Conference Call - Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)

Ninja Gaiden has already been highly praised and generally slobbered over by a number of reviews. It seems one can't swing a reanimated fossilized dragon these days without hitting a near giddy flow of gleeful analysis on the topic. Devoted to the art of slicing bad guys with swords, Ninja Gaiden has developed a near universal image of being a violent, high-quality, and tremendously difficult game, all adjectives which adroitly describe the experience, though tremendously difficult might be a bit understated. So naturally, with the gaming media virtually unanimous in declaring Ninja Gaiden as some kind of old-school second coming, one would have to be a fool to take any sort of exception.

Ninja Gaiden

With that kind of daunting journalistic gauntlet thrown down before us, neither Certis nor I felt entirely confident in expressing what we perceived to be a more genuine interpretation of the Ninja Gaiden experience, which brings us to this latest effort in tag-team reviewing. For those who've not enjoyed a Conference Call before, the idea is rather simple – as befits us – both Certis and I take turns giving you a clever, entertaining, and occasionally insightful commentary on the game at hand. Failing all that, we'll perhaps just make fun of each other for your amusement. We have no pride.

Let's get started...

Certis: I don't know if I can do this, you said we were clever and entertaining. That's a lot of pressure.

Elysium: Don't worry. As usual, you come up with some mildly literate things to say, and then I'll make you look good. You ought to be getting comfortable riding my coattails by now!

Certis: Mildly literate"… mildly. Ok. Better start simple then. How's your hand?

Elysium: A little sore. My war wound has been acting up lately.

Certis: I didn't know throwing a hissy-fit like a belligerent five year old was considered a "war wound". Do you get a purple heart for punching your controller like that when a video game pisses you off?

Elysium: Just because you didn't connect emotionally with Ninja Gaiden to the same depths as I doesn't make me a belligerent five year-old! I was so deeply invested in game, that to not punch my controller would have been an insult to the designers who were obviously trying to crush my will to live. For the record I have no shame for my outburst; it was a pure expression of emotion, and if this game has "… oh who am I kidding?!

However, the controller punching incident makes a nice opening for talking about what must be Ninja Gaiden's defining characteristic. That being that the game is more difficult than understanding advanced mathematic principles of quantum physics. In fact, it might actually be easier to become a demon fighting ninja, than to play one on TV.

Certis: In Canada, we take quantum physics in kindergarten. The thing about Ninja Gaiden's difficulty isn't that it's a hard game to master. There are plenty of controls and combos to learn but the fact of the matter is the camera system and the way Team Ninja uses it to abuse the player is heart (and hand) breaking.

Ninja Gaiden

Elysium: And, let's not forget, a point I intend to beat to death with a club, the evil that is the Ninja Gaiden save system! The game, particularly when you encounter a boss, is already difficult on its own, but what becomes really annoying is how that difficulty is magnified by what I can only call design flaws. Certis is (unusually) right, the camera system is the worst culprit. Throughout my time playing, I rarely felt that the camera was adequate for the battle I was in. At pretty much every turn (literally, every time I turned my character in a new direction) I'd have to fight the unresponsive camera as I would a stalled plane with wing damage. For as much time as I spent jumping, dodging, swinging, and being killed I spent even more trying to figure out where I was in relation to the battalion of people poking me with swords. I still have nightmares about horse riding soldiers appearing out of nowhere, skewering me, and then disappearing. It was really quite frustrating, and I have the bloody scabs to prove it!

Certis: Yes, and don't send your scabs to me in the mail this time, I don't need proof, I believe you! When you're simply running down the street the camera is fine, it floats behind you and life is good. If you encounter an enemy the camera does its own thing, sometimes swinging around if you run into a wall, sometimes staying where you left it while you slice and dice. The only real control you have is pressing the trigger button and snapping the camera behind you again. This means there is no way to see what's coming around the corner and no option to push yourself against the wall and take a peak.

Hence the camera-imposed difficulty. Often you'll hit a corner and be blind-sided by a ninja or gun wielding soldier without any way of dealing with him until you recover from the first blow. In the thick of the action there are also many times when almost all of your enemies are off-screen because the camera is too stupid and unwieldy to orientate. Some bosses even seem to have attacks that specifically throw the camera out of whack so you can't retaliate.

So why is Ninja Gaiden getting all these awesome reviews? I think there are two reasons. One, reviewers are afraid to admit they suck at a game even if it's the game's fault. The second being when everything does work, it can be really satisfying.

