Revenge of the ninja.
It's been about a year and a half since Ryu Hayabusa back-flipped onto the Xbox in his triumphant return to console action in Ninja Gaiden. In that time we've seen a number of strong games contend with the king of Xbox action blockbusters, but none have managed to usurp this crafty assassin.
Well, it looks like Ryu's time away has been well spent. Ninja Gaiden has been reborn as Ninja Gaiden Black, essentially a revamped retread of the original. While the vast majority of the new version is the same, some notable enhancements have been introduced, resulting in a "special edition" that does a good job of adding even more shine to the original steel.
Players new to the world's best ninja game will be blown away by what they find. The original's slick graphics, action-packed combat and surprising depth are intact, while a number of its problems have been addressed. Since the core of Ninja Gaiden Black is still the same as before, you might want to read the original review for a briefing on the basics.
Owners of the original Ninja Gaiden, on the other hand, probably won't find enough new content here to justify a purchase, especially if they've taken the initiative to download the Hurricane Packs, content updates to the original that can be nabbed for free over Xbox Live. Everything included in both packs has also been included in Ninja Gaiden Black.
The standout feature of these packs is the manual camera control, which does a lot to remedy the problems with fighting off-screen enemies. Rather than just being able to look around from a first-person point of view, you can now click the right stick to toggle between manual first and third person. It works well, especially when dealing with multiple enemies, although the original crazy camera option is still here for those unafraid of wandering off-screen.
Even without its camera issues, Ninja Gaiden was an unquestionably hard game, even on "Normal." Ninja Gaiden Black, on the other hand, offers Ninja Dog difficulty to those with a knack for getting whacked. Branded with a shameful little lavender Band of Strength, Ryu will be frowned upon by enemies, although he'll have a much easier time chopping them into little pieces.
Also making an appearance from the first Hurricane Pack is the Lunar staff. This new weapon pops up early on and adds another option to Ryu's arsenal by combining the speed and hit combo possibilities of the nunchaku with the range of a longer weapon. It's not quite as satisfying as the sword, but what ninja weapon is?
The biggest addition is the inclusion of a Mission mode made available after beating the main game. This functions like a sort of survival mode in that you are thrown into tougher and tougher scenarios as the mode progresses. Each scenario takes place in one of the game's areas and outfits you with a selection from Ryu's arsenal. If you didn't get away from the sword in the main story portion of the game, you'll do so here. It adds some extra play value, that's certain.
The only gripe that wasn't really addressed from the previous game is the spacing between some of the save points. Several of the later levels have you jumping, flipping and slicing your way through obstacles only to throw a billion tough-as-nails enemies in your face seconds before a save point. So you die, then have to do it all over again. It can be irritating.
The original Ninja Gaiden trilogy was available in the previous version, so it's kind of a bummer that only the first Ninja Gaiden is unlockable here. It's hard to bitch about that, though, since the game rules. Other unlockables include some costumes, music and yes, even harder difficulty levels for those with an unusually high tolerance for pain.
But even with all these improvements, the question remains " is Ninja Gaiden Black worth getting? At the $30 price point, those who never got a chance to play the earlier version shouldn't hesitate before heading out to the store and picking up a copy. With amazing visuals, intense ninja combat and some improvements over last year's edition, Ninja Gaiden Black is still one of the best action games in town.
Owners of the previous version, however, might find it a little less thrilling. Despite some helpful enhancements, the core part of the game - the Story mode - is exactly the same, especially if you were interested enough to download the two available Hurricane Packs through Xbox Live. Besides, the new game's main attraction, Mission mode, can only be attained after 20 or so hours of gameplay that you've already been through before.
In essence, Ninja Gaiden Black feels like the Director's Cut of a great DVD that came out a year ago. Special features, enhanced content and a low price tag make it an easy choice for newbies, but vets need to think twice if they want to drop the clams for an experience that's very similar to one that they already own. Kudos to Tecmo and Team Ninja for adding some great enhancements to an already great game. We just wish they would have released it like this in the first place.