Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword

Review: Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword

DS Review

"The bosses themselves are quite impressive, some are more inventive than others and the overall difficulty ranges from subdued to stylus snapping..."

From the very beginning the Ninja Gaiden series has been an excellent example of it's genre, from the original arcade game to the well regarded NES trilogy and the superlative spectacular three dimensional outings; each instalment has brought something new to the ever expanding universe.

And now it's the turn of the DS with the release of Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, which takes the series to new heights thanks to it's sublime stylus sliding, sword, slashing control method. Set a mere six months after the Dark Dragon Blade incident this instalment fills in a lot of the blanks from the time between the first and second incarnations that were presented in the third dimension.

For the most part the main plot revolves around the Black Spider clan, Fiends and the ominously powerful Dark Dragonstones; much of the lore enveloping the Ninja Gaiden universe is expanded in this outing so I won't go into too much detail but as storylines go it's interesting enough, even more so if your a fan of the series.

The game begins with Ryu sparring with his new student Momiji who you get to control at the beginning of the game which is basically the training level and predictably she gets captured at the end and so it's once again up to Ryu Hayabusa to save the day!

Once you take control of the legendary Ninja that's when the game really gets going, the Hayabusa village which is a well trodden ground from previous instalments is a place where you will get to visit throughout your quest; first as an enemy ridden level and then as a part hub of sorts. Everything is beautifully rendered and "tall" angle owing to the orientation of the "book" holding method for the DS goes a long way to helping the overall scope of the game proving that not everything has to be presented in the standard wide-screen format.

In this more original orientation (also used in the "Training" games) you have a map on the left and the action unfolding on the right with wonderfully hand drawn cut scenes spreading across both screens at various moments. Everything about the control scheme is simple yet satisfying, to move Ryu you just gently move the stylus to the point you want to go, tapping an enemy will launch a projectile at them, slashing will slice them, moving up allows you to gain height and any button on the unit allows you to block.

Truly it really is a wonderfully integrated control scheme and there is even more to it then listed above, for instance to perform the infamous "flying swallow" technique you just jump once by moving up followed by a quick directional slash, Ryu will then make a mid-air lunge cutting through your chosen target for greater damage. Ultimate techniques where you "charge" your energy can be executed by sliding your stylus in the centre of the screen and then unleashing at your chosen level of power, this unleashes a swirl of flying blades, sends Ryu into a flip and knocks back any enemies unfortunate enough to get caught in the crossfire.

And I haven't even touched on the new ninja ninpo casting technique yet which has you trace a different Japanese lettering character in a space of a few seconds, you then get to control the technique on screen; one of the best examples being a flaming fireball which you directly deal damage with by deftly drawing your path of destruction across the screen, it's simple but oh so satisfying as is the majority of the game.

Barely worth a mention is the Wi-Fi leaderboards which though a nice inclusion have at this time of writing become overrun with suspicious Max Score runs in little more than a couple of hours, still it's there nonetheless.

Seemingly not wanting to leave any feature of the DS unexploited, you even get to blow into the microphone at certain points and even shout once if you so desire; as you may expect this is implemented mainly through "puzzles" in the levels. Yes we have seen this sort of thing before but it works well and is always nice to have included. This feature is also used to find a few hidden secrets within the game so it's a welcomed addition even if it's an already ten times over exploited one it does nothing to harm the game and adds a small bit of extra enjoyment.

Levels themselves are somewhat shorter than what many have become accustomed too with the series but they are well structured and beautifully rendered so it's no bad thing and keeps things fun and focused. Enemies are mainly limited to a few incarnations of the Fiends and Black Spider clan but there are others included such as scarabs, undead creatures, and many airborne adversaries which tie in with the environments which include Forests, Monasteries, Mausoleums, Caverns of Fire and Ice and even Hell itself not to mention the mini Trials of Valour inbetween.

At the end of each stage you get to face off against a boss, this is where the camera angle changes and you do battle in a more three dimensional setting different from the overhead angle you play in mostly; the bosses themselves are quite impressive, some are more inventive than others and the overall difficulty ranges from subdued to stylus snapping (which I wouldn't recommend if your fortunate enough to be using the Dragon Sword stylus that comes bundled with some copies) but overall the pacing is just about right.

For the amazing technical achievement that it is though, I can't help but think that this is Ninja Gaiden "lite" it has all of the main elements and acrobatics even including the "vertical wall jump" but things such as running across walls just aren't there; also your arsenal is limited to just the Dragon Sword, Shurikens and a Bow. While this may sound severely restrictive it strangely enhances the gameplay instead of taking away from it as there are more levels to the sword and it's a better weapon here then in the true three-dimensional incarnations in which it's mostly overshadowed.

An astonishingly good musical score accompanies the on screen onslaught and only serves to amplify the action; featuring recycled renditions of classic tracks as well as some nice original arrangements. Basically it looks, feels, sounds and plays like the true Ninja Gaiden game that it is and while it's minimalist approach separates it from the rest of its brethren it works only to its credit and is equally as enjoyable but just in a different, more involving way.

N-Europe Final Verdict

To all intents and purposes this is a Ninja Gaiden game through and through but with a new innovative twist to the control method which serves only to quicken the pace and make it in some ways even more enjoyable than previous outings.

  • Gameplay5
  • Playability4
  • Visuals5
  • Audio5
  • Lifespan3
Final Score



Flawless presentation
Excellent control method
Classic gameplay
Decent use of hardware


Relatively short
A few frustrating boss battles

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