Our favourite non-specialist gaming review heralds from FHM, in which the writer infamously gave Ninja Gaiden one out of five because he couldn’t get past the first boss. We’d be interested in what FHM would make of this; it’s tougher than frozen leather, and all for one simple reason – there’s less room for evasive manoeuvres due to the PSP’s small screen. Well, that and the fact that from the very start enemies constantly come at you from all angles. You can’t even stop for a rest – try it and a magician appears to turn you into a useless insect.
Hirsute hero Arthur still jumps like a goon too, making it nigh impossible to change direction when jumping. Capcom really should have sorted that out. In theory this prettified retro update shouldn’t be that hard going though, as you can now save between levels and instantly respawn when you pop your clogs. There’s also a wealth of magic shields and spells to unleash, one of which makes you invincible.
At first we thought we were playing something rather straight laced, and having played Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts on the SNES a sense of over-familiarity clouded the air. However, once we got past the opening graveyard level we started to notice the differences. Like big shiny rings hidden away in seemingly impossible to reach places, power-ups that look like they need massive leaps to collect, and warp keys. Then around half way through the game a witch shows up with a shopping list of body parts. You can probably guess who has to go out gathering.
The way the game is designed didn’t click with us until we reached the very last level: just as we went to open the door to the final boss, we were told that we’d need twenty-odd golden rings to proceed. Couple this with the newly acquired warp keys and a shield with flying abilities and BANG! – everything suddenly fell into place, and what we initially though was quite a shallow affair deepened.
Despite being all polygoned up, no foolish attempts have been made turn the once famous franchise upside down – apart from some 3D running down stairs bits that make use of the extra dimension. Arthur still amusingly runs about in his boxers when low on health, and has the same wooden poses as his 2D counterparts. On the flip side, what really stands out is how wonderfully organic the backdrops and environments look. Often it’s as if you’re making tracks through a living, breathing creature, with pulsating walls and slime pouring out of orifices. One of the bosses – a ghost in the shape of a stingray – is made up of countless tiny pixels, and watching him mutate and fly around is oddly compelling.
So yes, it’s a game that’s likely to frustrate. From start to finish it continually treads the line between challenging and unfair. And as we know all too well, that line is very thin. But it’s not impossible to make progress. Once you learn the strengths of each weapon and work out which ones are better left on the ground – like the puny daggers – it becomes a lot easier, and when the flying shield is in your grasp all that swearing and teeth grinding will appear to have been over nothing.