Number one in my opinion of the best of the action genre belongs to Ninja Gaiden Black. When Team Ninja revamped the Ninja Gaiden series for the Xbox, they delivered a great action game that became one of the best games for that generation. Strangely enough, they decided to revise it and re-release it under the “Black” subtitle, and what we got was one of the best action games of all time.

NinjagaidenblackIgn 560x200 Top of the Action Genre: Ninja Gaiden Black

Master Ninja:

Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black were both developed combat wise to be similar to the Devil May Cry series, with a focus of movement and agility as opposed to trading blows with enemies. Ryu was designed to be an active character and not stay in one place, with the ability to dodge roll and transition into attacking while running. Another decision was to give enemies unblockable grab attacks to punish players who thought they could just block their way through combat. Besides your sword, you would find other weapons that had their own unique combos and versatility such as nunchucks that you could switch to.

Combat was very fast, thanks to very little downtime from both sides and you could end up dead within a few seconds if you weren’t paying attention.  Despite the high speed, there was a flow to the combat that you had to pay attention to; enemies would not attack you one at a time and you had to figure out the best times to attack while not leaving yourself open to attacks from behind.

Ninjagaidenblackwikipedia 300x226 Top of the Action Genre: Ninja Gaiden Black

Enemies came in all sizes and challenge in the game; with stronger and more diverse ones saved for the higher difficulties

Besides blocking, you had two special moves that you could use to help turn the tide. First was an overdrive attack that could be charged using the currency orbs dead enemies dropped. More importantly, charging the move this way and pulling it off would make you invincible for a few precious seconds while delivering enhanced damage.

The second move was ninja magic attacks that could be assigned and used during combat. My personal favorite was a lightning attack that hit everybody and made Ryu invincible while it was used.

While all this made for a great action game, once again it was the changes made between regular and Black that cements Ninja Gaiden Black as my favorite and strange enough, the developers didn’t go for making things easier.

The Gloves came off:

Most games that get a re-release give the developer a chance to smooth out any difficulty curves and make it more accessible to a greater audience, but not in Ninja Gaiden Black’s case. The developers sped up the combat by increasing the speed of Ryu and removed the ability to counterattack through timed presses of the block button. Previously, this was a way for someone to stand in one place and keep blocking while dealing damage and the developers didn’t want their combat system to become so routine.

Instead, Black forced you to engage with the enemies who still had all their dangerous tricks to deal with, but there was one more thing added. The game introduced multiple difficulty levels: From ninja dog or very easy, all the way up to master ninja or the hardest. And this is where Ninja Gaiden Black earns the top spot from me, as the developers avoided the classic design of bumping up enemy stats to make the game harder. Instead, the game was redesigned for each difficulty level; new enemies were added or replaced older ones, items were moved around, bosses became more dangerous and it really felt like a different game.

The new enemies added had new abilities without simply having more health or damage; the enemy grunt ninjas at the start were replaced with higher tier white ninjas who were more evasive and could attack you with multiple attacks. Brand new fights in the form of Demon Ryu forced the player to fight an enemy with the same moveset as the player and hopefully overcome them.

devilmaycry3IGN 300x224 Top of the Action Genre: Ninja Gaiden Black

Devil May Cry 3 was more about weapon diversity and technical play, while Ninja Gaiden Black was more action focused with a limited moveset

What made this so amazing is that Ninja Gaiden Black was one of the first action games to deliver a purely skill based progression model similar to the Souls series.

The player has to become better at the game in order to progress and no amount of health upgrades or weapons would change that; just like in Demon’s Souls and how it didn’t matter what your gear was if you sucked at the game.

Later bosses that were added in, forced the player to understand the timing needing for attacking and you really needed to bring your A game to stand a chance.

King of the Hill:

Ninja Gaiden Black when compared to the other two is the least complicated; it lacks Devil May Cry 3’s technical skill and Godhand’s custom combat system. But it makes up for it with a reliance on pure player skill and adequate rewards of interesting and varied challenges for players who want to go up in difficulty. Godhand almost did this with the adjusting difficulty system, but it’s not the same as adding in brand new enemies and bosses for the higher difficulties and Devil May Cry 3 simply raised enemy stats.

