There is nothing better than being a ninja, I mean just think about it. You get to wear a kick-ass costume, carry a giant sword, and kick gigantic amounts of ass. So when Tecmo announced they were bringing Ninja Gaiden back to the Xbox in a sort of Director’s Cut of the game, I could barely contain my excitement. The first Gaiden is easily one of the best games, not to mention one of my top five, currently available on the Xbox. It’s the title Xbox wave in front of their PS2 brethren and mock them for not being able to play it on their console. It is the definitive action title and probably one of the best looking games this generation. So the question on your mind has to be is Black worth owning if I already have the original, most definitely, and for those that have yet to travel in the shoes of Ryu Hayabusa, you should be ashamed. Grab this budget priced gem now or simply miss out on the definitive action title this generation.
Unfortunately ZTGD was closed right before we had a chance to review the first NG game. Thankfully we have been given a second chance with Black. NGB is not a sequel by any means; in fact it’s more like a re-packaging of the first game with tons of extended content. First off those without Xbox Live are now being treated to the Hurricane Packs, which add new challenges, a camera fix, and even new enemies. Also included in this incredible package are extra costumes, an expanded version of the story, a port of the original Ninja Gaiden arcade game, new difficulty levels including easy for those that found the original too hard, and a new game mode focused on scripted missions. Team Ninja is truly the king of fan service; where else could you get this much extra stuff on top of an already amazing game, for the budget price of $29.99?
First let’s discuss the new mission mode; basically this is an extension of Hurricane Pack 2. This mode consists of throwing the player into an arena full of enemies and see if they can survive. While it sounds simple in design the execution results in some of the most visceral action you will ever engage in. Knowing that one false move will end the game, this is truly not for the faint of heart however, as Itagaki’s AI is relentless and unforgiving. The original HP contained 5 missions which were more than enough, but for Black they have added an additional 45 bringing the tally to a massive 50 extra missions. This in itself is more than worth the price tag. Thankfully Team Ninja has not made this mode accessible to those without either completing the new game or having a completed save file from the previous NG. Trust me this is a good thing, without playing through and becoming familiar with the nuances of NG this mission mode would truly hand you your ass.
The only downside to the mission mode is that it doesn’t offer any new combat environments. All of them have been ripped directly from the single-player mode. There is also only one new enemy aside from the HP additions in the form of a fire tossing red ninja. You spend most of the missions fighting wave after wave of enemies with the occasional boss battles which can contain up to two bosses from the single-player, yes I said two of the bosses, now talk about extreme difficulty. It will take time, patience, and lots of practice to become the Master Ninja, but it’s totally worth it. If you are in it for bragging rights you can, just like last game, upload your karma score to Xbox Live and compare with the other ninjas in the world.
While the missions are hard enough with just enemies Itagaki and company have limited all health power-ups in each section to challenge you even further. Like I stated this game is not for the weak of heart, NG is a perfect example of the relentless difficulty of old school gaming. Memorizing enemy patterns and weaknesses are key and defeating bosses will take more than simple button mashing. NG is not without rewards however, those who spend the time mastering its flawless combat system will find satisfaction in their progression.
For those that felt the first game was too hard Team Ninja has thrown in an easy difficulty fittingly titled “Ninja Dog’. Similar to Capcom’s Devil May Cry series you can access this mode by dying three times successively in the same spot. When you choose to play on Ninja Dog Ayane will come to your rescue and tease you about your choice to drop the difficulty. She will also question your skill as a ninja, very degrading, but appropriate. Now every time you reach one of the Kunai Scrolls Ayane will deliver you rice balls to refill health and ribbons that have the same effect as armlets. These give Ryu powers he normally wouldn’t have that early in the game, of course they are displayed for all the other ninjas to mock. One of them is even pink; imagine how masculine you will fell toting that thing around trying to act like a hard ass.
So now you may be wondering what has changed in the single-player portion of the game other than difficulty choices? Honestly not a whole lot, there are a couple of new cut scenes done with the in-game engine which add a bit more background to the story. These are a nice addition, but truly not worth playing through again if you have already beaten the game once. Team Ninja has also thrown in several new and familiar items for you pick up along the way including the Lunar staff. You can now obtain the Lunar very early in the game for those that did not have the luxury of downloading the Hurricane Packs. Other small additions include smoke bombs and even a new Armlet called The Armlet of Celerity which decreases the time it takes to build up the Ultimate Technique. They have also included the camera fix which was found in the first HP, basically it allowed you to switch to manual control and decide where you wanted the camera with the right thumbstick.
Probably the best part about Black is that considering all of these additions the core game still feels brand new. With all this talk of next-gen gaming NGB can stand tall knowing that graphically and game play wise it is head and shoulders above most games. I believe it will be a long time until an action game comes along to dethrone NGB; in fact it may take the boys at Team Ninja making NG2 for the Xbox 360 to top this masterpiece. Gaming hasn’t been this good in a while so take advantage of it while you can.
Overall I recommend anyone who loved the first NG to pick this game up. For the price you simply will not find a better deal this year. Even if you beat the first game to death including both Hurricane Packs, NGB is still worth owning. For those that passed the first time around now is your chance to see what everyone is raving about. Simply put the best action title ever conceived and quite possibly one of the best games you will ever play.