After a 13 year hiatus, Tecmo finally resurrected the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Released for the Microsoft Xbox, Ninja Gaiden wasn't so much a sequel as it was a complete reboot. The story (or lack thereof) is completely different, the characters (excluding our hero, Ryu Hayabusa) are all different and it doesn't play anything like the original 8-bit NES series. In fact, one could make a convincing argument that this Ninja Gaiden is the successor to the arcade Ninja Gaiden, as both are brawlers at heart. The good news is that this Ninja Gaiden is worth playing, even if it did suffer from some camera issues and an extreme difficult (both of which were addressed in a free download). The problem with recommending this game now is that you're better off just going out and buying Ninja Gaiden Black, it's the same price and offers more stuff. However, from a gameplay point of view this Ninja Gaiden was a return to form. I do wish that more attention would have been spent keeping the continuity. I'm not saying that the original NES game had a great story, but it would have been nice to see some familiar faces return (or at least give a nod to what happened before it).
Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox)
[ Release: 2005 - Developer: Team Ninja ]
Ninja Gaiden Black is not a sequel, but rather a more complete version of the original Xbox game. It features the same story mode, has the same graphics and even uses the same music. But it does feature a bunch of new features, adds a couple of new weapons and includes all of the downloadable content that was made for the original Xbox Ninja Gaiden. Outside of the PlayStation 3 port, Ninja Gaiden Black is the definitive version of this action game to get. This is, without a doubt, one of the finest games on Microsoft's Xbox console, the first brawler to have the depth of a traditional fighting game. It was also rewarding. Yes the game was hard, but when you started winning fights (and progressing through the levels) it really feels good. Yes this game is hard, but only because it requires you to actually learn the nuance of the fighting system and be patient. The original games, on the other hand, were needlessly difficult because of cheap hits. If you don't own a PlayStation 3 and you still want to own one of the greatest 3D brawlers of all time.
However, if you do have a PlayStation 3 then by all means buy this game. This takes everything that was good about Ninja Gaiden Black and adds in better graphics, more weapons, a new playable character and much, much more. It's not a new game (which is disappointing), but it's definitely the best version of Ninja Gaiden to date. The new graphics look downright amazing, and everything runs a little faster and a lot smoother. While the Xbox 360-only sequel was good, it can't hold a candle to the quality and depth of this PlayStation 3 release. It's not the reason to buy Sony's newest system, but it's a damn good reason to put the console on your list.
Rather than being a brand new game, this portable Ninja Gaiden game (the first in 17 years) is something of a retelling of the 2004 Xbox game. It controls differently and you play it by turning the Nintendo DS vertically. It's not a bad little game, but much of the game's challenge is missing and the whole thing feels a little watered down. But that shouldn't keep you from checking this portable game out; it is definitely the best handheld outing for Ryu Hayabusa. My biggest complaint with the game has nothing to do with the story or controls, but rather the actual setting. If you've played the Xbox or PlayStation 3 game then this will all feel very familiar, almost to a fault. The set pieces look nice on the Nintendo DS and the graphics are surprisingly solid, but you've been and seen it all before. If you're looking for a fun portable game then this is worth checking out, even if it isn't nearly as strong as the other recent titles.
Ninja Gaiden II (Xbox 360)
[ Release: 2008 - Developer: Team Ninja ]
Ninja Gaiden II is the newest game in the series and the first brand new sequel released on "next-gen" hardware. Published by Microsoft and exclusive to the Xbox 360, Ninja Gaiden II is a decidedly mixed affair. The graphics are good (although not as stunning as what we saw from the 2004 Xbox game) and the controls are tight, but this game just isn't as engaging as the other titles in the series. It's also a lot easier, almost to a fault. Some of the game's improvements aren't actually that important, and others seem to make the game worse. However, this is still a fun game that is worth checking out. Like Ninja Gaiden II on the NES, this is yet another sequel that can't quite live up to the original game. Hopefully Tecmo can take this series in a brand new direction next time around, but with Tomonobu Itagaki leaving the company who knows when we'll get around to seeing a Ninja Gaiden III. Maybe that's for the best.