Despite throwing all manner of novel control concepts at you in one go, the game is surprisingly accessible. Compared to the fearsome learning curve of recent full-blown Ninja Gaidens, Dragon Sword takes a completely contrary approach, making it instantly playable - something that hardcore fans may initially take issue with as they carve up everything in double quick time without breaking sweat.
Romping through early chapters and boss monsters is almost alarmingly easy, not least thanks to the intuitive control system and rather simple but nevertheless ingenious puzzles, but also due to extremely regular save points which also fill up magic attacks and health into the bargain. Essentially, if you can survive a single battle, that's generally enough to get you through to safety - something that no doubt reduces frustration (and works well for commuters) but also ensures that the game is a fairly short-lived experience compared to the full-fat versions we're all well-versed in.
When the game starts to up the ante in terms of the challenge, its core weaknesses really start to peep through. While at first the control system feels fresh and interesting, that scribbleslashing is too effective. What's more, with Ryu often scaled down to tiny proportions on-screen, it can be a real struggle to even see what's going on. Most irritatingly, you have to press buttons to block, and hold any button and tap the screen to perform an evasive roll, and the defensive part of the game feels horribly unnatural as a result. We just can't get used to pressing buttons while holding the DS like a book, and it makes you wonder why Team Ninja felt the need to re-orientate the game in the first place.
That said, these niggles are just that, and therefore not a big deal. Otherwise it's a polished game. Despite the low resolution, the static backdrops are beautiful, and the numerous narrative interludes and cut-scenes are stylish. Boss battles, meanwhile, are almost always a treat, demonstrating the DS' underused 3D prowess with a selection of beefy creatures. Even the audio gets the full treatment with an excellent soundtrack, and for all-round polish there's very little the game doesn't do well.
Inevitably, the lack of meat on the bones is Dragon Sword's major failing, coupled with the fact that the combat descends into repetitive scribbling after a short while, lacking the kind of long-term depth that makes the game's parent offerings so revered. The novelty of new magic attacks and combos will keep you going for the initial run-through, but there's little motivation to run through it all again on a harder difficulty level. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is undoubtedly a solid, polished and innovative offering, but simply lacks enough substance and variety to make it an essential purchase.
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