|If Ninja Gaiden Black wasn't enough, yet another special edition of the Xbox classic comes out this month, this time for the PS3|
Ninja Gaiden is considered royalty around these parts, not just for being soddin' ace back on the original Xbox, but also for holding the mantle as being one of the very first titles I ever "reviewed" on here. It's interesting (for me at least) to re-read those ramblings
now - posted back in the site's first week - as despite my positivity at the time, I guess I had no idea just how much it'd go on to impact my gaming life in the proceeding three years. Quite simply, numerous replays and re-releases have secured it as my fave action game ever.
For those who never had the pleasure, Gaiden was a ground-up reimagining of the old skool arcade game of the late '80s, reworked into a fully fledged 3D beat 'em up courtesy of Team Ninja's Tomonobu Itagaki. Yes, he renowned for his extreme fondness for overly exaggerated female endowments of the digital kind (the Dead or Alive series), along with his extreme fondness for overly exaggerated female endowments of the real life
kind (sexual harassment lawsuits).
Following the burning down of his village and the stealing of the sacred Dark Dragon sword, Gaiden is a bloody revenge tale following Tecmo vet Ryu Hayabusa. With the sole aim of tracking down evil doer Doku - he responsible for the bloodshed - Ryu does whatever it takes to secure vengeance and retrieve said blade. Including - to name but a few activities - crashing trains into each other, taking down entire military compounds single handedly, and - most impressively of all - quite literally wrestling an entire airship to the ground. On fire.
There's little story really, but Gaiden's brilliance stems not from its padding, but its pure undiluted action. You think God of War's the shit? Big fan of Devil May Cry? Hah. What little you know of the universe. Ninja Gaiden is the one. There's simply no fighting game quite like her.
Ryu Shoots First
|One of Sigma's few new areas. It even includes an additional boss or two, but I'll resist the urge to spoil|
What exactly's Sigma then, this month's new PS3 release? A lot of things, really. The bulk of the package is comprised of a full HD reworking of the aforementioned Xbox game. Not only up-rezzed to 1080p, this also includes new lighting, improved textures and a general next-gen facelift right across the board. It's not quite
the glorious PS3 tour-de-force some may be expecting on the visual front - some levels, like the opener, look incredible, while others, namely the airship, feel all but identical to their Xbox counterpart - but it's hardly an eyesore either.
The bulk of the game itself remains true to the Xbox original - a few minor nips and tucks aside - although there are one or two larger new additions worth high-lighting. Most notably, Rachel - blonde demon hunter slash bondage vixen extraordinaire (avec massive tats) - has been thrown in as a playable character. Her missions are peppered in-between Ryu's, fleshing out the story a little further, while adding some pleasing variety on top. She handles differently however, more of a slow, methodical and hard hitting Barbarian type compared to Ryu's razor sharp, high-speed, lightning reflexes, but the downside is all her levels are comprised primarily of areas found in Ryu's tale, which sorta stinks.
|Rachel's fun, but certainly no Ryu. Breast physics prove hypnotic though, even getting me killed once or twice|
All in all though, while she looks borderline ridiculous - like she'd be more at home tying Ryu up and spanking his arse raw like a bad boy - I still approve of her addition to the Gaiden saga, and her missions clock in just short enough as to never outstay their welcome.
Then there's the weaponry. All the original instruments of murder appear present and correct of course, along with the additional tools of destruction found in the various Xbox era upgrade packs (including Dig's instrument of choice, the all-powerful Lunar bo-staff). Joining them now though is the new PS3 exclusive twin Katana blades. What these bad boys lack in run-of-the-mill combos, they more than make up for in truly spectacular charge-attacks, firing off some of the most awe-inspiring, enemy slicing, boner stiffening craziness yet seen in the series. Truly spectacular.
Along with leaderboards and new difficulty modes, there's also a mission mode to sink your teeth into, unlocked via completing the main game. There's a good 25 new such missions thrown in with this edition, rounding off a - needless to say - pretty darn hefty package all in all. Particularly with that main campaign racking up a good 20-odd hours of play alone.
