Monday, 7 February 2011

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword

Prior to meeting Muramasa for the second time, every non-enemy character in Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword can be conversed with by simply tapping on them with your trusty stylus. But no matter how many times you touch "the kindly old man", no matter how long you spend inelegantly jumping up and down in front of him, he just won't wake from his deep slumber lying in the middle of a bridge. But then the idea to shout Muramasa's name into the microphone dawned on us, and immediately the elderly store owner jumped up. It's an excellent re-introduction to a key character in this slight but extremely well-formed adventure.

Employing the DS's microphone in such a way is of course far from novel, but it's a moment that does show how considerate of the host hardware Team Ninja were when designing this off-shoot, retaining the series' essence whilst understandably curtailing its more notorious aspects. Played with the DS held sideways, with the left screen displaying the game map, control of Ryu Hayabusa is akin to that of Link in Phantom Hourglass: slashing across enemies will attack them in various ways, depending on the direction in which you moved the stylus, whilst dodging (or 'Reverse Wind', as the instruction manual states), is as easy as holding down any face button and pointing either to the left or right.

At first it makes for a compromised experience, as swathes of demons are disposed of as easily as if you were popping the surface of bubble wrap. It's only several chapters in that the beauty of the system materialises, Ryu quickly attacking, then weaving out of harm's way before calling upon a magic attack. With its combination of nimble movement and furious action (albeit with disappointingly easy bosses, at least in Normal mode) Dragon Sword is in fact not unlike its console brothers in terms of the feel of gameplay - quite the compliment when you consider the glorious fluidity of combat in both Ninja Gaiden and its sequel (a fluidity arguably only matched in recent years by Bayonetta).

Despite viewed mostly from above using a fixed camera, there are frequent shifts in Dragon Sword to strict 2D planes, with brief brawls in corridors that recall this classic fight from Oldboy (well kind of, but it's an excuse just to watch this scene again):

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword was generally well received upon release, a great example of what can be achieved when the innate feel of a supposedly unconvertible franchise is weaved into a machine as unique as the Nintendo DS. A Nintendo 3DS Ninja Gaiden has already been confirmed by Team Ninja, which if handled with as much intelligence as evidenced here, could be quite spectacular.

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