Game Description: Ninja Gaiden—the classic 2D action series has returned with bleeding-edge graphics, intense fighting action and thrilling gameplay! You take on the role of Ryu Hayabusa, a young ninja who survives the massacre of his family. The Vigor Empire is responsible for their deaths, and he'll use his ninja skills to make them pay. Experience even more combat action as you go online for multiplayer ninja battles. Also includes the 3 original NES Ninja Gaiden games.
Of all the hideous monsters and hellspawn that haunt Tecmo's third-person action game Ninja Gaiden—mace-weilding zombies, giant fire-breathing worms, faceless samurai—nothing frightened me more than demon hunter Rachel's ridiculously oversized breasts. No kidding. When I first encountered them—they're seriously the size of small Third World countries—I let out a ninja-like cry—something like "Aiieeeee!"—then braced myself (left trigger! left trigger!) for their attack.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy breasts as much as the next heterosexual guy, but what bothers me about Rachel (and her breasts) is that this is exactly the sort of juvenile misogyny I keep hoping videogames will once and for all be done with. It represents an outdated, antiquated attitude, one that assumes that all gamers are acne-challenged, Pringles-eating 18-year-old "horn-dogs" who can't get dates. (My apologies to any acne-challenged, Pringles-eating horn-dogs out there.) Compare Rachel with a more mature and complex—and much smaller breasted—female character like Bastila in Knights of the Old Republic, and I can't help but wonder if developer Team Ninja is locked away in a biosphere with nothing to read but Playboy magazines circa 1972.
The size of Rachel's breasts might be forgivable if there was anything more to her character than just those mammoth mammaries. It's never especially clear who she is, or who protagonist Ryu Hayabasa is, or who anyone in the game is for that matter. Ninja Gaiden obviously isn't big on character or plot; the game's narrative is so nonsensical (Ryu dies, then somehow comes back to life in the next scene wearing cooler clothes?) that it makes the head-scratching back-story of Rygar: The Legendary Adventure feel like The Brothers Karamazov by comparison. Honestly, a Bazooka Joe comic has more dramatic depth than this. And Ninja Gaiden's dialogue is so painfully lousy that it makes me wonder if it was written (or rather "written") by tossing the following words into a hat—"demon," "empire," "sword," "descendent," "awakening," "unfathomable," "village," and "ancient"—then pulling them out at random, adding a few prepositions and verbs, and voila, we've got instant Team Ninja dialogue. Note to Team Ninja: Please hire a writer next time. Perhaps even two writers. Thank you.
Yet despite the game's multitude of sins, including a frustrating camera system that frequently left me wondering where I was and what I was doing, all is completely forgiven—yes, 100-percent forgiven—thanks to the scintillating, wildly gratifying gameplay. The truth is, I had a great time with Ninja Gaiden. Playing the game gave me—I don't know how else to say this—a buzz; I felt a light-headed giddiness that I can only describe as a high of some kind. And it was a high, like most highs, that I eventually came to crave. I'd power down the Xbox, assuming I was finished for the night, only to find myself involuntarily loading up the game again a few minutes later.
And what I craved was the game's near-constant can-you-deal-with-this? challenge. Make no mistake: Ninja Gaiden is hard. Not impossible by any stretch, but hard, yes. The enemies in the game are highly skilled and almost always attacked in groups, usually sending in a pair of foes to engage me while leaving a third just out of range who seemed to be waiting for me to make a mistake. And once they spotted an opening, once I made that mistake they seemed to know I was going to eventually make, they pounced, lopping huge chunks off my health bar, sending me reeling backwards and scrambling for another blue bottle of Elixir. (I must have consumed thousands of gallons of the stuff over the course of the game.) The boss battles in particular are of the highest quality, especially the white-knuckle showdown with the Darth Vader-like Doku. Trust me, sweaty palms are guaranteed.
But what ultimately makes Ninja Gaiden so compulsively addictive, what gives me that heady buzz I described earlier, is the game's unique sense of discovery. I'm not talking about external discovery—exploring maps, locating scarabs, acquiring new weapons-all games have this—but what Ninja Gaiden has that very few games have is a tangible sense of self-discovery. Whenever I stumbled upon a new combo for Ryu, a new move, or a new way to dispatch enemies, I found myself thinking, I did not know I was capable of that. Even now, on my third run through the game, I'm still figuring out new, more effective ways to handle what had formerly seemed like dire situations. No longer do I flee from the Black Spider Clan, a species of lightning-quick ninja that previously left me begging for mercy. No longer do I cower before the fearsome Doku, or any enemy in the game for that matter. With a string of never-ending combos rattling off my fingertips intuitively, without thought, I now stand my ground against one and all, confident in my abilities, quite certain of my power. And it's exhilarating, in the face of such overwhelming adversity, to be able to do so.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Violence
Parents should know that Ninja Gaiden is an extremely violent game, full of impalings, dismemberings and geysers of blood. It's certainly not for young children or the faint of heart.
