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Submitted by Chris Leyton on May 19 2004 - 00:00

Believe the hype, Ninja Gaiden is all that...

Itâ??s been a long time since weâ??ve played a game as magnificent as Ninja Gaiden; thereâ??s just something about it that rekindles the same urgency we felt when playing games back in the good old days, thereâ??s something that just continues to push you through the game and easily overlook some of the minor flaws â?“ quite simply Ninja Gaiden proves once and for all that Team Ninja are developers with an extremely strong calibre.

Originally debuting in the arcades during 1988 and sequentially an excellent release on the NES in 1989, Ninja Gaiden introduced a ninja known as Ryu Hayabusha to the gaming world, made popular in later years with numerous appearances in the Dead or Alive series.

Fast forward a few years and we finally have Ryuâ??s appearance on the Xbox in the eagerly awaited Ninja Gaiden; whilst fans of the original will no doubt squeal in joy, the fact remains that Ninja Gaiden has been developed as a completely self-contained title and contains very few references to previous titles in the series. That said the game does a magnificent job of replicating the qualities of the original titles, namely pure action and an intense challenge for even the most avid gamer.

The game starts off with the destruction of Ryuâ??s home village and the theft of the powerful Dark Dragon Blade; brandishing his familyâ??s legendary Dragon Sword, itâ??s up to Ryu to recover the stolen blade and bring an end to those who caused the destruction of Ryuâ??s village.

Although the game is interlaced with numerous stunning cinematics, itâ??s fair to say that the story remains a secondary aspect to the actual gameplay; in our opinion far too many games these days put the emphasis on plot progression and very little effort into ensuring the gameplay provides the biggest hook, Ninja Gaiden changes this with its sublime combat system, deft controls and sheer challenge providing the biggest pull.

Essentially Ninja-Gaiden is fast-paced action romp along similar lines to SEGAâ??s Shinobi, eschewing the stealth orientated gameplay of titles such as the Tenchu series. Without doubt the game offers the most responsive combat system weâ??ve yet to see in a game, however more surprising is the sheer depth and number of moves available to Ryu. Utilising two main attacks, Ryu quickly learns a wide selection of new tricks and combos as you progress throughout the game, resulting in the most impressive roster of attacks that weâ??ve seen outside of a Honk Kong cinema â?“ quite literally this guy could kick Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Liâ??s arse without batting an eyelid.

In particular a couple of attacks particularly stand out such as the Izuno Drop and the Guillotine Throw, both of which prove to be crucial to successfully progressing through the game. Team Ninja have worked wonders to ensure these attacks look as spectacular as they are devastating. In addition Ryu can also charge up certain attacks for shattering results and make use of an infinite supply of Shruikens to really rack up the combo counts. Ryu can also make use of a variety of counter-attack moves in addition to a wide range of aerial and grab attacks; the sheer depth and ease of the combat system is the best weâ??ve seen in a videogame to date, nothing can rival Ryu Hayabusha.

Despite the sheer number of moves available, Team Ninja have ensured the combat system remains intuitive throughout, with moves easily flowing into one another and allowing players to pull off devastating combos with relative ease. The sheer agility of Ryu ensures that combat is always enjoyable and never descends into boredom as with most action titles; Ryu can literally leap into a fight, jumping atop the shoulders of a foe and slashing down to split him unceremoniously in two!

More importantly to the combat system is the quick response time of blocking; whereas most titles donâ??t allow you to block when being attacked, Ninja Gaiden allows the player to block immediately, resulting in very few occasions when youâ??re just watching yourself being kicked and bruised without being able to do anything. The result intensifies the overall combat aspect of the game and ensures that the tempo remains blisteringly high throughout the entire game, whilst also adding a sense of strategy as youâ??ll need to make use of the block if you want to progress beyond the first level.

