After losing popularity in the fifth console generation, beat-em-up action games grew rare, almost to extinction. However, Capcom revitalized the genre by releasing Devil May Cry on the Playstation 2. Since then, several new beat-em-up series have sprung up, including God of War and Bayonetta. In addition, the resurgence of popularity in beat-em-ups was responsible for the revival of one of the hardest action-adventure series of the 8-bit era: Ninja Gaiden.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is a stylish beat-em-up action game for the Nintendo DS. Like its console based cousins, fast-paced, intense combat is the name of the game, and Dragon Sword delivers such combat. Stringing massive, hundred-hit combos together is an effortless task here. The action is visceral and intense, made possible by a perfect, entirely touch-screen based control scheme.
Like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, movement and combat is controlled through the DS’s touch screen. Touching a point on the map will cause your character to run to that point, sliding the stylus up makes him jump and slashing with the stylus will cause him to slash with his sword. Lightly tapping a point will cause your character to throw projectiles in that direction. Special moves and magical attacks are handled with specific directional stylus combinations. For example, slashing down, then up, then up again will make your character throw an enemy into the air, then jump after it to perform a brutal pile-driver attack. Pressing any button will cause your character to block incoming attacks. Tapping point while blocking will bring about an evasive roll. The entire control scheme is precise and easy to pick up. Without a doubt, gamers with little experience can pick up this game and start banging out lengthy combos.
Despite the accessibility of the combat, this is no mere button-masher. Enemies are numerous and susceptible or resistant to certain attacks. Predicting the movement and attack patterns of enemies is a must on the difficult later levels, giving combat a tactical edge to round off its fast-paced intensity. Nonetheless, the intense combat grows repetitive quickly. Dragon Sword’s thirteen levels boil down to sets of connected arenas for enemies to respawn and fights to take place. Variety is unsuccessfully forced in through simple environmental puzzles and gorgeous boss fights. The attempts at variety are uninteresting compared to the intense, but repetitive combat.
Graphically, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword blows nearly every other 3-D game on the Nintendo DS out of the water, often coming up to a near PSX level of quality. The 2-D cutscenes are fantastically drawn in a manga-style. In normal combat areas, 3D models are used on a prerendered 2-D backdrop in a Final Fantasy VII/Resident Evil fashion. The backdrops are impressively drawn and detailed, effectively disguising the fact that the levels are almost all the same. The 3-D characters are all fantastically animated, moving fluidly at 60 frames-per-second, action is made satisfying and visceral through amazing sword slashes.
Easily the most impressive parts of the game are the full 3-D boss battles. Where the engine is pushed to render large arenas with textured models and animated characters. Each special move is made even more intense in 3D and combat is absolutely beautiful. It is a shame however, that the entire game couldn’t be rendered in this fashion.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is also a treat for the ears. Sound effects are well-done, with violent sword slashes and shuriken plunges being precisely synthesized. Characters are voice-acted, roars, grunts and screams are made as they do battle. The music is also very good. Traditional Japanese-styled music is used for the central hub areas and adds atmosphere to the environments. Ethereal environments are accompanied by echoes and wind and boss battles are made intense with anachronistically contemporary techno-metal.
There is a story buried within Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, but that story fails as a motive for progression through the game. Even the beautiful cutscenes fail to tell an already uninteresting story. The plot is forgettable and best left ignored
Overall, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is a fantastic game for those seeking a portable action game. Nearly technical aspect of the game shines, from its unsurpassed visuals, tight controls and fun and fast fights. However, repetitive combat, recycled level design and forgettable story weaken this game, preventing Dragon Sword from entering the upper echelon of DS classics. 3.5/5
- Best Graphics on the DS
- Intense action
- Controls well
- Repetitive gameplay
- Weak story
- Short at six hours
- Average replay value