Ninja Gaiden

Is Ninja Gaiden already a lock for the best action game of the year? Find out!

The mysterious, black-clothed assassins have been making a video-game comeback recently, but the results have been lackluster so far. Ninja Gaiden changes all of that with a kick-ass effort that redefines the classic franchise.

Code of the Ninja
When the original trilogy of Ninja Gaiden games was released on the NES, it set a standard for fast action and a high degree of challenge. This Xbox revival manages to achieve those lofty goals but isn?t happy with merely recreating the past. Ryu Hayabusa, the hero from the previous games, is again the main protagonist, although there?s no connection to the previous story line. Ryu?s clan has been murdered, so bloody vengeance must be enacted and humanity saved along the way. While it?s not the most original premise, the plot and voice acting add the required amount of motivation to keep you interested and move things along. Other audio elements like the sound effects and music are quite fantastic as every weapon features uniquely satisfying noises and the heart pounding main theme is an incredibly catchy. The only drawback is that the overall soundtrack is a bit unbalanced with a few tunes that don?t quite cut it.

Focus
Most modern action games add driving levels or mini-games to keep the gameplay fresh. Ryu is required to swim at times, but the meat and potatoes focuses on acquiring and upgrading weapons and techniques, and simply learning to make full use of the resulting moves. While this may sound dull on paper, it?s immensely rewarding in action. You?ll be driven insane with glee at how many different ways there are to develop Ryu?s arsenal and dispatch foes with style.

Be warned that there is plenty of tricky platform jumping that?s a pain not because the timing is hard to master, but because the camera angle can be wonky. In fact, the frustrating camera is really the biggest mark against Ninja Gaiden. With action this fast and levels so different from one another, it?s remarkable the viewpoint doesn?t get in the way as much as it could. It's also worth noting that the camera is quite well behaved during boss battles. The rest of the visuals are just plain awesome?whether it?s the shiny latches on Ryu?s body armor or the detailed locations of each environment.

Stamina
For those wanting to strut their stuff, Master Ninja Tournament is the global-ranking system accessed via Xbox Live (a feature that could not be tested at press time). Other extra features include unlockables like an alternate outfit, the original Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, and Theater mode, so you can watch those neat CG cut-scenes.

Highly skilled players may be able to finish the game quicker, but the majority of folks will clock in for a 20-plus-hour thrill ride. Few games are this good, for so long, and still keep you coming back for more. The game simply knocks you on your ass and keeps kicking it throughout. Ninja Gaiden is truly a modern masterpiece.

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