Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (DS)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Graphics: 9.00
Sound: 7.50
Gameplay: 9.00
Replays: 8.50

When one thinks of the Ninja Gaiden, chances are they either think of the original side scrolling title for NES and arcades or the fast paced 3D action title for the Xbox. So when Tecmo and Team Ninja announced they would be bringing the franchise to the Nintendo DS in the form of a game that bridged the gap between the Xbox/PS3 title and its upcoming sequel for Xbox 360, it’s likely that quite a few people assumed it would be a side scrolling title. But instead, the developers have more or less created a fast paced portable action title almost on par with that of its console counterpart, resulting in one of the best pure action/adventure titles the Nintendo DS has seen yet.

The first thing you need to know is that Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is fast. Though it may be hard to believe the developers have managed to keep the action fast and furious, while still relying on gamers to have some technical skills (just like the console version you can’t just furiously attack without having some idea of what you’re doing). However, everything has been developed with simplicity in mind. Every action in the game aside from blocking is controlled via the stylus. This may sound a little intimidating, but after 20 minutes or so players will be moving Ryu Hayabasa around and chaining combos together with relative ease. The stylus control isn’t 100% accurate, but it works well enough that most people won’t even notice the occasional bug or quirk (which is mostly related to platforming/jumping). Blocking is handled via any of the face buttons or the D-Pad, meaning that players can use whatever works best for them.

In order to create bigger levels and make it easier to block while using the stylus, the game is played by turning the DS on its side (which side depends on what your dominant hand is), a la Brain Age. This setup fits perfectly, as there are quite a few moments where players will have to jump up in the air to get to new areas or attack enemies. Team Ninja has packed an impressive level of detail into the game by using pre-rendered backgrounds, and this is arguably one of the best looking action games the DS has seen yet. It really feels like a slightly downgraded version of the Xbox Ninja Gaiden, which when you consider how many DS games look like slightly enhanced Gameboy Advance titles is very impressive. In addition to this, rather than use in-engine cutscenes the developers have opted to use anime style cutscenes that look great and give Dragon Sword a feeling of its own. The soundtrack is also competent, though it admittedly isn’t my favorite one on the DS (but to its credit it does fit the game’s theme quite well). There are occasional vocal clips as well, but they typically consist of various yells and screams and ultimately don’t add that much to the game.

For those who are wondering, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword has three difficulty levels (with an unlockable mode that lets you play as Ryu’s female ninja friend). The game does force you to play through the Normal difficulty first, which some players may find disappointing. However, Dragon Sword’s default difficulty is noticeably easier when compared to Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox so experienced series veterans will quickly be able to complete the game and then move onto the more challenging difficulties. Though you may be thrown off by the easier difficulty initially, believe me the harder difficulties are not easy to beat.

As previously mentioned, the gameplay is very fast. The focus is on action, though there are a few puzzles here and there that make use of Ryu’s various abilities (and sometimes require payers to blow into the microphone). In addition to this, players will be able to buy new skills and abilities and they actually do make a difference in the gameplay. These may be small little touches, but they help Ninja Gaiden to stand out from being a mindless action title. Not only that, but Tecmo also managed to integrate a Wi-Fi feature through the Karma feature. Karma is based on how well you do throughout each level, and it is possible to post your score via Wi-Fi upon completing the game. Though this may just be a high score leader board feature, it fits very well for a game with this type of hardcore fan base and I’m surprised more developers haven’t done it in this style.

Overall, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is an example of how to make a DS action title that is nearly on par with its console counterparts. Though it is admittedly a little short, most will want to play on the higher difficulty levels after their first completion which certainly bodes well for replay value. And although there are a few quirks here and there (mainly some touchy stylus control), this is definitely a game that Ninja Gaiden fans and action fans in general won’t want to miss out on. Here’s hoping that this isn’t a one shot deal as well, as a sequel down the road would be great.

Overall Rating: 9.00

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