The Ninja Gaiden series comes to the DS in a novel way. Instead of a being precise button masher like its Xbox brethren, the DS debut is a pen scribbler. See, almost all controls are performed by dragging the stylus across the screen. You hold the pen down where you want your ninja to run. You slash vertically and horizontally to attack enemies. You tap enemies on the screen to use long-range attacks such as bows and shurikens. You also trace Japanese characters on the screen to unleash your magic attacks. In fact, the only button presses used are for blocking. Pressing any button will block, and pressing a button while dragging the stylus will dodge.
So does the gamble pay off? For the most parts it does. The stylus controls are surprisingly intuitive. After playing this game, it is clear that these types of controls are what the DS is made for. That does not prevent a few frustrating moments. A few times, I found that the stylus movements did not register in game. This was most egregious when trying to run off-screen to the next area. I found myself tapping the area around the screen's edge until my character finally ran there. My other complaint with the controls is that most of the time simply scribbling furiously is more effective than thoughtfully planning moves.
The majority of the game is melee combat. Many enemies come at you at once and you can chain combos together rather quickly. You move in a pre-rendered 3-D environment similar to Resident Evil. There are minimal puzzle elements that mainly involve timing or using the right magic attack to unlock the next area. The boss fights are the only times the game is in true 3-D. At these times, you can truly move around in a complete circle.
This is my main problem with the game. You hold the DS in book form to play. In melee combat, this is fine because you have a specific space to move in and the enemies are staggered more vertically than horizontally. Trying to move around in the boss fights is hard because all your 3-D movement is squeezed on the narrow side of the screen. I wish the developers had allowed you to switch your hold during the boss fights. That would make them easier to bear.
Like in previous editions of Ninja Gaiden, you play as Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja from Hayabusa village. It seems a rival clan has kidnapped Momiji, one of Ryu pupils. The clan wants to use her to help awaken a demonic power. Ryu must find eight dragon stones to form the Dark Dragonblade. The Dragonblade is a sword that Ryu will be able to use to defeat the demonic powers. Ryu must defeat a different demon for each dragon stone.
This game really surprised me with its graphics. The story is presented in very stylish comic book style cut scenes. There is limited movement in them, but they have very bright colors and great details. In fact, I was not aware the DS was capable of such depth in colors and details. The in-game graphics also have good colors and style. However, the 3-D objects look expectedly blurry.
You can play through this game in about five to eight hours on the easier level. There is also a hard mode, and then harder modes that unlock as you beat the game on various levels. That is not the only reason why you might want to replay the game, though. After each mission, you are ranked. You can post your rankings to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection leaderboards. Unfortunately, I did not have time to check that part of the game out so I cannot speak on how well it works or what features it has. Improving rankings on each level and seeing if they can beat their friends will give players that are more competitive a reason to replay the game.
If you have a DS, you must check this game out. Even if you do not like the Ninja Gaiden series, you have to check out what they did with the DS controls. I hope that other develops will take some cues from this game and more games will take advantage of the DS's unique traits.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Partial Nudity and Violence.