|By Zach Patterson||Tuesday, 7 Apr 2009|
Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword (yes, another title pun made using DS) is, without a doubt, a very high quality title for the DS. It has a unique and interesting control scheme, easily some of the best graphics on the DS, and most importantly of all, gameplay that keeps you interested through the course of the story. It certainly isn’t perfect either, and I think the easiest criticism to level against it is that while the game is pretty, it’s also a rather disposable affair.
I will hand it to Team Ninja though, they really produced a beautiful game. You really need to see it in action to appreciate it. It appears to use techniques made popular on the original Playstation, in series’ such as Resident Evil or Final Fantasy, where the game was made to look prettier than perhaps the system could handle by using nice pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D characters that run around them. Here, Team Ninja did well to avoid the pitfalls of this technique by making the characters and enemies look nice enough so that all of it meshes together, instead of having a nice background and ugly low-res polygon characters overlaid on top. Ryu, the townspeople, the enemies, and the bosses simply looks great and for the most part, and you barely notice that the prerendered backgrounds are there. In short, this is among the best looking games on the system, and that certainly counts for something.
Additionally, this is an all touch screen affair (with the DS held like a book), which normally would make many people cringe immediately, and that’s not without good reason, really. As most seasoned DS owners know, every developer at some point has subjected the gamer to this idea, and usually it’s a disaster or an annoying gimmick. Here, it works surprisingly well. The reason it works is its simplicity. Tap an enemy, Ryu throws a projectile. Swipe at an enemy up or down, Ryu slashes accordingly. Drag the stylus, Ryu runs to that point. Flick up with the stylus, Ryu jumps, and you can do numerous combos from there. There’s some other small moves, but that’s really it, and it works really well in battle.
The problem with the system is that many times it just ends up being a touch screen killer because too often the number of enemies threaten to surround you and you simply scribble madly and then watch Ryu pull off some random combo. And often times, especially as you level up your attacks, the wild stylus motions you make seem to result in grandiose attacks that you aren’t sure you actually pulled off. It still works well, but I was glad the game was short, both for the fact that it seemed like it would become repetitive, and to save my poor screen.
The controls do have drawbacks, with the main issue being that it’s simply not as accurate as using the buttons. Occasionally, you end up running into an enemy when you want to jump, or throwing when you want to slash, among other annoyances. This can end up being costly in important situations. Also, in boss fights, the perspective changes to behind the back of Ryu, and it ends up causing more small mistakes more often, where the bosses love to punish you for missteps. However, the controls are still very good for what they are, and definitely kept me in the game.
Speaking of the bosses, while they are generally big, angry creatures (and nice looking), almost all of them are very similar (there’s a few variations) and can be dispatched by spamming the same attacks over and over again. I would have liked to have seen some more variety and more creative ways to take them out.
The story is a throwaway, with the basic “find x objects, defeat y villains, save our village”. The town has tons of villagers that really don’t add much personality to the game. The enemies don’t go much beyond the typical “bwahaha we’re evil, and we’ll plunge the world into darkness!” shtick either, so this is about as cookie cutter as it gets. Additionally, while the music is by no means bad, I can’t for the life of me remember anything good about it. Some vaguely asian sounding music mixed with middling battle themes. Is it so much to ask to have some arrangements of classic NG tunes?
I have to admit I still haven’t really played the newer NG games, so I don’t quite have that way of comparing them, but even without that, I know this is a pretty simplified version of those games. I felt it was a little like the original Devil May Cry would play like if made for a portable system and adjusted for touchscreen controls…and shortened by a few hours. It has a similar purchase upgrade system and rewards for killing enemies, as well as fixed camera angles for each screen, and some similar moves (like the ability to attack from long range or up close and some impressive combo attacks).
Ultimately, Dragon Sword has an excellent current gen feel on a system that’s not built for those kind of games, and that is refreshing. Unfortunately, the game only takes about 5 hours to complete it, it’s not terribly challenging at the normal difficulty, and there’s not much in the way of variety or bonuses. The game is very by-the-numbers. Go to level, defeat enemies on each screen, maneuver through annoying timed environment trap or solve rudimentary switch puzzle, fight boss, collect dragonstone. There’s not much in the way of sidequests, as the game is incredibly linear. As I said, it doesn’t last long enough to get really old and the action is fun for what it is, but in the end, it also doesn’t really feel like it’s worth the 30-35 bucks most places will charge you for it. It’s a solid purchase if you want a nice action game and you don’t have a lot of time to play games, and can get it a little cheaper than the MSRP.