Tested: Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword
Ninja Gaiden has always been a hallmark in the action game genre. From its arcade days as a Double Dragon-eqse beat-em up to the NES as an action platformer, and now in its modern 3D form, each Ninja reincarnation tries to raise the bar of fast paced, innovative gameplay. But, the problem with pushing the envelope is that you end up with things that work and things that don’t work. Such is the case with Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword on the Nintendo DS.
Released in March of 2008, Gaiden DS was highly anticipated title for two reasons. It was the bridge between the first Xbox incarnation and upcoming sequel. Plus, it made use of two rarely used features of the dual screen. By combining a stylus navigation system (like Zelda: Phantom Hourglass) with a sideways “book” positioning of the DS, Ninja Gaiden looked poised to raise the bar once again.
After your comrade Momiji is kidnapped by the Black Spider Ninja Clan, Ryu Hayabusa embarks on a quest to uncover the secrets of eight dark dragon stones. The game visits many of the locales gamers may remember from the previous Gaiden outing, which further connects this episode to its predecessor. Because of the capabilities of the DS your arsenal for fighting evil comes kinda reduced. Your only main weapon in this game is, obviously, the Dragon Sword. That’s cool, but fans of the series might miss the many favorites like the Vigoorian Flail, which gave variety to the way you dismembered your foes. Projectile weapons are also reduced to just ninja stars and arrows.
The only weapons you have that are expanded upon is your Ninpo Magic. Using the nimpo involves touching the icon next to your health meter and then tracing a Japanese symbol in order to activate the magic. The magic, like Ryu himself, can also be directed by the stylus pen to take out as many enemies as you can or to use as a way to get into new areas. The offensive magic is kind of overkill compared its use in the previous Gaiden. I really only found myself using the health nimpo to survive in sticky situations.
The limitations of the DS are the truly the only thing that gets in the way of making Dragon Sword a cut above great. Firstly, in terms of graphics, fighting in the background of a stage or level is like pulling a stylus pen out of an enemy filled haystack. You can hardly tell what you are doing because you are surrounded by enemies and everything is sooooo small. That leads to my second problem with this game: the stylus. The stylus looks like it should be very easy to control Ryu with, but the stylus is also used to make Ryu jump. Because of this you run into many situations where by trying to jump, Ryu just moves further into the background or vice versa.
My final problem with Dragon Sword is kinda superficial. In the commercials for the game people are seen calmly and pleasantly drawing slashes across their DS almost like it’s a PDA and I envisioned myself sitting on the subway doing pretty much the same thing. Some Bay St. suit would coming up to ask me if that’s some kinda new electronic notebook? I’d pleasently reply “No, its Ninja Gadien” we have a quick chuckle and I go back to being the envy of gamers everywhere. Instead, people gawk in fear as I scribble frantically like some kinda gaming psycho. But it’s Ninja Gadien so I should have expected that. It may not be perfect, but it’s still a hallmark for action on the Nintendo DS.