This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X
Slicing Its Way to My Heart
Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox was released in 2004 to incredible reviews. A year later a reworked version titled Ninja Gaiden Black received even greater praise from the gaming community. Beautiful visuals were matched with tight gameplay, excellent music, and a dedication to being difficult but approachable by game director Tomonobu Itagaki. Fifteen years later how does this classic hold up, gameplay-wise and visually, on an Xbox Series X?
It Holds Up Really Well, That’s How!
You are Ryu Hyabusa in a prequel to the 1980’s Ninja Gaiden series. Ryu had recently returned to fame in 1996 as a combatant in the excellent Dead or Alive fighting game series. Connecting the worlds of the original Ninja Gaiden and D.O.A. sees this title set two years before the events of D.O.A. 1. You are a member of the Hyabusa clan, and you start the game on a visit to your Uncle Murai, leader of the Shadow Clan. To visit him you of course must kill many of his ninjas in a delightful dance of blades that leads to many heads and limbs being removed from their former bodies. One other D.O.A. character that joins you is the ninja Ayane who serves as your tutorial giver, throwing ninja darts with beautifully typewritten notes.
Thanks to a massive resolution boost and 60fps target Ninja Gaiden Black looks spectacular on an Xbox Series X or One X. The difference in quality between pre-rendered cutscenes or menu screens vs. the gameplay is as drastic as I can remember seeing in any of these backward compatible Xbox One titles. The texture work is top quality, and the move to an unimaginable at the time resolution helps showcase the love and care that was put into every single model. Animations flow smoothly yet you rarely feel out of control. Response time during combat is quick with your block being instantaneous most of the time.
That Camera Though…
One area Ninja Gaiden Black tried to improve things was the camera. In the original it was truly atrocious; in Black you can click in the right stick to have direct control over it but it still isn’t great. The right trigger will be your best friend as it is used to face the camera in whatever direction Ryu is looking at instantly and you will have to do this a lot. After an hour or two I was used to it and while not great, it’s not worth avoiding the game over.
Controls are basic in comparison to some 3D action titles. X is your light attack, Y is Heavy, B is ranged, and A jumps. Left trigger is your block if you hold it and a dodge if you tap a direction while holding LT. Most of the game’s difficulty comes in your reaction times. Balance still isn’t perfect as running straight up a wall and hitting X or Y leads to an incredibly powerful attack that can be a lifesaver against some of the tougher, but dumber, enemies. You have a series of upgrades, weapon unlocks, and use items to keep you busy through your time in the campaign. You should be looking at an average of 15-20 hours for a full playthrough. I ended up sticking with and upgrading the sword most of all but some of the other weaponry you’ll find along the way feels different enough to warrant experimenting with at the very least.
Ninja Stories Set to Beautiful Music
The story in this game really goes places. If you only ever played the first few of the game’s 16 chapters you would think it was set in a far in the past version of Japan. It is 100% set in the D.O.A. current times world though and you will visit some crazy locales that I won’t spoil here. As this game is only $10 on the Xbox through BC, and soon to be released in the (for me) inferior Sigma version as a next-gen collection I think it’s worth experiencing the craziness for yourself without having anything spoiled.
Speaking of Sigma it certainly isn’t as good, and if you don’t have an Xbox One or Series console it will be the easiest way to play the game for you. It adds in a few gameplay segments that are not fondly remembered and removes the over-the-top gore of the original. Overall I’d say stick with Black if you can, it’s just better than Sigma in every major way for me.
The music in the game is what you would think for a D.O.A. universe game and it’s pretty well done. It’s mostly synth, can be a bit goofy at times, but has a few real boppers in it. Voice work in the original Japanese is excellent, and the English while not great isn’t the worst I’ve heard.
I absolutely adored my time going back to this game. I can see why it holds a 94 on Metacritic as even 15+ years later it still holds up as a true classic. There have been quite a few original Xbox and PS2 era games I have gone back to that did not hold up at all. Ninja Gaiden Black is hard, fair, gorgeous, and a ton of fun. Since it is so old I won’t give a score but it’s fair to say that this one gets two thumbs way the hell up. You would do well to plonk down $10 to experience one of the better 3D action games ever made.
*This game was reviewed on an Xbox Series X*