Saturday, August 11, 2012

Level Up: Shadow of the Ninja

Time to continue with 8-bit Ninja month! *GONG* However, I want to change the subject slightly to talk about the Wii Virtual console. I’ve talked before about how western gamers are now getting the chance to experience formerly Japan exclusive games for the first time. That being said, there are still some games released in North America that are very rare, and this would be an easy way to let gamers play them. Again, I appreciate being able to play Final Soldier, but I would definitely buy a Wii Points card just to play Knuckles Chaotix, Earthbound or EVO the search for Eden. Today’s game is on the Virtual Console, but was not a highly requested, popular or exclusive game to my knowledge. Out of curiosity, I bought it from another seller when I found a physical copy. The question I wanted to answer myself was “is this game good enough to be ported on the Wii Virtual Console before the other titles I mentioned”? Let’s find out in this review of Shadow of the Ninja for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The game is your typical platforming, sword slashing deal, but less chaotic than Ninja Gaiden. Movement in this game can be slower and a lot more calculated (like Batman NES in some ways). One of your skills is to be able to hang from the bottom of certain platforms. This not only creates some cool platforming moments, but helps out when facing certain kinds of enemies. You also have a special attack that you can use to clear off most of the screen, but it uses up like half your health (and doesn’t even look all that epic). One thing I really enjoyed though was that there are two weapons you can use: your default weapon is a sword, but you can find and use a *said slowly* ku-sa-ri-ga-ma (or “chain-whip-with-blade-thing” as I call it). (There are other weapons like throwing stars, but they’re limited to how often you can use them.) Though the kuasr- kasha- kusar-… Though the second weapon has a longer range, the reason I like it better is because you can whip it in 5 direction (anything that isn’t downwards), but this comes at the cost of not hitting enemies too close to you.
Those little extra hits can be costly, as you only have 5 continues to deal with. I find the game is still relatively easy though, and it doesn’t employ cheap tricks to take your life (like instantly dying if you fall down a pit). The game can seem short for this reason (you might not get the game play time from restarting again and again like in Ninja Gaiden). But if you are having problems, you can get a second player to help simultaneously. One player will be the male ninja and the other will be a female ninja (whose names I won’t even try to pronounce). According to Nintendo Power, this was the first male-and-female team up in video games. Ninja games just keep getting more awesome.
The story starts up 17 years from now (the year 2029) where somehow it seems the USA has become a dictatorship under the rule of Emperor Garuda. Since he actually seems to be worse than the Bush administration, the two previously mentioned Ninjas are sent to the nation’s largest city to assassinate him, stop his reign and avenge the innocent lives he’s taken. I really like this story; it’s basic, a little cheesy and cliché and opens the door for a lot of action (a perfect B movie plot if you will). And I have to say this: I think future Ninjas rock. Don’t get me wrong, sword clashing stories from feudal Japan are cool, but when someone is taking down future weapons with just a sword and some throwing stars, that is just bad ass.
Shadow of the Ninja surprised me: it’s not just good, it is REALLY good. Even on the technical side, though the characters are bigger than Ninja Gaiden’s, they really make it work in a very smooth way. It’s not as blood pumping or memorable as Ninja Gaiden, but it’s a really well made platforming title from Natsume. And if you think it’s unfair to compare this game so much to Ninja Gaiden, it really isn’t; when it came time to port this game to the Game Boy, the publishing rights were bought by Tecmo who made the Game Boy version a Ninja Gaiden spin-off called “Ninja Gaiden Shadow”. But I digress. My only really “complaint” about Shadow of the Ninja is the convoluted start up screen, where you see the game’s title, but have to wait for the cinematic to start for some reason, press SELECT and then you can start playing. Still, this is nothing to ruin the game for me. Though I still want Kunckles Chaotix, Earthbound and EVO on the Wii Virtual Console, this is a great title for only 500 points. I give Shadow of the Ninja for the NES 8 levels out of 10.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Level Up: Ninja Gaiden 2

This August, I decided to address a serious problem in my reviews: the lack of Ninjas. Sure I’ve presented games with Ninjas in them, but they were often character options or of the Turtle variety. I feel like talking about games where the focus is to play as a ninja. It’s like instant awesome for your game console (just ask TV Tropes). With the amount of ninja games available, I decided to limit myself to 8-Bit systems. I’ll start with the most obvious one since, when you think about 8-bit ninja games, you think about Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden series. So to start of 8-bit Ninja month *GONG * we have Ninja Gaiden 2 : The Dark Sword of Chaos for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
You guys all know I’m going to eventually say it, so I might as well get this point out of the way right now:  the Ninja Gaiden games are hard and this game is not an exception. But it’s a good kind of hard with a nice difficulty curve and no sudden spike in the challenge. You just have to constantly keep an eye out, have sharp reflexes and be prepared to handle any situation.
However, this is not the only thing the Ninja Gaiden series is known for: there is also the wall jump ability. I talked before about how awesome I think this skill is. Tecmo knew they had gold here, so many platforming areas rely on it. New to this game is the ability to climb up and down after clinging to a wall, which I’m not sure if I like or not. On the one hand, it allows you make adjustments and in some cases it allows for level layouts otherwise impossible. On the other hand, it eliminates the challenge of having to be precise with your jumps. It also made it so that you have to climb up or down a ladder at some point to move to the next screen, but if you jump down instead, even if you are right next to the ladder, it counts as a pit fall death.
All this excellent game play goes well with the level designs. Most levels have stage hazards (things like blowing wind, slippery ice, random darkness, etc…). These do a good job of building on the game play to offer a new challenge, but never change the game enough that it feels like something completely different. I do have a nit-pick that pausing at the right time can get around some of these hazards, which seems like bad programming to me.
And other than that, all I can say is that you have unlimited continues, so try, try again.
On a technical level, this game is AWESOME. It took me a while to figure out why the graphics look so different than other NES games, but it’s because, unlike games like Mario or Zelda, the Ninja Gaiden sprites are actually well proportioned (no big head). Ryu Hayabusa (the player character) is colored with a bright blue costume and oddly reddish outline, and since some of the enemies have a slight inhuman quality to them and most of them are washed out in dark colors, it makes a great visual contrast between good and bad. The cut scenes are really good too. It’s on the NES, so the animation looks like moving carboard cut outs, but there was a lot of effort put into making the characters as well detailed as possible.
The music in the game kicks ASS and gets the blood going. It fits the game perfectly: you’re a ninja on a mission, obstacles will get in your way, but you will get past them. Mystical and dark elements are felt in it too and you have to be serious. It’s all just well composed.
Ninja Gaiden 2: The Dark Sword of Chaos is one of those games that really lives up to its legacy. It’s fun, it’s hard, it’s really well made, it kicks ass and it will kick your ass. Sadly, I hesitate to give it a perfect score, as when I thought about it critically, there are a few things I would say are wrong with it: enemies repeatedly spawn if near the edge of the screen, if you lose ONE life on a boss, you have to redo its level, and then there’s that pause cheat and the ladder/pit annoyances I mentioned earlier. These are minor nit-picks however to an overall great gaming experience. Though I haven’t played through the entire NES trilogy, I feel as if it’s safe to say you need one of the Ninja Gaiden games if you have an NES. This particular one is said to be the easiest (as I think more can people beat it), but it still has a big challenge. I give Ninja Gaiden 2: the Dark Sword of Chaos for the NES 9.5 levels out of 10.