Elysium: That's a good point, because I agree when not struggling with the controls, worrying about your saves, or fighting the camera, when you can just sit and fight your enemy as honorable soldier versus iron-clad gun toting goliath, Ninja Gaiden shines. I really don't take much issue with a game being difficult, but what does bother me is when it masks its own failings in the guise of gameplay. I'm so tired of hearing, for example, how the Spartan save system heightens the feeling of tension. Screw you! The gameplay and plot are supposed to heighten the feeling of tension, not anachronistic design features that should be banished to one of the higher numbered circles of hell. Aaaargh.

Oops. I'm bleeding again. Maybe you should talk for a moment.

NinjaGaiden

Certis: It just wouldn't be a review without a little bloodshed. I think the base design decision behind Ninja Gaiden is that they wanted it to feel as "old school" as possible. Inconsistently placed save-points that are either two minutes apart or twenty, frequent boss fights that require repetition to beat once you learn the tricks, and enemies throwing flaming ninja stars that blow up in your face and totally piss you off are all par for the course. You can't reach back into the 80's for basic game design guys, just because it's "classic" doesn't mean it's good!

Elysium: I guess the old school aspect would explain why the three-dimensional camera is so woefully incompetent. I think we should admit that a lot of our frustration with Ninja Gaiden rests in the fact that ultimately it kicked our ass. I looked it up, by the way, and Ninja Gaiden translates to Ninjas Will Beat You Down Like a Flaccid Sack of Meat. Isn't that interesting?!

Certis: Yeah, we can justify it all we want but the bottom line is that there are plenty of thirteen year olds out there with lots of time on their hands willing to play the same sequence over and over again until they whip it. Whip it good. Do do do dooo do.

Elysium: Well, of course they have more time what with all the sex they're not having! So, let's talk about some of the good things about Ninja Gaiden. Like, for example, its stellar visual presentation. Putting aside for the moment the issue of Rachel the demon huntress' fleshy bulbs of what I assume to be some kind of advanced chest plating, the gameplay and CG cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous! The animation for Ryu, and his enemies is smooth, and the framerate even in the heat of pitched battle is always fast. The furious action feels smooth, at least when you can get a good look at it, and the levels are highly detailed and immersive.

Certis: If you had any doubt about the fiend in Rachel those breasts should have sealed the deal for you. My god. In terms of graphics I also want to point out that the enemies were many and varied throughout the game. It wasn't simply a matter of fighting the red/blue/grey ninja over and over again which was nice. The music you'll find in Gaiden is the expected twangy sort of Ninja techno one might hear while flipping out at tanks. I enjoyed it fine and never turned it off completely (which is what I usually do) so points for music. The grunts, blood gushing squelches and explosions all sounded just like my nights in the mean streets of Winnipeg back when I was a punk teenager.

Elysium: Rough place that Winnipeg?

Certis: Oh yeah, polar bear gangs are a big problem when they get mixed up with the Eskimos in the north end of town.

Final thoughts?

NinjaGaiden

Elysium: I started off really enjoying Ninja Gaiden, and the difficulty of the fights I was presented with never really bothered me when I wasn't hampered by issues like the camera. Unfortunately the more I played, the less I liked the game. I know that won't be a popular opinion, and I'm sure someone will show up soon to tell me how their four year old brother beat the game during an epileptic seizure, but I'm sticking by my assessment. The game is good, but it's not necessarily as good as it's been portrayed.

Aside from the issues with the camera, the old school difficulty, the execrable save system, and my stunted capacity for emotional restraint, eventually I just started to get bored. The game began to feel repetitive. The combat devolved into a trial and error exercise of intuiting specific patterns of attacks for the endless cadre of enemies, and it felt like the developers placed a priority on trying to irritate the player above genuinely challenging them. When I finally stopped playing it wasn't out of frustration, but out of disinterest. I just didn't feel compelled to keep moving forward. It's an often beautiful game with an admittedly deep well of combat moves, but it is too often frustrating and rarely rewarding enough to inspire.

Maybe I'm just not that hardcore anymore, but knowing what it takes to be hardcore leaves me without any desire to return to that status.

