Buy 'NINJA GAIDEN BLACK': Xbox
There is a Ghost Recon 2 redux waiting for you. It is calling out your name softly, hoping that you are the next one to fall into its inviting trap.
"I'm different," it whispers. "I'm like nothing you've ever experienced before."
Of course you have. There's a reason the title Ghost Recon 2 is placed so strategically on the box art: so nobody gets angry when they realize that they didn't spend their $30 on a brand new game but a somewhat … re-imagined version of something they have already experienced. These releases are meant only for the hardcore fans of the source material and, to a lesser extent, the few dolts too obsessed with newer product to save $20 by purchasing a used copy of the original game instead.
Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike may be enjoyable for the hardcore, the fanboys, even the newbies, but it, dear reader, will hopefully be the last of its kind. If the powers-that-be have any sense of justice, there will be a new breed of revision, one that does not seem like a simple mission pack, one that actually changes the way the player looks at and feels the game. Because after Ninja Gaiden Black, there should never be a video game revision of the old type ever again.
Ninja Gaiden Black is not a revision bent on adding as much brand new content as possible; that, in the eyes of a certain sect of video game publishers, would have been enough to warrant a sequel, and a sequel Black is not, nor does it try to be. Black instead stands in a strange yet comfortable place, a game with the right kind of content – not to mention the right amount of it – to enthrall the most hardened Ninja Gaiden score-perfectionist just as much as a brand new player.
For those without previous Ninja Gaiden experience, Ninja Gaiden Black will undoubtedly feel like mana for your thumbs as soon as the first stage begins. The aim is simple: Kill everything and stay alive. But in the world of Ninja Gaiden, such simple words resonate with a daunting rumble so jarring that many players felt ousted from the clique of gamers that could possibly conquer the game even on the default normal mode. In simplified terms, this game is really, really, really hard.. It is straightforward, fast-paced yet meticulous action in the tradition of Contra, Devil May Cry, and yes, the original Ninja Gaiden trilogy.
The most talked-about addition for Black is, strangely enough, the least compelling of them all: the Ninja Dog difficulty. If you are an especially handicapped gamer in the terms of the Ninja Gaiden universe (the unofficial figure probably lies close to 8 out of 10 people who attempt to play the game for the first time) and die one too many times during the first stage of the Normal difficulty, Dead Or Alive mainstay Ayane (yes, the universes are officially one and the same) will condescendingly offer to take you under her abusive wing and hold your hand through the game. What this amounts to is not the super-ultra-OMG EZ experience that many so-called "weaksauce" players may have been hoping for, but a slightly tweaked version of Normal that has Ayane offering healing rice balls and pretty, pink little ribbons that serve the function normally reserved for armlets. While Ninja Dog does provide a smoother learning curve for beginners, it is not completely necessary, as the true beauty of Ninja Gaiden lies in its difficulty. And difficult it is – and believe it or not, Ninja Dog mode notwithstanding, Black takes it to a whole new level.
Enter: Master Ninja Mode. Three hits from even the weakest of enemies spells game over, no questions asked. Even the guys at Team Ninja – the Taito team led by the (in)famous Tomonobu Itagaki – are rumored to have a tough time tackling this beast of a mode. Thankfully, Black is Live-enabled, so as soon as someone clears this mode, the entire Ninja Gaiden community will know exactly who sacrificed any semblance of a social life and managed to have just the right ambitious/psychotic personality to undertake such a feat.
To take matters even further and make the game seem even more daunting, the progressively difficult new Mission Mode has a startlingly steep difficulty curve: Extremely Hard all the way over to Way Too Hard To Even Think About Finishing. The mode is essentially a fully-realized version of the Xbox Live download for the original Ninja Gaiden, Hurricane Pack 2. For those without a Live connection and/or previous experience with that download, the concept is simple: Ryu is dropped into a room full of enemies and the player must use every single one of his maneuvers and weapons to make it out alive – every single one. There are 50 missions in all, but, as with the Master Ninja difficulty, only the rare few and proud will be able to complete them all.
There are only a few problems that mar the otherwise perfect rose that is Ninja Gaiden, namely camera issues and slowdown. Both issues are forgivable almost to the point of forgetting about them altogether, but they are present and do bear mentioning.
Black uses the camera introduced in the original Hurricane Pack, which allows for the right stick to be used to freely control the camera. While this seems like a fantastic idea, in practice it is rarely useful, as the gameplay is far too fast-paced to allow for any camera tweaking at all that detracts the player from the crucial control presented by the face buttons. This leaves us with the original, slightly broken realigning camera that swivels behind Ryu with the press of a button. This method works flawlessly 9 times out of 10, but that tenth time when it swings all but the most crucial aggressors right off the screen, it tends to spell instant death for poor Ryu. That said, this camera system is worlds better than the antiquated 3D camera-meets-PS1-era-Resident Evil-static shots technique employed by Capcom for their Devil May Cry games.
As for the slowdown, it is so completely uncommon, short, and not all that slow in the first place, that it only registers in the human brain at all because of how constant the 60 FPS is throughout the vast majority of the game. No gameplay is ever ruined by these rare moments.
Speaking of that 60 FPS, it bears mentioning that Ninja Gaiden is, a year later, one of the best-looking, smoothest-running games in existence. With masses of enemies on-screen, lighting effects spread everywhere, and complex physics (not on the level of Half-Life 2, but still complex) being calculated at all times, it's a wonder that Team Ninja managed to make this game look and feel as good as it does. The only true gripe about the graphics stems from the sometimes simplistic geometry that makes its way into the scenery; for a current-generation AAA-title, sometimes it feels as though there are one too many right angles to be seen, but I digress. This is, again, a minor gripe in the face of what is quite possibly the best action game of the past two generations, if not of all time.
Of course, with such production values behind Black's presentation, sampling and music shouldn't be an issue at all, and it isn't; hundreds of crisp, professional samples note every change of weapon, terrain... everything. Ninja Gaiden Black does not attempt to be a realistic game by any means, but it does not once treat the player like a fool, and through solid sound design, it manages to communicate a complete product that does not once hold back when it comes to production.
Ninja Gaiden Black joins its predecessor, along with the likes of Resident Evil 4, as one of the greatest action games in recent memory. Upon further examination, it may be one of the best of all time. It, alongside the feature-filled PlayStation 2 upgrade of RE4 and next year's Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, marks the beginning of a new trend of repackaged games, one that will hopefully continue for years to come. After all, who wants it better the first time when the second time is this good?
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