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Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (DS) artwork

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (DS) review


"When a developer designs a DS action game around the touch screen, they’re just asking for trouble. All too often, action games that use the touch screen as the centerpiece of the experience end up playing like a complete mess. That didn’t stop Ninja Gaiden developer, Team Ninja, from trying. Amazingly, their newest effort, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, not only makes the touch screen work – it offers up some of the DS’ best thrills to date. "



When a developer designs a DS action game around the touch screen, they’re just asking for trouble. All too often, action games that use the touch screen as the centerpiece of the experience end up playing like a complete mess. That didn’t stop Ninja Gaiden developer, Team Ninja, from trying. Amazingly, their newest effort, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, not only makes the touch screen work – it offers up some of the DS’ best thrills to date.

Taking place after the events of the Xbox Ninja Gaiden, Dragon Sword casts Ryu Hayabusa as the man of the hour once again. The game begins in a tranquil Hayabusa Village inhabited by Ryu’s clan. Things get shaken up almost immediately, though, as Momiji, a member of the village, is captured by the rival Black Spider Ninjas. Ryu’s mission is to rescue the damsel in distress and destroy the new evil that’s afoot. Sure, it’s yet another Ninja Gaiden story that’s little more than an excuse to string together a series of levels, but it does an admirable job.

Ninja Gaiden’s forte has always been gameplay, and this entry is no exception. However, the series has also been about surgical precision and brutally difficult combat, so how could such demanding gameplay possibly translate to the DS’ touch screen? Team Ninja’s answer is a smart, simple approach to the control scheme that doesn’t overcomplicate things. Pointing with the stylus in any direction makes Ryu move and drawing a line upwards makes him jump. Ryu will perform an attack when you swipe a line to the right, left, or down; and you can also attack with a projectile by tapping the screen. Hitting any of the face buttons or directions on the d-pad makes Ryu block, and you’ll have a variety of evasive maneuvers at your disposal, as well. Here’s the brilliant part: by mixing up these basic movements in quick succession, you’ll be able to dish out a wide array of combos and a number of Ryu’s signature techniques. The controls are simple enough that you’ll be able to grasp them in an instant, yet there’s considerable depth to the gameplay so that dedicated players will be able to lay waste to foes at an alarming pace. Admittedly, the controls aren’t always 100% precise as there are a few instances where you’ll want to jump, for example, and Ryu will ignore your commands. Thankfully, these situations are exceedingly rare and the controls do work remarkably well for the vast majority of your duels.

Dragon Sword is divided up into a series of chapters, most of which begin in Hayabusa village and have you venturing into a dungeon where you’ll face off against dozens of enemies and a boss. The dungeons are fun, though they frequently resort to trapping you in a room and forcing you to fight an onslaught of enemies to proceed. It’s not a huge problem thanks to the wildly entertaining combat system, but if you simply want to progress through the game as quickly as possible, this old-school design can be trying.

The bigger issue, though, is Dragon Sword’s sheer number of hand-me-downs from its Xbox sibling. Nearly all of the dungeons you tackle are composed of the exact same environments you traversed in the previous game. The layouts aren’t identical, but they’ll leave you with a feeling of déjà vu. Even more disappointingly, nearly all of the enemies and bosses are similarly derivative in both their appearances and tactics. These issues don’t hurt Dragon Sword too badly since the core gameplay is so solid, but if you’ve played the last game to death, this outing might feel a little too familiar.

More than a few players found the previous Ninja Gaiden to be difficult. The kind of difficult that makes you hurl your controller at the wall in a fit of rage. Sensing that a portable game wasn’t the place to demand perfection of players, Team Ninja wisely decided to drop the difficulty level a few notches. The enemies in Dragon Sword aren’t as brutal as before, your life bar is quite generous, and copious save points have found their way into all of the dungeons. The result is a game that’s far more accessible for casual players, but it’s still no pushover. The first play-through will be a short, but sweet 4-6 hour romp; but Gaiden devotees will be happy to know that there are harder difficulty settings to unlock among other bonuses, so the carnage is far from over after you first finish the game.

True to Team Ninja standards, Dragon Sword is a technical marvel. The graphics are sharp and run at a decent clip with no major slowdown to speak of. Considering the DS hardware’s capabilites, Ryu and his victims are stunningly detailed and the flashy attack animations are equally impressive. The soundtrack consists mostly of songs from the Xbox game, but these remixes are quite accurate and still sound great -- this is a game that deserves to be played with headphones. There are disappointingly few original tracks, but what’s there is effective.

This is some of the finest ninja action you’ll find on a portable system. The controls work, there’s a wealth of depth to the combat, and the fun never lets up for the duration of the game. Dragon Sword has its issues – particularly the lack of originality – but nothing that significantly mars the experience. If you’re a fan of the series or just want to slice up demons on your DS, Dragon Sword is absolutely deserving of your attention.

Rating: 8/10

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Community review by Chacranajxy (April 15, 2008)

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