Sensitive gamers and politically correct gamers will likely find fault with the game's sexist nature. Ninja Gaiden is also a supremely difficult game requiring much patience and practice, especially during the early levels.
Casual gamers will likely find themselves discouraged, but those who endure will find this game to be one of the most entertaining and deeply satisfying action titles to come along in recent memory.
Devil May Cry fans and Tenchu fans will no doubt thoroughly enjoy the proceedings.
Fans of ninja culture will also likely appreciate the game.
All dialogue is subtitled, which makes it easy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers to follow the game's vague plot. Unfortunately, the game's wild
Ninja Gaiden has become some strange sort of initiation rite for self-proclaimed hardcore gamers. "You don't like it? You're simply not good at it!" seems to be the tagline. While that might be true in some cases, it's also a very annoying rhetorical trick to turn every criticism of the game into a proof of the reviewers assumed wimpness. Please spare me with this argument. In my opinion, Ninja Gaiden is good, but on closer inspection, it's a flawed experience. I'll try to give you a more detailed look at some of the problems Scott already mentioned and explain why I think they partly outweigh the games obvious strengths.
What put me off first was the difficulty level. Which is not "supreme," as Scott puts it, but simply badly balanced. It all started when I was given the choice between Medium or Hard difficulty. Which is odd. The word "medium" by nature refers to something that is in the middle, yet for Team Ninja it marks one end of their scale. Why not make it Easy and Hard? That would at least make sense. But about 10 minutes into the game I understood why you can't call what I had to endure "easy." What Ninja Gaiden does to its players in its first chapters, and at several occasions later in the game, is ridiculous, to say the least.
While Murai (the tutorial's final confrontation) lops large pieces off your health bar with his unblockable grappling moves, the ninjas of the Black Spider Clan (encountered later in the game) are no competition at all by comparison, since Ryu is able to block all of their attacks. A well-balanced difficulty increases over the course of playing, always keeping me close to the limits of my abilities. It shouldn't start with giving me the impression that I stand no chance at all, and then get easier, only to repeat that pattern over and over again. Ninja Gaiden fails in this respect. And since save points are distributed haphazardly, this is even more of a problem. I'd spend an hour desperately searching for a save point, only to find a half dozen of them almost next to each other in the following level. And the confusing camera, which usually swings wildly between too much movement and none at all, only made things more frustrating. Sure, I got used to the camera over time, but there's a difference between getting used to a game's shortcomings and getting better at playing the game.
Scott also put a finger on another problem with his criticism of Ninja Gaiden's immature misogyny regarding the character design of Rachel. For me that's just one example of the unoriginal quality of the game's overall look and feel. In this regard, Rachel's breasts are just the tip of the iceberg. There is, to name a few, the Nazi-esque villain Gamov (complete with John Lennon glasses and a green trenchcoat), the nonsense-mumbling shopkeeper Muramasa, and finally Ryu Hayabusa, member of a secret order of deadly ninjas who thoroughly enjoy wearing kinky leather outfits.
Ninja Gaiden's atmosphere and setting are both a nonsensical heap of 80's fantasy-trash that is—in all of its stereotyped cheesey glory— not even charming. Ultimately this hinders player immersion, which is already challenged by a restrictive level design that kept me puzzling over why Ryu Hayabusa is able to hop from wall to wall in a narrow alleyway without breaking a sweat, but unable to jump over a three-foot-tall balustrade. Was he absent the day they taught such mundane movements in ninja school?
Still, if you're willing to see past all of its flaws, Ninja Gaiden's gameplay can be amazingly good. No doubt about it. The combat truly makes up for most of the game's shortcomings. It moves beautifully; it's fast and full of variety, even if it does feel unfair at times. And it certainly never gets boring, which is more than I can say for most games. But when it comes to a game as hyped as this one, I think it's adequate to demand excellence in more than just one regard. In the end, Ninja Gaiden is neither a milestone, nor a work of genius. It's not a great game; just a good one. There are simply too many flaws interfering with an otherwise satisfying experience.
And rest assured that people who can't be bothered to beat it are not wimps. They simply lack a certain level of masochism.