Home / Nintendo DS Review: Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword

Nintendo DS Review: Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword

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Do you know why most franchises don’t make a smooth jump to handhelds? It’s because most developers never take the time to properly adjust game play for the new platform. Sure sometimes you get a game like God of War: Chains of Olympus that’s really fun, but there’s nothing there that screams, “This won’t be ported to the PS2 in 3 months!” Let’s be honest, it feels like a game you should be playing on a PS2 too.

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword on the other hand maintains all the speed and violence of it’s console brother, but actually feels like a true hand-held game. This is largely because of Team Ninja’s philosophy of delivering the best game you can by using the system to it’s full. When working on a console they’re all about delivering amazing graphics at a constant frame rate. But stunning graphics do not a great handheld game make, so for Dragon Sword they had to switch things up and play to the system’s strengths. The result of this new design strategy? One of the most intriguing control systems to date.

Forget button mashing because it won’t help you here. Ninja Gaiden’s controls were far to complex to replicate on the DS, so Team Ninja had to it and go with an almost entirely touch-based approach. At first you may think touch controls are tacky, like Wii-mote controls, but believe me they work and work well.

Slash the screen, slash your enemy. Tap and you’ll throw a shrunken. Hold and you’ll run to wherever the pointer is. It’s very simple, but very affective. Unfortunately most of Ryu’s combos were ditched in favour of a more free-form attack style, but the classics like the Flying Swallow and Izuna Drop are still there and they’re devastating.

Nippo Magic also returns and can be activated by tapping the magic icon and then drawing the corresponding symbol on the screen. If this causes you to have flashbacks to Castlevainia: Dawn of Sorrows, don’t worry, it’s more like coloring inside the lines then writing fine calligraphy.

There are a few times when Ryu may not respond exactly how you want him to, say performing Izuna Drop instead of jumping, but it rarely produces anything less than a usable result. You won’t find yourself struggling to move like you would in a survival horror game.

Because Itagaki wanted Dragon Sword to appeal to a wider, younger audience there had to be a few design compromises, but most are forgivable. Level design is simple and sometimes very repetitive with most missions consist of moving from Point A to Point B to participate in mini arena-style battles. If this was a console game it would be a major problem, but because DS games are meant to be suitable for short play sessions it works well enough. At the very least the combat you’re forced to repeatedly engage in is incredibly entertaining.

Dragon Sword‘s story has also been toned down a bit from the previous game. Instead of the avenging deaths of your clan-members, you’ll find yourself on a mission to recuse a kidnapped shrine-maiden. There’s also a full compliment of stereotypical children inhabiting the village for some reason. I’m not exactly sure what their purpose is, aside from a few minor plot points, but they help show a softer side of Ryu and will probably play well with the younger crowd that Itagaki was after.

Make no mistake, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is not a long game, I was able complete normal mode in just under 6 hours, but for all it lacks in length it makes up for with replayablity. Normal mode is easy, almost too easy, but Head Ninja, the second mode unlocked, brings back the traditional Ninja Gaiden frustration. If Head Ninja’s still not tough enough for you there’s also Master Ninja mode and The Way of the Kunoichi, where you get to play as a Ninja called Rin.

When beating on Fiends gets a bit tiring for you there’s still Muramasa’s Prize Shop where you can trade in wooden amulets to unlock bonus art, videos and much more.

Dragon Sword‘s last offering is WFC Ranking Mode. A place where you can see how you stack up against the rest of the world. Unfortunately at the current time all the top spots are filled with cheaters. It’s a shame too because Ninja Gaiden is exactly the kind of game where a leader board could be a selling point. I contacted Tecmo concerning the issue and while they are aware of it, there does not appear to be anything they can do for the time being.

While a small offering, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is reasonably robust and should offer loads of fun for anyone who picks it up. For a first attempt DS game it’s not half bad so whether you’re a Team Ninja fan or just in need of a new game to fill your time, it’s definitely worth a look.

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Partial Nudity and Violence.

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About Jason Westhaver