Certis: Execrable? I just looked that up in the dictionary and it specifically states that I should punch anyone who uses it in a sentence. I'm REALLY looking forward to E3 now! Anyways, I have to agree with everything you just said there, it pretty much matches my feelings to the letter. Eventually I went from "I'll beat you yet, you little rascal!" to complete frustration and a surprising level of boredom considering the frantic sort of gameplay contained within. As I got to around Chapter Ten I realized that half of my time was spent playing the same areas over and over again which got bad enough to negate any warm and tingly sense of accomplishment I may have had after beating an especially tough boss fight. If you've got a good threshold for pain and you remember to wrap your knuckles before playing I highly recommend giving Ninja Gaiden a rent before you consider a buy. I think I had a good three days worth of fun with it before the faults really piled up and killed it for me. Perfect rental!

Elysium: I too would recommend a rental before a buy. I have to admit that I feel like the rave reviews lavished on Ninja Gaiden have been a little starry eyed, and don't fully address some of the issues. If I take some heat for that, so be it. I think for the gamer that Ninja Gaiden is trying to appeal to, namely those fearless gaming prodigies who can dominate any game as an ill-tempered German Shepherd would dominate a timid kitten, this is their digital dream, but for most of the rest of us it's a frequent exercise in frustration.

- Certis & Elysium

Comments

Oooohhhh... me likey this semi-review format. Nice job, guys!

NG sounds a lot like what I've heard about Viewtiful Joe: Great graphics and gameplay... but way too difficult for the 'average' gamer to really get into. Being sub-average in the area of twitch reflexes, I'll have to pass. Why can't developers toss in an extra-easy mode for those of us who prefer to enjoy our gaming sans crystal meth?

You'll both writhe in fiery torment for your naysaying caterwaulings!

I haven't reached the point of unending frustration and fury, so I can hardly comment.

So..... your saying the game is hard and has a bad camera system?

I'm sitting here picturing the two gays guys review bit from In Living Colour. We give it 2 swirls and a snap!

Actually I do like the format. It's a nice change of pace from reading the typical review.

Well, that pretty much summed up everything I had to say about the game. Course my boredom threshold kicked in around chapter 7. Repetition makes me nauseous. Prince of persia got away with what it had because I felt the story was compelling... Ninja Gaidian actually lost me when the buffy like mega breasted hoe showed up and was swallowed but the postulating pennis playing the roll of the 5th(?) boss. The worse part of all that was my wife had been mildly entertained by my skillfully decapitation of Ninjas and even gone so far as the kibitz with useful bits like "Oh, you really shouldn't die like that" and "Well, they where there last time too dummy". After the breast showed up she started mocking the game (rather then me) and thus it was relegated to the wee hours :(, a little restraint would have been aprcieated guys *shakes fist in general direction of the art department*.

You know, Griffon, I'm not entirely sure why, because I didn't play in front of my wife, but that was the point where it shifted for me as well. Rachel showed up, and I just started rolling my eyes and realizing how full of cliches and repetition the game was. Save, enter room, fight 2-3 enemies (possibly fight them again if they respawn), go to next room, fight similar enemies, repeat multiple times, solve derivative puzzle, encounter giant boss. Inject some dying into the mix and you've got Ninja Gaiden. I'm sure that's going to do it for a lot of people, but I expect more from games. People will tell me it's all about the fun, and if they're having fun with that, then more power to them. I'd like some substance.

Also the game is hard, the camera sucks, and the save system blows. It is pretty though.

Ninja Gaidian actually lost me when the buffy like mega breasted hoe showed up and was swallowed but the postulating pennis playing the roll of the 5th(?) boss.

Not only that, it spits her back out and all of a sudden it's the All-American Bukkake Show.

Great review, glad I'm just renting it. Gamefly has saved me from myself again!

I'm in Chapter 10 as well, and fading fast. I had to stop fighting the 2 worm-things before I went berserk.

I've made it to chapter twelve or thirteen or something, i've lost track.. and now faced with not 1 but 2 boss fights in a row, and no healing potions.. i'm going to have to run back to town to buy some more.. so i've earned myself another hour of frustration at least..

As much as I'd like to disagree with Certis and Ely(mostly because Ninja Gaiden was one of the games that determined I would purchase an XBOX 2 years ago). I can't. It's hard.. and repetitive, and has some serious design flaws. While i can't speak to the design flaws(because let's face it.. they suck), I do have something to say about the repitition. I don't mind. I find it to be much better than the repetiton that games like splinter cell forced me through(Doh! that guy saw me again.. now i have to go through those three rooms of terrorists again!). At least i feel like it's faster paced repitition than alot of games lately(Another example being Halo.. walk into a room.. kill baddies.. walk into next room.. ad infinum).

