His vision fading, Ryu Hayabusa slumps to the ground as the hundreds of fiendish abominations surround him. It seems as though evil has won this day as Ryu breathes his last and falls to the ground. Elsewhere, a controller is hurled against the wall as the words GAME OVER decorate the screen once again. This sounds like something out of a gamer’s nightmare, but it was the typical story for anyone who played Ninja Gaiden on Xbox. A great game to be sure, but how will its surprising descendant fare on the Nintendo DS? After all, Nintendo and Ninja Gaiden go together like ninjas and pirates.
Once again you step into the often blood-soaked shoes of Ryu Hayabusa, as his God-forsaken bloodline is once again ravaged because they were protecting an object of mass carnage and doom — in this case, the Eye of the Dragon. Why none of these Armageddon-causing objects are never just destroyed in videogames is anybody’s guess. Anyway, as if this thing wasn’t bad enough, there is also the Dragon Blade, which joins with the Eye to form the unstoppable weapon that killed the Dark Dragon long ago.
In addition, the Black Spider Ninja Clan has mysteriously declared war on the Hayabusa Clan. And as if all that didn’t cause enough headaches, some of Ryu’s old enemies are back, along with the recently resurrected Fiends. In addition to that, the bad guys have captured the kunoichi known as Momiji, one of Ryu’s friends. Needless to say, Ryu has a full day ahead of him.
The Ninja Gaiden series has been known for two things: the rivers of blood and gore, and the controller-destroying, rage-causing shot of testosterone known as the difficulty level. This being a Nintendo game, the first calling card is largely out, although there is still plenty of torso-hacking goodness to be found. The difficulty level has also been toned down a little, in that I was actually able to beat this game, albeit with many GAME OVERs throughout. If lesser difficulty angers you, then fear not, as there is an unlockable Hard mode for all those hardcore completionists out there.
The gameplay itself is quite enjoyable, with “That was cool” uttering from my lips on multiple occasions. You move Ryu around by touching the DS screen in the direction you wish him to go. Ryu jumps by an upward stroke of the stylus, and he throws projectiles with a tap of the screen. The hacking and slashing is accomplished by moving the stylus over an enemy, with Ryu mimicking the movement. Ryu can also unleash a super attack if players quickly move the stylus back and forth and then stop it abruptly, and he can use unlockable ninpo magic moves that are used by tracing the move’s symbol with the stylus on the touch screens.
Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword never overstays its welcome to the point that the combat gets repetitive, although the cartoony representation of the characters and charged attack do tend to grate. Also, moving the stylus back and forth will often cause Ryu to attack in random directions rather than initiate the desired super attack. Given the quantity of baddies you’ll face, this is often a quick route to GAME OVER town. As for the bosses, they’re plentiful and range in difficulty, although jumping around the level is frequently the key to victory, and Ninpo attacks knock off a good chunk of their health. This is evened out a bit by the fact that bosses can kill Ryu in a couple of hits as well.
To succeed in the game, you can (and pretty much have to) upgrade Ryu’s health and sword through the use of Yellow Ki, which that enemies drop. Oddly, this also functions as a currency in Hayabusa Village. There are places where you can farm these yellow orbs, but you most likely won’t have to, as there are plenty of enemies to hack to bits along the way. Save points are numerous and placed before bosses, so there are no real problems there besides the annoying trend of GAME OVER leading to the main menu rather than the last save point.
The farther you get in the game, the more likely you are to run into “Face Huggers.” These enemies have some form of grab function wherein they invade Ryu’s personal space and give him an unwanted hug. You move the stylus to shake them off, but the frequency of these enemies slows down this otherwise fast-paced slashfest
The story itself is somewhat ho-hum, as it feels like a decorated rescue-the-princess task while collecting items. The story is also mildly confusing, with multiple names and ancient items that repeatedly pop up yet are difficult to keep track of. Ryu is also not a man for talk, which means the main character won’t exactly flesh out the plot himself. However, the violence resumes fairly quickly, so you soon forget the small semblance of plot and instead focus on the action anyway.
Overall, Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword is short and sweet. The game clocks in at about seven hours, with the Hard mode being much more time consuming, but you’ll generally enjoy all of those seven hours. You can also post your high scores via WiFi to let the world know what a shinobi you are. And with a game this entertaining, it’s safe to say you’ll have plenty of competition on those leaderboards.
- Score: 8.5
- When it’s all said and done, this game is fun. This is truly a worthy addition to the Ninja Gaiden franchise.
— John Dempsey