Set six months after the events of the original Xbox version of Ninja Gaiden, Ryu Hayabusa has rebuilt Hayabusa Village. Momiji, a resident of Hayabusa, is abducted by the Black Spider Ninja Clan. During his quest to find her, Ryu uncovers the mysteries of the Dark Dragonstones and the secret behind the Dragon Sword.
Unlike most DS titles, you will be playing Dragon Sword in ‘book form’, turning it 90 degrees so that you get two tall screens next to each other, rather than two wide ones. It may take a little getting used to, but the more ‘vertical’ gameplay is a nice change from the norm. You can easily navigate each area using the map that is shown on the left screen, with the action taking place on the right screen.
Playing Ryu, you are tasked to guide him through the many dangers that he will encounter on his quest to find Momiji. Dragon Sword’s control scheme may take some time to master but it is easy to get started. To move Ryu, you simply slide the stylus in whichever direction you want him to go. The camera typically keeps Ryu in the center of the screen. The farther from him you point the stylus, the faster he well run.
Combat is a simple affair that comes down to sliding the stylus over an enemy. If the enemy is out of range, Ryu will run up to the enemy before vanquishing them with a slash of the sword. Ryu is very athletic: to make him jump up you simply slide the stylus upwards. Sliding the stylus elsewhere on the screen will cause him to leap in that direction. A second upward stroke while Ryu is in midair will result in a double jump. Ryu can throw shurikens while in midair. By constantly tapping the stylus on the enemy, Ryu will keep firing at it until he falls to the ground. To roll and evade an enemy attack you slide the stylus while pressing any direction on the control pad or any of the face buttons on the Nintendo DS.
Ryu can perform more complex moves such as the Izuna Drop and the Ultimate Technique. The Izuna Drop is a devastating attack that is performed by sliding the stylus downwards to stun your foe, upwards to send the enemy into the air, then upwards again to make Ryu leap, grab his opponent and piledrive him into the ground. Using the Ultimate Technique, Ryu gathers energy that can be unleashed into a powerful spin attack. He is vulnerable while gathering energy, but this attack has the ability to completely oblitarate enemies if you manage to pull it off. Well worth the trouble and very satisfying to behold.
Magic in Ninja Gaiden is represented by ‘Ninpo’ and is somewhat reminiscent of the magic system in Black & White. To cast a spell, you select it by clicking its icon on the screen and then trace it with the stylus. The faster you trace the contour of the icon, the longer your spell will last. After doing this, you get to cast your spell and unleash your magical fury on the enemies around you.
Looking at the game’s level design, you can see the massive potential for something really special, something not seen on the DS before. Unfortunately it got ruined by the use of two-dimensional graphics. It is not that the graphics are bad, far from it: few games on the DS are able to push out graphics of this quality. Bosses and enemies look amazing and the surrounding area sets the ambience like no other DS game to date.
The trouble is the game takes place in a three-dimensional world with two-dimensional graphics. This combination makes it difficult to accurately perform some of Ryu’s moves. Most of the controls in Dragon Sword work well but there are some issues with the jumping and running. While in the air, you don’t know exactly where you are going to land and running can feel a little bizarre at times when only the enemies and Ryu himself seem to be moving.
You will probably spend a bit of time trying to master the controls. By the time that you do, you may have had enough of rapidly sliding the stylus on the screen to get Ryu to move and fight. It is hard to understand that the repetitiveness of the fighting hasn’t been addressed by the game’s developers. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is a fighting game and the last thing any developer would want is for their audience to become bored by the combat mechanics.
The sound isn’t anything to write home about but the musical score suits the levels nicely and the effects are more than adequate. You will finish the single player part of the game in around seven hours, but you can then take the game online. Once connected, you can upload your high scores and see how you stack up against the rest of the world. If this doesn’t appeal to you but you would still like to play some more, you can try the next difficulty level. If you thought the first mode was hard, you haven’t seen nothing yet, the next level is truly berserk.
The mix of two-dimensional backgrounds with three dimensional movement hurts the game, causing wacky controls that don’t motivate to look at the beautiful surroundings. That does not mean that Dragon Sword is a bad game. It is certainly a nice addition to the Nintendo DS library, despite it's flaws. There is a lot of replay value to be found here and the gameplay is both fun and varied. If frantic stylus action is your thing, then don’t miss this game.