I think i'll finish it.. but i probably won't beat it again.. and i definately am not going to be able to unlock the other games(which sucks because those i'd like to try again and see if they're as good as i remember or not).

Oh, and btw, I like the review format.. much more interesting than most.

I have to agree, other wise I'll be lying... save system is horrible. However the camera system is ok in my opinion. It could have been a lot better but it is not the worst. The game it self is not uber-difficult, and honestly I actually like the way it is right now and probably I'm the only person who seems to have a blast playing it... I agree there are times when I feel like throwing a controller at the TV, but once I finish of a boss, for some reason it seem worth it...

Great change up on the normal review. It's be interesting to get a "pile on" as well, geting the reactions of other "Execs" that have played through the game.

All in all, sounds like I can wait for the game to drop in price a bit before purchasing it. I'm not all that hardcore, and the only game I'm going to devote time to going over a section in is Diablo II.

I'm on my third controller now. I think it's the game more than my dropping it on the floor or "clapping" it against my other hand in frustration. The controllers were old and the game just overheated them.

Your guys review bothers me, because I'm still in the "I'll get you, you little rascal!" stage of development. The beginning of chapter 8.

I've been okay with the repetition of the game because even though your in a room fighting the same four guys again, no two fights ever go down exactly the same way, and I'm constantly tuning my skills and looking for new ways to behead people.

I agree, I lost a great deal of respect for the game when insane large beasts filled the screen, and I decided I would keep this one in the basement. That's where the game started to feel cheesy.

When you get "in the groove" with the game, it's really awesome. Technically it's very impressive, especially when you look at some of those mob fights. How do they get that many high detail monsters on the screen at one time without a frame rate drop?

They cut camera code, that's how.

So it's not going to get GOTY, but I believe it's worth most of the praise it's gotten.

Damn, you both quit at chapter 10?

I'm not going to give away any spoilers, but we both individually quit at almost the exact same spot.

This is bumming me out.

I was enjoying the game so far.

Mental note: chapter 10, look out.

I think it was chapter 11... I could be wrong.

Elysium wrote:

You know, Griffon, I'm not entirely sure why, because I didn't play in front of my wife, but that was the point where it shifted for me as well. Rachel showed up, and I just started rolling my eyes and realizing how full of cliches and repetition the game was. Save, enter room, fight 2-3 enemies (possibly fight them again if they respawn), go to next room, fight similar enemies, repeat multiple times, solve derivative puzzle, encounter giant boss. Inject some dying into the mix and you've got Ninja Gaiden. I'm sure that's going to do it for a lot of people, but I expect more from games. People will tell me it's all about the fun, and if they're having fun with that, then more power to them. I'd like some substance.

Also the game is hard, the camera sucks, and the save system blows. It is pretty though.

I'm right there with you, I have limited gaming time so I demand that it be entertaining time, I just happened to be entertained by story and character development not repetition :p. I can handle hackneyed arch types and clichés in proportion but they have to be relevant and presented in a entertaining way...I think at some level Ninja Gaindain fails to do so. After the 1st boss there where a story connection and some substance, but all the bosses after that really failed to mean anything to me, and seemed to just be dropped in as generic level blocks, I didn't care for that. Tell me why I should fear boss (other then the crappy save system), why he is there doing his thing and I need to take him out...maybe even give me some in game clues to do so. Is all that so much ask? I guess it is. I doubt I'll make past 8 at this point.

It's interesting. This echos my thoughts on the game almost exactly. Although I had a few other complaints about the poor design decisions that they made. Such as making the X button both attack and use. I found myself stepping through doorways in the middle of a hard battle only to step back through the same doorway and fight all the re-spawned enemies. I finally got to the point where I'd move away from doorways (often taking damage in the process) so that I wouldn't trigger that particular bug. And they left the white button completely unassigned. What kind of an idot made that decision and why didn't his test team kill him for it?

And yet despite the massive flaws in the game I made it to the end of level six before getting bored and annoyed. That surprised me.

Considering the blazingly fast pace that this purely action game moves at the camera is probably about as good as you can get. I have to agree with the sentiments on Rachael here. That was the moment I started to lose my 80's boyhood grin and enjoyment because they just had to smack me in the face with breasts the size of King Kong's head.

