Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Twenty Five - Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword

Number 25 is Ninja Gaiden DS, which is (perhaps surprisingly) the only Ninja Gaiden game, old or new, that I've ever beaten without resorting to shenanigans like savestates. The reasons I could beat it, of course, were that it was fast, short, cheap, and easy. Pretty sure I could make a sex joke there somehow.

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword takes place between NG1 and NG2 of the new-generation series. It sure lives up to its title as it makes a big deal about some ninjas, dragons, and swords, but I would struggle to give you specific details about the plot. For awhile I was supposed to collect dragon stones, but before I obtained all of them they unlocked some ancient evil that even the less-evil fiends didn't want unlocked, and there was some other kind of stone hidden inside a girl, and, well, fuck if I know. The story's kind of all over the place.

The real highlight of this game, as in every Ninja Gaiden game, is the action. Dragon Sword's stylish combat would be solid enough if it used a traditional control scheme, but is made more impressive that it uses the stylus almost entirely. Holding down the stylus to the screen make Ryu run in the direction of the stylus, horizontal strokes on the touchscreen make Ryu use a normal melee attack, tapping the screen downward have him use an overhead slash, and upward strokes make him jump or use a launcher attack if in a combo. Certain combinations of these strokes allow Ryu to perform complicated maneuvers such as counter-attacks, air-dashing Swallow Strikes, or the famous Izuna Drop. This might sound like a disaster, but it's actually solid. By the endgame I was racking up combos of 60+ hits when I was on a roll.

Ryu also has ninpo magic techniques at his disposal, which require the player to tap a ninpo glyph on the corner of the screen and then trace it on a screen. These attacks are useful and powerful, and the time limit on tracing them is pretty generous. I had to use the healing ninpo for nearly every boss fight.

The only time controls other than the stylus are required are to pause (either Start or Select) or guard (A, B, X, or Y). Unusually, the game's presentation requires the player to hold the DS sideways, like a book, so the presentation is in "tallscreen" rather than widescreen, and by keeping his or her off hand holding the top of the DS (where the action buttons are), pulling off any move in the game becomes easy with practice.

The game's enemies are the usual mix of ninjas and demons ("fiends") that will swarm and maim you. None of the enemies seemed overly broken or powerful, with the possible exception of the final boss; for the life of me I'm still not sure what the proper timing/technique for dodging his green laser attack might be. If anything, bosses were underwhelming. Most of them are defeated as such: spam your range attack and dodge their attacks until you knock them down, combo them with your sword until they get back up, rinse and repeat. I used the bow and arrows so much during boss fights that at times it seemed like Ninja Gaiden: Robin Hood Edition.

Really, the game is pretty good, but it has two major weaknesses: it's easy and it's short. On medium difficulty I beat the game in short spurts over a matter of days; I died several times during the course of my playtime, but healing and checkpoints are so generously placed that I was never frustrated or even really challenged. The game is organized into thirteen chapters, and each chapter is a short dungeon that is designed to be beaten in twenty to thirty minutes. Overall it adds up to between five and seven hours.

These things (easy to moderate difficulty, short playtime) wouldn't normally be *that* grievous, if it were a different series. Ninja Gaiden games, both the NES trio and the recent console games, are challenging. Legendarily so. There is no doubt in my mind that certain NG fans dismiss Dragon Sword for its lack of difficulty, and I can see where they'd be coming from. So, for better or for worse, Dragon Sword is short and not very difficult. But definitely good.

Games Beaten: 2011 Edition

1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
5. Flower
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword


Next up could be damn near anything. I have a lot of ongoing playthroughs in the works, but I'll go out on a limb and guess it will be either Jeanne D'Arc or Trine.

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