Taking a Slash
Beyond that lot though, this is still the same old Ninja Gaiden at its core. Sweet, beautiful Ninja Gaiden. The combat proves just as thick and fast as ever, both gorgeously over the top, yet surprisingly deep as to take years to fully master. With so much to think about every single second of every single battle - from blocking, to counters, to specials, to dodging - there's really no fighter quite so arresting.
|I'll be honest, at the time of writing I'm stuck on the final boss. The game's still hard as hell|
It's still tough too. Gaiden is a rare game where the bog-standard, low-level grunt can quite easily wipe you out if not paying attention. I exaggerate not. Thankfully, a "Ninja Dog" difficulty mode is included here, one unlocked via dying multiple times in succession, which pulls the sheer hardness down a notch or two towards something more akin to God of War and friends.
Personally though, as tough and frustrating as Ninja Gaiden is, I kinda dig the sheer ruthlessness of it. As I've always preached, it's a tough game, yet never a cheap one; when you die in Gaiden, you do it 'cos you fucked up, plain and simple. You may need super human reflexes to survive some of the more over the top boss battles, but the game does a truly exceptional job of building you up to such a level without you even realising it. The rewards you reap from such harsh and punishing teachings prove oh so satisfying, and this sir, is Gaiden's ultimate, unmatched strength.
That said, some minor alterations to the main missions ease things up ever so slightly this time around. The odd extra potion here, a couple of new checkpoints there, all combine to remove some of the more ludicrous difficulty spikes found previously. This rounds the game off with a more seamless difficulty curve that retains the game's underlining strictness, but perhaps makes it slightly more accessible to those who never had the patience to crack that first hour.
|Gaiden pretty much looked "next-gen" back in Xbox land, so don't expect a huge improvement here. Still looks fab, mind|
So far so good then. All this positivity aside though, at the end of the day, Gaiden is
three years old now, and it pains me to say, is starting to show its age in places. The combat is just as cutting edge and brutal as ever, but presentation-wise, it's really rather lacking these days. Text introductions, minimal voice acting, and small, static environments, just don't quite cut it in light of some of gaming's more recent advancements.
Also, in spite of not quite reaching the all-encompassing brilliance expected of the visuals, they still
suffer minor performance issues like (albeit occasional) frame-rate lapses and annoying screen tearing. This is a particular disappointment considering it doesn't look, for instance, up to the standard of Genji, nor some of the other PS3 titles seen so far. The 60 frames per second does go a long way, mind, in that it not only decks the game out in a beautiful fluidity, but is down-right required for one so fast-paced and full-on.
|Much like the Wii with its Resi4 port, the PS3's best game yet is a merely upgraded version of an old classic. But it's sooo good|
Compounding this slight resentment surrounding the graphics is the disappointing fact that none of the gorgeous CGI cinematics from the original have been re-rendered for this version. That's right, we're still stuck in 480p territory, all that Blu-Ray space seemingly gone to waste. More bizarre than anything, this.
Adding to the nag-fest is Gaiden's camera, which comes off slightly unwieldy these days, making it just as much of an enemy as those Ryu dispatches at times. Perhaps worst of all though, the UK version of the game has been the victim of mob-like censorship, by way of the complete removal of all in-game decapitations. This particularly irks me, as playing the US version, I can attest to them not only looking pretty friggin' sweet, but also proving immensely useful from a gameplay perspective too (trust me, in a colossal group bundle, a flying head or two provides valuable feedback as to how a fight's progressing).
But hey, you know what? None of that stuff truly matters at the end of the day. This is still the best game on the PS3 for me. Even with age, visual issues, and totalitarianist censorship at work. 'Cos it's Ninja Fooking Gaiden. The fighter to slaughter all fighters. The game I fell in love with back in 2004. And the game, here in '07, I'm more than happy to buy all over again.
For a third bleedin' time...