Killing opponents (something youâ??ll do a lot of) grants the player certain types of Orbs, which when collected grant you either points or health. Gold orbs can be collected to buy various weapon upgrades and items from the numerous shop outlets that youâ??ll encounter throughout the game, whilst other items can be used to collect special goodies â?“ even including the original NES Ninja Gaiden titles. On a slightly disappointing note, players can expect to get their hands on a wide selection of weapons, including Nunchuks, WarHammers and Bows to mention but a few, however sadly very little emphasis is placed on these and the result is that most players will just stick with the Dragon Sword due to its effectiveness.

As youâ??d expect Ryu is an agile chap and can easily run across walls, perform gravity defying flips like Mario and pretty much everything else youâ??d expect from a top notch action/adventure titles these days. Thankfully these tricks are all carried out with the same level of intuitiveness as the combat; how Team Ninja managed to perfect these aspects of the game still remains a mystery to us, nobody has been able to create such a high-tempo title in the past without some aggravating flaws making ugly appearances.

Whilst Team Ninja have worked wonders on the control and combat system, the game could have easily come apart in regards to the camera system, and whilst not exactly the â??revolutionaryâ? camera system that Team Ninja originally promised and quickly subtracted, itâ??s fair to say that it causes very few problems and shouldnâ??t be too much of a problem for any serious gamer. The right shoulder button can be used to quickly switch the camera behind Ryu, whilst the right thumbstick reverts to a first-person view; however it generally does a good job of keeping up with the main character. What it certainly does is create a very cinematic feeling to the overall game and the numerous bouts youâ??ll fight in, as it predominantly ensures that Ryu is captured in all his glory, more often then not up close and personal. That said there are occasions when dubious camera angles obstruct the vision of enemies; however it seems as though Team Ninja have thought of everything as the targeting system always ensures that Ryu is targeting the correct person and rapidly moves onto the next when youâ??ve done killing him, whilst a certain move will allow you to easily target the nearest threat â?“ ideal for those rare situations when you canâ??t exactly make out whatâ??s happening.

In keeping with its predecessors Ninja Gaiden offers a tough challenge and will tax most gamers for around the 20-25 hour mark, whilst thanks to the accuracy of the control and combat systems ensures that the challenge always seems fair and rarely frustrating. Bizarrely the game seems to start off hard and get easier as you progress, particularly in regards to a number of the boss battles. One thing we found ourselves enjoying was the re-appearance of Bosses, a definite throwback to older titles, but one that new gamers may find slightly disappointing.

Certainly Ninja Gaiden is the most impressive game weâ??ve seen on the Xbox in some time, making it one of the best looking games to date yet. Every character model has been created with a great sense of care and displays a level of detail not seen in many games, whilst the animation of Ryu quite simply needs to be seen to be believed and lends a level of visual quality to the overall combat system. Although not quite as striking as the character models, the 15 different stages youâ??ll come across also offer a level of creativity and sophistication way beyond everything else, although sadly weâ??d have liked to have seen a little more interaction featured throughout them, as just placing a few destructible objects just doesnâ??t cut it. The frame-rate remains blisteringly high throughout the entire game and rarely slows down, despite what action may be occurring on-screen.

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  • Graphics: 94%
  • Sound: 93%
  • Gameplay: 92%
  • Originality: 82%
  • Longevity: 91%
Overall Score: 9/10
Ninja Gaiden magnificently merges style and substance, to create a title that packs a challenge and more importantly is highly enjoyable to play.

For some reason that we can’t quite understand, Ninja Gaiden retains a feeling that we haven’t felt from playing videogames in a long, long time; perhaps it’s the sheer difficulty challenge, a key component to many long-forgotten classics; perhaps it’s the fact that gameplay prevails over story and character development, something sadly missing from many of today’s games; perhaps it’s just the fact that Ninja Gaiden is just a damn fun game to play, whilst the pace refuses to let you go.

We certainly didn’t believe Team Ninja had it in them, but we’re quite happy to admit we were wrong – anybody who has an Xbox needs to get his game now.

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