Shitty platforming in Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox)

These past few weeks I’ve become very intimate with the Game oveR screen in Ninja Gaiden Black on the original Xbox. I was already aware of its reputation of being hard as nails. What I wasn’t expecting is the plaforming, which is… utter shit. It pains me to say it, because platforming is not a huge part of this game – 10% of the levels? 5%? – but so far I’ve come across several platforming challenges where the game has taken more than its fair share of the piss.

Look, I get it. It’s trying to look cool, to be Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, which came out just a few months before Ninja Gaiden. And there are moments when Ninja Gaiden pulls it off. But there are moments that are just plain awful.

An early, relatively easy boss.

A rare, relatively easy boss.

I’ve been looking forward to trying out Ninja Gaiden Black for a while now thanks to my time with Metroid: Other M. Team Ninja, the developers of Ninja Gaiden were heavily involved in Other M and their skills shone through there: Other M is a tension-filled action game with tight, satisfying controls. Ninja Gaiden has added depth in the combat department, but it squanders a lot of good will with its platforming. Oh, that shitty platforming. The worst parts are those that chuck in combat alongside platforming, plus the occasionally bad save point placement.

One memorable sequence: on chapter six, the underground monastery level, I had a of slew archers firing at me while platforming. If I fell down the gaps, any archers I’d previously killed or damaged would respawn with full health – this in a game where respawning rarely occurs. After a few tries of this I was having flashbacks of Ninja Gaiden on the NES! After navigating that annoying challenge came an even worse one: jump on some raised platforms then do some Sands of Time-esque wall running to reach the top of the room. The first part is easy – too easy, a complete waste of seconds trying to jump back up for the next, impossible part. Then you start wall running, which is incredibly inconsistent and unpredictable. Multiple times I made it! I made it to the ledge I was supposed to get to! But Ryu, in all his wisdom, judged I had a little too well and kept on running on the wall! He ran so far, in fact, he ended up falling back down where he started! Twenty attempts later, I finally made it.

At the top, and there’s no save point in sight. And, oh, look, a boss! A giant dinosaur skeleton towering above Ryu. Ugh. I was bricking myself at this point – bosses in this game aren’t pushovers, and no save point, no save point after such heinous platforming… Fortunately, it was an easier than usual boss fight; I defeated it first go.

Here he is.

Introducing The Bone Dragon.

But without having saved I still feel uneasy. And with good reason. The next chapter kicks off right where the last one left off – the Bone Dragon dying, its corpse falling, and in the process knocking out the floor of the pit beneath it – the very same pit I’d just busted my balls climbing! I look around and there’s no save point nearby, but a new chapter means a full health meter so I’m feeling good. There’s no fall damage in this game either so, after walking downslope for a few seconds, I proceed to jump into the pit to where the corpse fell.

ninja gaiden black game over

What thE?!

Game oveR. You must be joking. I’m sure the game saves after chapters, right? …No. No it doesn’t. I’m back at the bottom of that stupid fucking pit, I need to do the platforming again from scratch, re-beat the boss, and survive long enough to reach a save point in the next chapter. What kind of a sick joke is this?! Second try. The platforming sections take me forever, yet again. I get to the boss, and this time I lose. ARGH! I’m tearing my hair out at this point. Third time, I finally make it. Two hours to make a slither of progress, and all thanks to some shitty, shoehorned platforming section standing between me and the boss. It’s. Not. Right.

And you know, I really wish that was the end of the tale. I’m not even going to talk about another platforming segment in the Military Complex chapter that ended in tears after I made it through another patch of atrocious platforming only for my Xbox to crash. And I ain’t even done with Ninja Gaiden Black yet! I don’t know how close to the end of the game I am now. I’m… slowly getting there. Years ago, on the Wii’s Virtual Console, Ninja Gaiden for NES beat me. I made it up to the final boss but was defeated by that game’s trademark dick move: sending you back three levels if you die on the final boss, whereas the rest of the game mercifully only sends you back one. That all proved too much, but not this time: Ninja Gaiden Black is going down. Shitty platforming or not.

This is where I'm up to in Ninja Gaiden Black as of this post. Mark my words...

