Review by GeekyDad

"Another Be-lated Review of a Great Action-adventure Game"

About two years ago, the very first screens and info for Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword surfaced. When I learned how the developers intended to utilize the DS for the game, I was hooked. When Dragon Sword finally released, I was in love. I've played through the game about seven or eight times now, and it truly is, to me, a masterpiece on the little handheld. Needless to say, I wanted more Ninja Gaiden. So, for our anniversary this year, my wife got me a used Xbox1 and a copy of Ninja Gaiden Black (NGB). Sure, I knew going in, the game wasn't going to be a cakewalk, but it looked like the ultimate action game, so I was willing to take my chances with it.

There are some 400 reader reviews for NGB on Gamespot alone, not including the reviews for the first Xbox version of the game and PS3's Sigma, both of which contain the same main adventure. So, I won't go into too much detail about the game's story, since it's kind of old news. But for those unfamiliar, you start out the game on a training mission of sorts. You must make your way into the inner sanctum of your uncle Murai's village. He is intent on furthering your training as a ninja while your father is away doing training of his own. At the end of the first chapter, Ryu (the main character you play as) discovers his own village has been attacked and set aflame. A dark force has come and stolen the protected Dark Dragon Blade. The plot is afoot, and Ryu sets out to avenge his clan and retrieve that which was stolen from the village.

Now, NGB is, by many fans, considered to be perhaps the most complete version of the original Xbox Ninja Gaiden. NGB contains added weapons, new enemies and bosses in the higher-level difficulties, and a few tweaks to the gameplay and camera system. It also contains a slew of un-lockable missions, as well as other little extras, including the original arcade version of Ninja Gaiden. I mainly was interested in the adventure, and what a grand adventure it is.

If you put these games – Soul Calibur, Prince of Persia and the Legend of Zelda – into your mind while considering NGB, you're going to get a decent image of what to expect. However, NGB is more intense than those games, more challenging, and generally speaking, one of the coolest games on the planet.

For folks who haven't played Ninja Gaiden, the challenge is probably of great interest. If you've read or heard anything about the game, you're likely aware of its level of difficulty. Make no mistake, this is a very challenging game, even on the Normal setting. That said, it's not an impossible game, nor a frustrating game…well, there are a few exceptions, which I'll mention later in this review. But to break it down to its most basic level, the challenge in NGB comes from the combat. From the very first enemies you face, to the final boss encounter, the AI is fast, dangerous, and smart as hell. In many games, you can merely plow through enemies, and they're really just a distraction as you go from one area of a game to the next. In NGB, every single enemy will demand your respect and attention to combat. You're just not going to plow through any encounters, not until you've become a skilled player, at least. For the newcomer, like myself, there's an amazing new gameplay experience to be had in NGB.

But what about Ryu? What can he do? Well, you begin NGB with the Dragon Sword, a relic of the Hayabusa village, and the equalizing weapon to the Dark Dragon Blade. You will, of course, acquire quite a variety of other melee weapons, and each has its own selection of attack combos. Now, when I say “selection,” I mean there's quite a selection. It's not as many moves as each fighter in something like Soul Calibur II, but each weapon does have quite a variety of combos, and each weapon transforms Ryu into something of a unique fighter, changing the attacks and many of the moves he can perform. Ryu also has ranged weapons at his command – shurikens, a bow, smoke bombs, etc. The control set-up is very straightforward and easy to use; everything's just a button press away, so to speak, and it all works flawlessly.

Except for the camera…. It's not really a cinematic-camera system, in the way I was lead to believe it is. For the most part, you won't really need to fiddle with the third-person camera during combat, but the perspective can add an unnecessary challenge. The camera definitely has a mind of its own, and during boss battles, especially, the situation can get pretty frustrating, ending up behind pillars, walls and such. Some platforming elements, too, become a chore to navigate, since the camera will refuse to line up properly. These are issues worth mentioning, but in the end, they don't take anything significant away from the otherwise amazing gameplay.

And that brings me to the platforming. There are some amazing things going on in NGB, in that respect. Ryu can run along walls, run straight up walls, flip off of walls, and he'll need every single skill he has in order to progress through the game. It's really refreshing how the game forces you to think way outside the box at certain points throughout the adventure. A few areas will require you to wall run, jump to another wall to gain lift, run, jump to the next wall, run, jump and then use your shurikens for extra lift in order to just make it up a certain ledge. Aside from the fact that these amazing platforming elements are incredibly fun, the game rewards you for going the distance.

NGB might seem to have an odd pacing when you first set out on your adventure, but once you make your way a bit further, the level design presents itself in a way that is awe-inspiring. Chapter 4, for instance, requires you to make your way quite a distance – through many dangerous enemies, with few healing items – before you're given the opportunity to save. But once you make your way to where you're going, you end up in a safe haven of sorts where you can prepare for the journey ahead.

The levels seem to be disconnected at first, but by the end of the game, you'll find everything comes together as one cohesive realm. It's all done so subtly, too, that as the veil is slowly lifted, you can't help but smile as the pieces fall into place. Additionally, though the story has been shown little love, there's actually a very entertaining tale told in NGB. Not all of the dialogue is great, but the plot and characters come together to make a very fulfilling fantasy.

The production of NGB? Whoa! Well, we all know the Xbox was the powerhouse of last generation, but Ninja Gaiden is probably the best-looking game on the system, and that's saying a lot. It's simply a gorgeous game to look at, but it sounds good, as well. There is a healthy selection of tunes and themes throughout the adventure, and the sound effects, too, are very entertaining. The dialogue's delivered nicely, and the cut scenes are a real treat, adding an incredible beauty to a game that's already incredibly beautiful. The in-game menu screens are also gorgeous, picturing every weapon, elixir, scroll and diary.

Most gamers are surely sick of hearing and reading about the differences between the “casual” gamer and the “hardcore” gamer, but it's impossible to discuss NGB without dropping a mention on the subject. Ninja Gaiden ain't for the casual gamer, let me just make that abundantly clear. Again, it's not impossibly difficult, especially on the Normal setting, but it's a game that almost seems meant to drive away the casual gamer, a game that harkens back to old-school gaming, in general. That said, if you've got the cojones to take on the challenge, Ninja Gaiden Black is about as good as it currently gets in the realm of action-adventure games.

Final score: 9.5


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/28/08

Game Release: Ninja Gaiden Black (US, 09/20/05)


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