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.
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.
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.
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.