In its current 3D form Ninja Gaiden has been around since 2004 and has seen no less than three iterations with minor enhancements and additions, all of which I’ve played and enjoyed. Team Ninja wove some real magic into those games that hooks unsuspecting players with its difficulty and rewards them for their perseverance. So it’s only fitting that before they finally release a sequel we must persevere through one last adventure with Hayabusa and the remnants of the Dark Dragon Blade Incident.
Yes, the story is set after the events of Ninja Gaiden/Black/Sigma but at this early stage in the game I’ve already plodded back and forth through Hayabusa Village and most recently arrived at the doorsteps of one very familiar Monastery. Not that I’m complaining; seeing familiar places and enemies makes me smirk in that Smash Bros. Brawl sorta way and this is by far the most original game since Ryu’s Xbox debut. Of course, I haven’t seen too much originality just yet outside of the striking visual design of the game.
Essentially this is Resident Gaiden with familiar (but simplified) Ninja Gaiden gameplay set on top of pre-rendered backgrounds a la the old Resident Evil games. It’s also played by holding the DS vertically like a book and for a game that uses only one button during combat (to block) things work just as smoothly as on the consoles. The trade off is that Ryu doesn’t have nearly as many attacks and as best I can tell, only one weapon. It’s to be expected; there are only so many ways you can slide your stylus across an enemy and so very little space on the cartridge to pack in more weapon animations.
The handheld limitations don’t stop the action from being blindingly fast, however, and I was quickly leaping skyward, tossing shurikens at distant archers and then smashing down on enemies below. The portable format does effect some aspects of the game as returning after a long break sometimes left me clueless as to what to do next. Where most DS games have an objective screen or a recap of what you’ve already done, Dragon Sword simply loads up quick and tosses you back into the fray.
It’s also important to remember that the touch screen isn’t the only bit of DS hardware you’ll be using. It’s been a while since a game has forced me to use the microphone and at one point I was stumped. Once I figured it out I backtracked and found a hidden item, one of 45 Wooden Amulets tucked away throughout the game. Oh good, more collecting! I don’t suppose the original Ninja Gaiden is unlockable on the DS.
So far I’m impressed and happy with Dragon Sword. It’s another retread of Ryu’s 3D Ninja Gaiden adventure but the portable format and unique gameplay are keeping my hands sore and my DS battery drained.