ninja gaiden black

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Alex Spencer

Pub­lisheR Tecmo / De­vel­oper Team Ninja / For­mat Xbox / re­lease date Septem­ber 2005

Once upon a time, when I was young and still had all of my fac­ul­ties, I bested Ninja

Gaiden. The game was the Dark Souls of its day – an un­for­giv­ing hack-and­slash where the small­est mis­take could mean in­stant death. The vic­tory was a rare jewel in my gam­ing crown be­cause, over the years, I more or less gave up on games that re­quired any kind of twitch re­flexes.

And so, when I pick up the Dragon Sword for the first time in over a decade, those mus­cles have at­ro­phied. These days, I’m less Mas­ter Ninja – to bor­row ter­mi­nol­ogy from the dif­fi­culty modes in­tro­duced in Black, a slightly ex­panded ver­sion of the orig­i­nal game – and more Ninja Dog.

Ryu Hayabusa, mean­while, has aged much bet­ter than I have. He still moves with the grace of a mur­der­ous Mario, and it’s an ut­ter joy to con­trol him as he sprints along the sides of build­ings, back­flips off walls, even skims across the sur­face of a lake like Je­sus do­ing the 200 me­tres.

It’s in­cred­i­ble how much of the game is still etched into my mem­ory. I can trace the shape of its lev­els well enough to track down ev­ery se­cret tucked away on a high ledge. The in­tro­duc­tion of tele­port­ing ninja wiz­ards – able to trou­ble you from afar with fire­balls or pop up be­hind you and stab you – rekin­dles an old ha­tred that has ap­par­ently burned deep in­side me, un­tended, for all this time. I even re­mem­ber the but­ton combo re­quired to skip the rather in­ter­minable cutscenes.

Dou­ble-edged sword

This in­grained mem­ory pro­pels me through most of the first level. I reach the boss at its end al­most un­scathed. Huh, I think, maybe this isn’t so hard af­ter all. Maybe I’ve ac­tu­ally got­ten bet­ter at games with time – I’ve cer­tainly played far more of them. And then that boss, a nunchuk wielder who is also ap­par­ently Ryu’s un­cle, spanks me like a naughty child. It’s a fair fight, though, and a great way of teach­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of com­bat and block­ing. The same can­not be said of the next boss, a sa­mu­rai. On an un­kil­l­able horse, with an in­finite­lyre­gen­er­at­ing en­tourage of those ac­cursed wiz­ards. At which point, I re­alise not all of Ninja Gaiden’s dif­fi­culty is well-earned. The game’s cam­era is one thing that firmly dates it, back to an era where third-per­son games of­ten strug­gled to keep up with the ac­tion. With mul­ti­ple nin­jas on screen at once, it quickly be­comes chaos. More than once, this boss fight ends with me killed by an at­tack I couldn’t pos­si­bly have seen com­ing. But, af­ter half a dozen game-overs and ac­cept­ing that I need to chug an en­tire in­ven­tory’s worth of health elixirs, I emerge vic­to­ri­ous. From there, it’s fairly smooth sail­ing – if ‘sail­ing’ is the right word for bat­tling on top of a zep­pelin with a giant cy­ber­netic eggman. The en­emy arse­nal grows to in­clude pis­tols, riot shields and in­ex­pli­ca­bly elec­tri­fied blades, but hap­pily bul­lets can be de­flected with my blade, so noth­ing re­ally fazes me.

Even­tu­ally, in­evitably, on the streets of Ta­iron, I make one of those small mis­takes I men­tioned ear­lier. And find my­self back at a check­point out­side the city lim­its, half an hour of progress wiped away. It’s in­fu­ri­at­ing, a trip back to game de­sign of the early mil­len­nium, and as I schlep my way back to town, I won­der: was my younger self ac­tu­ally good at this game, or did I just have a lot more time. And a lot fewer games to play?

“I even re­mem­ber the but­ton combo re­quired to skip the rather in­ter­minable cutscenes”

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