Mark my words, Ninja Gaiden…

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8 comments

    • veryverygaming

      Oh, absolutely. And I wouldn’t want it any other way! The combat side is fine, rewarding and punishing in equal measure. It’s just the damn platforming. The biggest irony is that since there is no fall damage in the game and almost no bottomless pits (the anecdote I gave in the post is practically the only one I’ve come across in the entire game so far!) you almost never get a game over screen as a result of platforming.

  1. Aether

    I love Ninja Gaiden. It’s one of my favorite games on the OG Xbox. But it’s not because of the game’s platforming.

    Honestly, I think the platforming issues would be a lot more forgivable if the punishment was a little lighter. More checkpoints, a way to start midway through a segment if you’ve already reached there, etc. In spite of the game’s difficulty, it’s rather forgiving of individual mistakes elsewhere, most of the challenge coming from the way multiple mistakes compound on themselves. It’s confusing to me why it wouldn’t be the same for the platforming segments.

    • veryverygaming

      Spot on, that’s the problem right there. The devs treat the platforming sections as insignificant things that break up the action… and in some cases they are just that and it’s fine, but sometimes they’re really not. I have to admit reading up on the game while writing this post has been useful – I didn’t know that in Black, they added the ability to manually control the camera. It’s not obvious, but clicking the right stick lets you have full camera control. That would’ve been helpful in a few of these trouble spots had I known about it!

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game. I enjoy challenging games, but do get annoyed when games are difficult because they were badly designed. The problem with the wall running sounds like a common issue with games that require the player to perform complex actions to perform special manoeuvres, the player is unable to progress through areas where the action is necessary because they are unable to master the timing and sequence of buttons needed. I remember playing Metroid Prime 2 and was concerned that I would have to replay parts of the game again because I was unable to perform the screw attack. I can understand how having less save points can make the game less easy for players, as they need to find quick strategies to complete the game, rather than regular save points allowing the player to use trial and error as there is little hindrance in dying many times, but there should be save points at needed times in the game. There should be a save point after bosses and at the beginning of chapters as they end parts of the game and allow the player to focus on the new chapter, they also prevent the player replaying bosses and gives these enemies more impact. Sounds possibly as bad as Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb.
    How is the game going? Is it still as bad? Are you continuing with it?

    • veryverygaming

      Ouch, I’m getting flashbacks of wall jumping in Metroid: Zero Mission. Even though I don’t recall the screw attack in Prime 2, in general I’ve always found the timing on the special moves in Metroid games rather… screwy. Way too fiddly.

      I saw Ninja Gaiden Black through to the end and thankfully didn’t run into too many troublesome platforming spots after the ones I mentioned in the post. But the combat certainly compensated in terms of difficulty! And I still ran into poorly thought out decisions around saving and shops occasionally.

      Most frustrating of all was at the end of the game. For whatever reason I didn’t have many healing items during the final level leading up to the final boss. At the end of the level you open the path to the last boss. There’s a save point there… but no shop to buy healing items from. Without healing items I knew I’d never beat the final boss so I had to backtrack out of the final dungeon, find a shop outside, then get back to the final boss entrance. That alone probably took two hours because all the enemies respawned and I had no health items till I reached a shop. It was horrendous. The final boss was a pushover by comparison. Honestly I don’t ever want to play this game again – I had to really force myself to finish it.

      I remember you telling me about that Indiana Jones game before, and I completely agree that kind of save system can be horrible sometimes. Should I save? Should I wait? If there aren’t multiple save files you can screw yourself over if you’re not careful! Reminds me of something I heard on a videogame podcast once: “if the player stands to gain something in a game by committing suicide, it’s probably a poorly designed game”.

  3. hopefulhomies

    I remember vividly the excellent gameplay and vicious challenge of ninja gaiden for Xbox and loved struggling through the experience. It’s a sort of testament to improving mastery. Over time I went from bad to ok to good to competent and then I won!

    I barely recall the platforming though, except in one city section having to triple wall run.

    • veryverygaming

      Thanks for commenting. I had a similar experience with the combat and overall I enjoyed it quite a bit – although I do wish I’d played through the game on easy mode first. Anyway you can be thankful you don’t remember much of the platforming. It really was brutal and I wish the game had been pure combat.

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