Title: Ninja Gaiden Black
Platform: Xbox, Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo
Release date: Out now
tl;dr: Before games were difficult, rather than cheap
Price: $10/£10 (Xbox One)
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

Ninja Gaiden Black first saw release on Xbox in 2004 as Ninja Gaiden, as a sort of rebirth of the popular 8-bit series. It featured fast paced action and required great reflexes to overcome the wealth of enemies thrown at you. Ninja Gaiden then saw a re-release a year later as Ninja Gaiden Black, which featured two previously released Hurricane Packs, along with a bevvy of additional features such as new difficulty settings and new enemies, including a doppelganger Ryu, which provided an extra layer of challenge. Then fast forward to a few years later, when Tecmo released Ninja Gaiden Sigma for PS3 in 2006, followed by a PS Vita version dubbed Sigma Plus in 2012.

According to Tomonobu Itagaki, Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black act as prequel to the original Nintendo trilogy. Set in Japan, more precisely in the fictional era of the Vigoor Empire, a mysterious force invades Ryu’s village, set outside of the Tairon region, to steal the precious Dark Dragon Blade, which was sealed away by the Hayabusa Ninja Clan. Once in the wrong hands, this powerful weapon can become the Devil Incarnate and give its possessor unlimited power, and as the blade has been stolen, it’s up to Ryu to recover it.

Ninja Gaiden Black is a third person hack n’ slash action game where players must rely on their skills and reflexes to win. Unlike games like Devil May Cry, which have a slower rhythm, enemies in NG move rather quickly and abruptly; this is the type of action game where a sliver of a second can mean the difference between killing an enemy or losing a chunk of health. While we’re not talking Dark Souls level of difficulty, I like to think Itagaki and his team made a spiritual precursor of sorts.

Thankfully, to dispatch the forces of evil, Ryu has a few skills and a decent arsenal of weapons at his disposal. First off, Ryu has a weak, quick attack and a stronger attack. Both can be combined in order to create devastating combos which become more complex as players upgrade their weapons. Along with the traditional dragon sword, the ninja can also pick up a Lunar staff, nunchakus, Vigoorian flail (nunchakus with blades), just to name a few. Each weapon will feel different; while the sword is the perfectly balanced weapon, both set of nunchakus will have weak attacks in quick succession, while the staff will feel slower, but hit a bit harder. Thankfully, the ninja is able to block, however it is not a failsafe, as strong attacks from enemies will send Ryu reeling and vulnerable to attacks.

Being a ninja, Ryu also has a few magic tricks at his disposal. Throughout the game, players can pick up scrolls which allow players to have an advantage over enemies with some fiery attacks. Long time players of the Ninja Gaiden series will recognize the Flame Barrier, which can activated to give Ryu a few seconds of invincibility. There’s also a handy Ice Storm scrolls, which can whip up a blizzard around Ryu, giving some space between him and the enemies. By picking up special Purple Orbs, the scrolls’ power can also be upgraded up to three levels.

The game also has a decent variety of enemy types, which makes it one of the game’s strongest point, from weak ninjas to giant dragons, nimble alien-like creatures, bats, and soldiers with guns, just to name a few. Boss battles are definitely some of the best and most interesting boss designs; whether it be your mentor during the first battle or a multi-layered level battle with a giant dragon, all will provide a different challenge and require a different strategy to overcome.

But Dan, how does the game play? Ninja Gaiden Black still has one of most tight and responsive control schemes known to date (definitely tighter than 2014’s Bloodborne). The game requires precision in movement and lightning quick reflexes, whether it be to pull the perfect combo or avoid annoying alien-like purple enemies. Even in 2018, I doubt you’ll find a game with tighter controls.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: hey, it’s a 2005 game, it can’t have aged that well visually! Oh, how wrong you are, little grasshopper. The game’s visuals are impressive by today’s standard; sure it can’t go head to head with last April’s God of War, but I’ve seen uglier games built from the ground up for XB1 and PS4. Even then, during the 8th generation of consoles, Microsoft’s Xbox console often managed to offer developers more power in terms of visuals; through that generation, Xbox exclusive tended to look a bit better than PS2 exclusives. Audio wise, voiceovers are fairly well done. While some conversations can feel a bit cheesy, the acting is quite solid and quite enjoyable. The score matches the game’s mood as it progressively gets darker, but often times during combat, the score is drown by slashes and enemy chatter/grunts.

So is Ninja Gaiden Black worth playing in 2018? In a short answer: hell yes. The game is a perfect example of how you create a balanced challenge without having deaths feel cheap. It requires lighting fast reflexes and you’ll need to pay attention to your surroundings. Sure, it’ll require some practice to get the patterns and strategies down, but once you do, the game is oh so rewarding.

The Good

  • Extremely tight gameplay
  • Addictive challenge
  • Underwater level kinda suck
  • Requires dedication

Family Focus

Ninja Gaiden Black is rated M for Mature and PEGI 18 due to the presence of blood, gore and violence. Cutting a ninja’s head off will result in a small shower of blood.

This review is based on a retail copy of the game purchased for the purposes of this review.