Spotlight: Ninja Gaiden Black
Creating a Master Ninja
Back in 2005, both the XBOX and the Playstation 2 had firmly hit their stride, with stellar titles in each consoles respective catalogue. The PS2’s library was already brimming with classics; Silent Hill 2 (Konami), ICO (Sony), Devil May Cry (Capcom), Resident Evil 4 (Capcom) and Metal Gear Solid 3 (Konami) are titles that wouldn’t look out of place in anyones ‘Top 5’ list. In the main, the success of the XBOX was built off the back of strong in house and 3rd party support from Western developers/publishers. Titles such as Halo (Bungie), Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic (Bioware) and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Bethesda) had esatblished themselevs as the jewels in Microsofts console’s crown, all reviewing favourably and garnering rabid fanbases.
Despite the XBOX’s slow and painful demise in Japan, a handful of titles from Japanese developers managed to find there way onto the console and these titles were some of the generations best. The Sega trilogy of Jet Set Radio Future, Shenmue II and Panzer Dragoon: Orta were among the XBOX’s elite titles.
In 2004, Tecmo rebooted the once Nintendo only Ninja Gaiden franchise with XBOX as their chosen platform. Spearheaded by Tomonobu Itagaki, Team Ninja had already soldified it’s combat credentials on the platform with Dead or Alive 3 back in 2001 and garnared a reputation for creating striking visuals allied with 60fps (for the most part) framerates. When Tecmo released the vanilla Ninja Gaiden on the XBOX in 2004, it was met with unanimous praise. Ninja Gaiden was part action adventure, part, “character-action” game – a term coined by Hideki Kamiya (the creator of the Devil May Cry and later, Platinum’s Bayonetta) which describes 3rd-person action games where combat is the focus, however, platforming and traversing the environment also feature heavily. The heretige of this genre appears to be an amalgamation of the 16-bit, 2D action platformers of the past combined with the combat from arcade brawlers of the same era – but in 3D. That’s a very simplified breakdown, but a an accurate description. In 2005, Tecmo released an updated version of Ninja Gaiden – titled Ninja Gaiden: Black – with added content that included new enemies, two additional difficulty settings (the sympathetically named, Ninja Dog and the incredibly challenging, Master Ninja), new costumes and the main draw for Ninja’s Gaiden’s hardcore following: a Mission Mode, which placed Ryu in a number of different settings squaring off against a myriad of the games enemies and bosses.
Ninja Gaiden Black was the definitive release of Ninja Gaiden and the arguably, the best game in the series reboot. Despite the subsequent release of Ninja Gaiden: Sigma on PS3, which featured pace altering changes from Black and Ninja Gaiden 2 – a sequel that improved on the core combat mechanics of the original, but completely abandoned its tone and adventure aspects – it is ‘Black’ that stands alongside Devil May Cry 3 and Bayonetta as a key component of the Character-Action game trinity.