TGS 07: Ninja Gaiden DS Hands-On

September 20, 2007

With every passing year, it becomes more and more apparent that Nintendo did something fundamentally right with the Nintendo DS’s interface. Whether its with rhythm games (Elite Beat Agents), adventure games (Phantom Hourglass) or even first-person shooters (cramped hands aside, Metroid Prime Hunters revolutionized handheld FPS’s), a company willing to put in a little time, thought and effort can apparently pull off almost anything with the DS’s touchscreen and stylus.

Enter Tecmo and Ninja Gaiden. Just a year ago, gamers and critics alike scoffed at the notion of a Ninja Gaiden game for the Nintendo DS. Aside from not having enough buttons, the seemingly underpowered DS didn’t even match the PSP, let alone the Xbox. When Ninja Gaiden DS was revealed with a touchscreen a year later, some gamers were even more skeptical despite the outstanding graphics and the demonstration given by lead designer Tomonobu Itagaki. How could the tight, elegant controls of the Xbox classic possibly translate to the Nintendo DS?

Let all doubts be put to rest here – Ninja Gaiden DS controls like a dream. Given a chance to try it out at the Tecmo Booth, my hand didn’t once stray toward the directional pad as I sliced, diced and shurikened a bevy of enemies with a series of stylus pokes and slashes. The controls are quite intuitive, with a vertical slash down through the enemy bringing Ryu’s Dragon Sword down, and the horizontal slash cutting across. Draw up, and Ryu will leap into the air to come down for a powerful sword smash. When confronted with ranged enemies, simply pointing at them was enough unleash a flurry of shurikens.

Despite being a relatively brief demo, it did a great job showing off Ryu’s myriad moves. The exhilaration and fast-action inherent to the game’s big brother on the PS3 and Xbox 360 is present here, and even without the wall jumps, Ryu still manages to zip around the screen slashing enemies. But while the graphics are some of the best available on the DS, the handheld’s visual shortcomings are still apparent in the occasionally flat textures and jaggy enemies. It’s not a huge issue on the DS’s small screen, but it’s worth noting that this game isn’t quite up to the level of the PSP, as some fans have suggested they might be.

However, while the aforementioned games are notable for their extreme difficulty, I had no problem at all plowing through the demo’s enemies and the red dragon waiting at the end. I’m aware that Team Ninja wants to tone down the difficulty somewhat for the more general audience that the Nintendo DS brings with it, but it would be a shame if the series’ famous difficulty was abandoned entirely. Here’s hoping that there will be multiple difficulty levels for true ninjas.

Despite its relatively lax difficulty, the brief demo was extremely enjoyable, and the final game will most likely be an excellent addition to the Nintendo DS’s extensive action library.

Images from TGS 07