Every so often a game comes along so highly anticipated, the hype makes you wonder ‘Please don’t let me down’ Ninja Gaiden has proceeded to confront the non believers and cut them down to size.
This isn’t your usual Ninja game, no stealth here, its action all out. You play young ninja Ryu Hayabusa, the wielder of the Dragon Sword, and you must track down the Dark Dragon Blade.
As soon as you start the game, the beautiful graphics hit you, a sunny sky, a lovely waterfall, birds flying, lens flare, and you, a sleek dark killing machine. As a ninja Ryu has access to a variety of moves, he can run along walls, run up them and flip backwards, grab, swing and of course somersault… and this is all with one button! You get helpful hints in the way of notes attached to darts thrown in your direction by an off screen ninja guide. You make your way up the side of a few rocks, up a tree, and then the fighting begins…
Ryu starts off with two weapons, his melee Dragon Sword and an infinite amount of shurikens, although the ninja stars are fairly weak, they are enough to keep a combo going, or keep someone at bay. Your Dragon Sword is your main weapon through. Through the game you can pick up others but the Dragon Sword is the average all rounder weapon of choice. You have two melee attack buttons, normal attack and strong attack. With your normal attack button you get your regular slashes, thrusts and slices.
Your strong attack button allows you to charge more powerful attacks, air juggles ‘uppercuts’, and as you progress you have access to many more moves. Just as you get used to your combo’s, the game introduces you to a few more, like the ability to counter an attack and swiftly attack back. When as you get the hang of these new moves, you’ll upgrade your weapon, or even find a new one, and it keeps the game fresh as you never tire of the same moves all the time.
Apart from learning new moves, either by buying them, or finding technique scroll on dead bodies, you also gain new weapons and magic. The first new weapon you will gain is a bow and 15 arrows, these can replace your shurikens as projectile weapons, but you have to aim to make full effect, making you a sitting duck. Your second main weapon you gain is the lightning quick Nunchaku, it easily gives you high combos but is weaker than the Dragon Sword, and you feel in less control of your moves.
There is also a War Hammer, and other weapons and projectiles to find later in the game. Soon into the game you also gain access to your first magic ‘Ninpo’ spell, The Art of Fire Wheels, using this fireballs circle your body and burn people as you continue fighting them. There are 3 types of Ninpo: Inferno, Ice Storm and Inazuma (Lightning) although each one has a few variations too. The magic is quite powerful and it’s best not to waste it or you’ll be sorry. Soon you also gain access to a few throws, these are useful to separate someone from a crowd, or send them crashing back into them.
After the small mountain trek you find yourself storming a small ninja clan, most of these are easily deposed of, although some of the ninja’s are harder to kill, and must of stayed behind in Ninja School. The second level returns you back to your home village, now in flames you must avenge the deaths of your allies, and the rest of the game takes you across cities, into caves, and even a huge enemy airship. All are astonishing graphically, whether it’s the horizon sunset, village huts, city nightclubs to the small details like leaves in the breeze, and water ripples and sparks as your sword slicing past rocks and into thugs.
As you fight your way through the game you will come across various items, from keys to map, health potions to magic spells, but there is a lot more to find if you explore. Using a series of jumps and flips, you can sometimes find little alcoves hidden away. It could just be a health potion or something a whole lot more worth while. As you kill goons, you collect their essence, different colors give you different effects blue is health, yellow is used as a form of currency, and red recharges your Ninpo.
During the levels the game itself never stops to load, you walk from room to room, area to area with no time waiting. This along with the amazing control you have over Ryu, makes this game a sheer pleasure to play… but be warned, it is quite a tough one… Even the normal everyday thugs can kill you if they get you cornered, and the bosses are quite hard; you’ll need a fair few attempts and a few health potions to tackle even the easiest ones. I advise you save often at the save points, and store all the items you can until you really need to use them.
It’s a shame some of the better stuff is hidden away so much and to think you may have missed an important spell because you didn’t see the secret gap in the wall down the dark alley. With a lot of time and effort though this game is simply amazing.
An excellent thrilling game, you feel you are in complete control of Ryu at all times, and you find yourself enjoying every killer second.