My dream action game would be a combination of these three titles: Having technical mastery, player defined attacks and the speed and skill requirement of Ninja Gaiden Black. At the moment, it doesn’t look like a game along those lines is going to be happening as most developers are looking at Bayonetta 2 and DMC as inspiration. I still have an idea in the back of my mind that I would love to do at some point, but hopefully that’s not the only one for the action genre.

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“Top of the Action Genre: Ninja Gaiden Black”

  • Jerry Chu

    I am curious to know your opinion on Ninja Gaiden 2. Personally, I like NG2 more than the first game, favouring its linear structure and advanced gameplay. While linear levels are usually criticised in other genres, I think they match the fast-paced gameplay of Ninja Gaiden very well, with Ryu always charging forward, instead of going back and forth, fetching keys and fighting the same group of enemies in the same place over and over again. And the diversified weapons, improved move-sets and Obliteration are good additions to NGʻs excellent combat systems.

    One point on DMC3 is that, although you mentioned DMC3 increases its difficulty by “simply raised enemy stats”, enemies in DMC3 also have new abilities in higher difficulty. In the Dante Must Die mode, all regular enemies have Devil Trigger which increases the armour rate; scythe-weilding enemy who could not touch Dante when he is in the air can now intercept the player by jump attack; Vergil starts using summoned swords and regenerates health much faster during his Devil Trigger. All these require the player to change their tactics and master the combat system.

  • Jerry Chu

    I am curious to know your opinion on Ninja Gaiden 2. Personally, I like NG2 more than the first game, favouring its linear structure and advanced gameplay. While linear levels are usually criticised in other genres, I think they match the fast-paced gameplay of Ninja Gaiden very well, with Ryu always charging forward, instead of going back and forth, fetching keys and fighting the same group of enemies in the same place over and over again. And the diversified weapons, improved move-sets and Obliteration are good additions to NGʻs excellent combat systems.

    One point on DMC3 is that, although you mentioned DMC3 increases its difficulty by “simply raised enemy stats”, enemies in DMC3 also have new abilities in higher difficulty. In the Dante Must Die mode, all regular enemies have Devil Trigger which increases the armour rate; scythe-weilding enemy who could not touch Dante when he is in the air can now intercept the player by jump attack; Vergil starts using summoned swords and regenerates health much faster during his Devil Trigger. All these require the player to change their tactics and master the combat system.

    • Thanks for the clarification; it’s been a long time since I last played DMC 3 SE.

      Re: Ninja Gaiden 2: I did not like it as much as NGB. I thought the camera took a step backwards compared to NGB and it caught in a lot of places. I remember the bosses lacking the variety and depth of challenge compared to NGB’s additional bosses. One thing though, I only played the original Ninja Gaiden 2 and I haven’t played Sigma 2 which is the Black treatment for the PS 3 versions of Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2. They may have done some updating and improvements to it.

      • Jerry Chu

        Thanks for the reply.

        You mentioned about the camera in NG2, personally I don’t have any complaints about the camera in the game, but I am interested in your analysis of how cameras should be handled in action games. DMC has an interesting system where enemies outside of the screen will not attack, so that the player does not get hit by something he/she didn’t see. This rule leads to some interesting tactics in which player deliberately changes the camera angle so as to “stop” enemies from attacking. I believe cameras in 3D games deserve more investigation.

        By adding a couple of new playable characters and bosses, NGΣ2 has improved the variety of bosses, but it also removes all the blood and tunes down the difficulty a lot, thus I think the original NG2 is a better version than NGΣ2.

        BTW I like your writing, please keep it up 🙂

    • supersatanic

      Ninja Gaiden 2 has it’s flaws and endgame design issues but its’ best moments match or exceed those of Black. Taking on an army of Black spider Ninjas in that epic staircase battle (despite the framerate issues) is an all time classic gaming moment.

    • supersatanic

      Ninja Gaiden 2 has it’s flaws and endgame design issues but its’ best moments match or exceed those of Black. Taking on an army of Black spider Ninjas in that epic staircase battle (despite the framerate issues) is an all time classic gaming moment.

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