Review: When Ninja Gaiden's on the DS... You can slash demons anytime!
Aah, the good ?ole eighties. The era of Michael Jordan, Cabbage Patch Kids and the golden era of San Francisco 49ers football. More importantly, that was the first time that Ninja Gaiden ever appeared on a Nintendo Console. For the first time, players were introduced to the Ryu Hayabusa, the ninja assassin who would go on to grace more than ten different consoles and star in two different video game series. Revived back in 2004 with the release of Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, the series has received both critical and fan-based acclaim.
The brainchild of Tomonobu Itagaki, Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword takes place in between the first Xbox version and Ninja Gaiden II for the 360. As a sequel, the game starts off with a brief retelling of the previous game for those unfamiliar with the story. This time around, Ryu goes on a mission to save Momiji (a ninja priestess) while slaying hordes of demons and evil ninjas. Although none of the characters (with the exception of Ryu) returns to Dragon Sword, the game feels just as bit as responsive and difficult as the previous iteration--at least on the higher difficulties.
As a Ninja Gaiden veteran, you'll be glad to know that Ryu controls almost as fluidly as he does on the consoles. Holding the DS in its native book-style, ala Brain Age, all of the action happens on-screen via the stylus. Movement consists of pointing at a specific area on-screen, while tapping throws ninja stars. Slashing? Move your stylus across an enemy. Blocking and dodging are done holding any button on the DS; for righties that would be the D-pad and for lefties the buttons. Dragon Sword limits Ryu's ninja abilities down to about three, making the Ninpo abilities an essential part of his attacks. For those of you wondering how Ryu could have lost his abilities on how to slash enemies and throw things at them, he doesn't. Instead, the tutorial for the game is done via a new character who ends up playing a prominent role in the game.
Difficulty-wise, the game has four different modes to satisfy your inner-masochist. While the only mode available at the beginning is "normal" (aka easy) mode, beating the game once and under different conditions unlocks other modes giving the game plenty of replayability.
While plenty of enemies die within three slashes, there are typically anywhere between five to ten enemies on-screen at a time with the exception of boss battles. Those have been toned down in difficulty on normal. Unlike Ninja Gaiden where you had to use a unique strategy on every boss to beat them down, standing back and spamming arrows/ninja stars while dodging works well almost every time.
Graphically, Dragon Sword is easily the most impressive game that I've seen on the system. From its fluid animation running at 60 fps with little slowdown to the beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds in the game, this is as close as you could possibly get to the console version. Although it doesn't have the same "wow" factor as the console version, the game easily pushes the DS to its limits with its fully-polygonal characters and hordes of on-screen enemies.
Just as impressive is the game's soundtrack and sound effects. Taken from the previous games, the music is CD-quality and is one of those games that you're going to want to plug in your headphones for. Although the game doesn't use full voice acting, what's present is well-done and gives just enough to add to the characters' personalities.