Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: March 25, 2008
To most gamers, Ninja Gaiden conjures up an image of an ultra-violent, ultra-difficult ninja game. This isn't the case for the new addition to the series, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for the Nintendo DS. While Dragon Sword is unique in its presentation and gameplay, it doesn't deviate from franchise's core values of super-quick ninja fighting.
In Dragon Sword, Ryu's female ninja apprentice, Momiji, is kidnapped, and he must venture to rescue her. Along the way, he figures out that the kidnapping is linked to his Dragon Sword and ends up battling a whole slew of demons along the way.
To play the game, you hold the DS sideways like a book, and everything — including movement, guarding, and attacking — is performed via the touch-screen. The one exception is guarding, which is done by pressing any face button. The DS's microphone is also incorporated into the gameplay; in addition to other puzzles, you'll have to yell to wake up an old man and blow into it to extinguish flames. It's one of the few games on the DS where using the mic isn't gimmicky and actually makes sense.
When you want to attack an enemy, you just use the stylus to slash across the character. You can do this in any direction, which results in different attacks, and you'll find that moving your stylus across the screen from one character to another is a very effortless, smooth motion.
It seems as if you can endlessly attack enemies, but there isn't a huge variety of combo moves in Dragon Sword when compared to other Ninja Gaiden games. There are about three or four combo moves, and then the Ultimate Technique. To use the UT, you have to rapidly slash left and right diagonally across the entire screen, which I think this is the hardest move to execute. Oftentimes, I found myself just moving back and forth or normally attacking instead of performing the UT.
You might run into a couple of problems similar to this. Ryu also has shurikens in his arsenal that can be thrown anywhere you tap on the screen, but sometimes, when you move forward by touching somewhere on the screen, it can be mistaken for a projectile throw. Fortunately, it doesn't happen often enough to hamper the fun of the game.
Aside from sword and projectile attacks, Ryu has Ninpo, which is essentially ninja magic. When you tap the Ninpo icon, you have to trace a Sanskrit character, and then you perform the magic, which involves various natural forces such as electricity, fire and ice. It's a neat move, but I only found myself using the magic when I needed to solve an obvious puzzle or when I got too lazy during the boss battles.
Generally, I found that enemies, which run the gamut from other ninjas to crazy demon monsters, were easy when I played through Normal mode. When you get in an area with a horde of baddies, Ryu is constantly on the move, rolling and attacking with lightning-fast combat that really gets your blood pumping.
The bosses in Dragon Sword were surprisingly daunting for a handheld system. Once again, in Normal mode they were fairly easy, but each boss exemplifies the qualities of what a video game boss should be. They are monstrous in comparison to Ryu, and their attacks take off chunks of his life; when you defeat a boss, you really feel a sense of accomplishment.
Although it certainly has a lot of violent action, you can tell that Dragon Sword was tailored for a younger audience — or perhaps a more general audience than its console brethren so that everyone can play it and have fun. Most of the characters you talk to are children in the village who aspire to be like Ryu. Also, when you compare Dragon Sword to the upcoming Ninja Gaiden II for consoles, DS is simply child's play next to the other's "buckets o' blood" approach. However, despite being less gory, Dragon Sword still retains the fun experience of being a ruthless, faster-than-sound ninja.
Dragon Sword is fairly short, taking around eight hours to complete in Normal mode. Because of the short playtime, though, you can continue to play through the next difficulty level without the burden of trudging through a quest that lasts 20+ hours. During the game, you can also collect Wood Amulets, which unlock extras like character bios, character diaries and cut scenes. The cut scenes aren't animated, so that was kind of disappointing, but the sliding-art storytelling technique is used, and considering how good the art is, it works well. The amulets are distributed throughout the four difficulty levels, and each time you beat the game on one difficulty, the next one is unlocked. While it may be a bite-sized adventure at first, additional playthroughs are encouraged.
Also, you have a score (Karma), which seems to be a fading feature in current video games, and online leaderboards keep track of high scores. However, the top 30 people on each board have the maximum score possible. Some of these people haven't even progressed very far in the game, so I'm going to have to call shenanigans on this one. It seems that a perfectly good feature is ruined because some punks wanted to be at the top.
All in all, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is surprisingly fun. When a successful franchise is brought to a portable system, I don't really expect it to do well, but this game is exceptionally entertaining. It has intuitive, fluid controls that make you feel like a total badass when slaying dragons and other beasts, and it's the perfect length to make you want to go for multiple playthroughs.
More articles about Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword