem, though I admit such a basic and archaic system in the Xbox era is troubling enough. What’s damaging is that this system isn’t even pulled off to its greatest ability. And it’s thrown into a game that is bloody hard, so hard that the last thing I want to be worrying about while playing it is some ridiculous camera angle that’s hampering my ability to play properly.

The right thumbstick does not function as you’d think it would. It controls first-person mode, and that’s it. You cannot rotate or zoom the camera in any way. This is especially problematic, because the default camera angle is way too low and a little too close. Henceforth, Ninja Gaiden’s camera will be referred to as asscam.

Good thing director Tomonobu Itagaki has enough breasts on his resume to secure a spot in the heterosexual crowd. Otherwise, Ninja Gaiden’s abundance of close-up man ass in black ninja tights would have us thinking otherwise about the game designer’s sexuality. (Besides, that last fact is cancelled out by one of the game’s supporting characters, a female ninja/dominatrix with a giant hammer and gianter cleavage. I forget her name because she’s irrelevant.)

The general badness of asscam and your limited options in terms of controlling it are precisely the reason why Ninja Gaiden is impossible to play correctly. Any action game requires me to see what’s going on at all times so I can properly react to the situation at hand. Doubly so for a hard action game. Asscam never allows us to see what we need to see. My adversaries were constantly mopping the floor with my entrails, and I was bent on returning the favor. The game wouldn’t have it.

If I recall correctly, Ninja Gaiden’s second major boss is a masked figure on a horse. He is fast and agile, and he often chased me. If I’m facing forward as I’m running, and I think there’s a large samurai on my tail who’s just feet away from trampling me with his giant horse of death, the only way I can even look at the boss I will hopefully attempt to kill is by stopping in my tracks, turning around, and hitting the left trigger to see if anything was behind me. Usually, there was something behind me, but I never actually saw it. I could never even complete the process of looking at my attacker without, y’know, dying.

Anyway, the battle itself is hard, not just because the horseback samurai is a powerful opponent, but because I actually had to find the bastard whenever I wanted to attack him. It should be noted that the battle took place in a wide-open space free of any hiding places; the difficulty in finding my foe came from asscam’s inability to cooperate.

That is Ninja Gaiden summed up. I’ve told you that the game’s enemies are the kind of relentless polygonal tough guys that show no hesitation in kicking your ass, and, all things considered, I like Ninja Gaiden’s attitude: Don’t be afraid to give the player a challenge. And every once in a while, it feels like the game is challenging for the right reasons; that is, by putting you up against villains that aren't afraid to kill you, but are never unfair about it.

But 98% of the time, Ninja Gaiden is difficult because asscam makes it difficult. That, my friends, is the wrong kind of challenge.

Rating: 2/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (August 18, 2007)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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