4.0

Ninja Gaiden review
The Way Of This Ninja Is Way Too Hard

The good:

Excellent graphics and storyline. Includes the original NES versions as unlockables. Some Xbox Live compatibility.

The bad:

Extremely high difficulty level. Horrible controls.

Summary:

The first Ninja Gaiden game to hit the next-gen systems, this version again continues the journey of super-ninja Ryu Hayabusa, but takes his path in a different direction than the NES originals. This time it's a different quest for vengenance with new allies, new enemies, and even a familiar face or two from a certain other Tecmo/Team Ninja franchise...

The graphics are incredibly good. Everything shows an impressive level of detail, the frame rate never slows down during the action, and the cutscenes are gorgeously rendered. Sounds generally are just as impressive but do have a few stumbling points. The voice acting is solid and on target, but there's not a lot of variety in the effects, especially during battle scenes, and while the music is OK there still isn't very much. But what effects are there are dead-on, especially the sounds of the swords and ninja stars, very authentic. Controls are what really brings this game down a lot: Not only do the basic controls border on unresponsive at times, but they make performing what should be simple moves, including the more advanced tricks, seem impossible at times. The camera controls make it even worse-not only does it like to act on its own, even though it can be controlled with the right thumbstick, but when you zoom in trying to zoom back out and retake control of your character takes way too much effort. When you're trying to maneuver through tight spaces and make precise jumps it also sticks itself at ridiculous angles that only make it tougher to execute these moves. Gameplay is primarily standard ninja-style action-you'll sneak around, use the weapons of the ninja, and occasionally do some basic puzzle solving with a big boss battle here and there. Along the way some of the characters you meet add intrigue to the storyline, including interactions with at least one character from the "Dead Or Alive" franchise. Unfortunately you really don't take control of them much if at all, too bad especially with your sidekick Rachel-but then again you'll likely be too busy staring at her. Some of Ryu's classic attacks from the NES original make the jump to this version too, like his signature "Fire Wheel" attacks, as well as the usual ninja stars and other tricks. If you live long enough to use them-even on the lowest setting the game's difficulty level borders on extremely hard, even for veterans of the franchise. Part of this is the control and camera issues but the CPU AI is remarkably high as well-they're smart, aggressive, and will use very cheap gang-attack tactics to keep you from proceeding. The game features limited Xbox Live compatibility, mostly consisting of some content downloads and a special tournament option. Also among the hidden unlockables are the original NES versions of the game-not just the first NG, but the two sequels as well, which add a nice touch of retro value to the game.

On the surface this looks like a great update of the franchise, but the controls and difficult gameplay make this one unplayable for all but experts, devoted fans of the franchise, and those who don't mind an extremely challenging experience. If this sounds like too much for you, pass on this and get Ninja Gaiden Black instead, which fixes most of this version's issues. Even the inclusion of the original classics doesn't make this game worth much more than perhaps a rental.

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