Did anyone *really* expect a good plot from the people that made DOA: Beach Volleyball? Heck, I was half in fear of that all the enemies would be scantily clad women in bkini's that, when killed, stay around twitching in suggestive manners.

I still like it. They did purposely go for a similar feel to the 8 bit games. Do you not remember the frustration of the NES originals? Doing the same section over and over that was seemingly impossible the first time through until eventually you develop the ability to pass through completely unscathed. That is what the game is going for, and largely succeeds at. Sure some of the save points are far apart causing you to die and have to repeat large chunks of the game, but so many times during the repetition I've discovered hidden scarabs, weapons, or pathways that I had missed before. Not to mention during this time you become better at handling enemies that perhaps the last time through you were able to defeat, but never really developed a strategy for dealing with effectively.

It's a different type of game than we usually see and admittedly is not without its problems, but overall it succeeded admirably in bringing the Ninja Gaiden series up to date.

Do you not remember the frustration of the NES originals?

I do remember. I also remember listening to 8-track.

But, to each their own. I'm really kind of surprised there weren't more people calling for our heads on a ninja sword. Just reinforces to me that the gaming press again got overly excited without really talking about their game. I checked Game Rankings yesterday and the number of perfect and near-perfect scores is just silly.

Actually I'm really curious how that happened. I mean.. for a fanboy(like myself) this game is excellent.. not perfect but frankly it didn't matter what they put in the box i was going to buy it the day it came out because of my nostalga for the originals.

however, if I hadn't played the earlier games. I would hate this game.. and frankly I'm surpised that the game review sites seem to have forgotten that.

Yeah they seemed to get over excited. Remember Brute Force? That was another one. Black and White, etc....

Of course, no one here has played it to the end, so you can't be entirely sure it's not worthy of a higher score....

I still think it's the most intense 3rd person action adventure I've ever played.

I look at games like Otgoi 2, Van Hesling, Blood Rayne 2, and wonder if I can even bother with them after the Ninja Gaiden experiance. I'm expecting those games to seem weak and swallow in comparision.

Of course, no one here has played it to the end, so you can't be entirely sure it's not worthy of a higher score....

See, I disagree with that. There were enough levels, and situations that made me not want to play this game that the end becomes irrelevant. I don't believe after what I played, which was much more than 50% of the game, that any ending would have really convinced me to change my opinion.

Ridlin wrote:

I look at games like Otgoi 2...

Well, as far as I know i would not be going to Otogi... that game is boring comparing to NG.

I'm on chapter 14 and still having a total blast... Guess I haven't hopped on the "hate on popular games" trend that most jaded gamers tend to do these days. The camera problems are minimal at best, unless of course hitting the R trigger is somehow hard for you? The difficulty is WAY overblown, I have had only a few parts really nail me. As for the saving, the longest I have had to repeat was about 10 minutes, definitely better then some games.

Oh well, each to their own.

Guess I haven't hopped on the "hate on popular games" trend that most jaded gamers tend to do these days.

Has nothing to do with it.

I hate it when people fine all sort of reasons to bash a game when the only reason to bash it is that the game is simply too hard for their skills. Not the kind of stuff I expect to read here, especially going as far as accusing the gaming press of giving high scores purely based on hype. You're all wrong! All of you! I hold the truth, and this game is over rated! Please.

Would it be better if we decided to go against our opinion of the game to follow the pack? And, it's not a stretch to accuse the gaming press of getting over enthusiastic at hype, it's certainly happened before. And, as you can see from some other responses we've received we're not entirely alone in our opinion. I'm really surprised at the vitriol at disagreeing with our perspective. Why so angry?

I'm not angry, I for one am extremely frustrated with this game so far, but I know it's because I suck at it, not because of some minor flaws. Of course you're gonna get a lot of support from the readers around here, we're old gamers with decreasing reflexes and patience and a large percentage of us are probably about to switch to The Sims, MMORPG's and other games not requiring too much dexterity. Every time I see complaints about the lack of a save anywhere feature I can't help but think that these people would be better off watching some sort of semi interactive movies than playing games.

Just reinforces to me that the gaming press again got overly excited without really talking about their game. I checked Game Rankings yesterday and the number of perfect and near-perfect scores is just silly.

Anyway, I'm not saying you HAVE to like it and you made some valid points in your review, but that part was a bit much.

xxx