Ninja Gaiden Hurricane Pack Vol. I Hands-On

We don our ninja cowls, and then we flying-bird-flip straight into the free, downloadable expansion to Ninja Gaiden, which makes the game different and even more challenging. The answers to all your questions are inside.

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When it was released earlier this year, we hailed Ninja Gaiden as one of the best Xbox action games yet--not to mention one of the single best action adventure games ever made. As if to solidify the truth behind those observations, soon the game will be getting a free, downloadable expansion pack that adds brand-new content and lots of new challenge to an already-spectacular game. We've been fortunate enough to get our hands on the Hurricane Pack prior to most others, and we've been vigorously fighting our way through the game in its refurbished state. We're pleased to present to you our comprehensive findings about what we've seen and experienced thus far. (You can thank us later for giving you the good word on what you'll be getting yourself into when you play this thing.)

Take a look at some of the intense, new action you can expect from the free, downloadable Ninja Gaiden Hurricane Pack: Volume I. Click "Stream" for more detail.

First things first. What, exactly, is Hurricane Pack: Volume I?
The Hurricane Pack, which will become available for download exclusively via Xbox Live on Monday, August 9, is a free bonus for Ninja Gaiden fans, and it will be used as the proving grounds for Tecmo's second Master Ninja Tournament, which is basically a high-score contest pitting the world's best Ninja Gaiden players against one another. You don't need to compete in the tournament to play and enjoy the Hurricane Pack, though. This download features a brand-new weapon, a new camera-control option, a key, a new play mechanic, and a remixed single-player campaign that features different item placements, different enemy placements, some brand-new enemies and enemy behaviors, and an overall greater level of challenge. Since it's free, the Hurricane Pack features enough new or changed content to make it well worth checking out by anyone who owns Ninja Gaiden. And if you don't already have an Xbox Live account, it may be well worth a subscription, because the Hurricane Pack cannot be acquired by any other means.

What's the new weapon? Is it really a completely new weapon?
The new weapon is the Lunar, a fighting staff. And, yes, it's a completely new weapon that features brand-new moves, animations, sound effects, and strategies. So, in practice, Ryu plays quite differently while equipped with this deadly staff. The Lunar may be upgraded two times at Muramasa's shop during the course of the game, and each upgrade (as with other weapon upgrades) changes the look of the weapon while granting Ryu Hayabusa access to some powerful new moves and combos. The weapon is definitely effective, because it features much of the speed and combo potential of Ninja Gaiden's nunchaku and Vigoorian flail weapons, but it has the long range of the bladed weapons. If the Lunar has a disadvantage, it's that it does tend to leave Ryu open to counterattacks in between flurries from its rapid swipes, spins, and strikes.

When do you get the Lunar? Is it the best weapon in the game?
You actually find the Lunar conspicuously located about halfway through the very first level of the game, and, unlike in the original Ninja Gaiden, you begin the Hurricane Pack not only with Ryu's Dragon Sword but also with the nunchakus already in your inventory. The Lunar has its strengths and weaknesses, so we don't think it's better or worse than most of the other weapons in the game. We do think Ninja Gaiden fans will naturally be drawn to it for novelty's sake, but we ultimately found ourselves depending on "old faithful"--the Dragon Sword. Then again, since high scores are important in the Master Ninja Tournament, and the Lunar is great for combos, we do think it will be a heavily used weapon even if it isn't strictly superior at dealing with every foe.

Any other new weapons, such as projectile ones?
No, not as far as we can tell. Incidentally, the semi-hidden windmill shuriken may still be found in the same place as before in the Hurricane Pack.

The Lunar is new to the Hurricane Pack. Ryu's ultimate technique with the weapon creates a powerful whirlwind, which is presumably where the Hurricane Pack gets its name.

Does Ryu get any new moves or abilities?
Why, yes, he does. Though the odds are generally stacked even higher against him in the Hurricane Pack, Ryu does gain one valuable new technique right from the start: the intercept. Fighting game fans will recognize this technique as a fighting game-style guard cancel. The way it works is, if you press the left trigger to guard against an enemy attack just as the attack is about to hit you (a shimmering effect indicates when you've done this correctly), you can instantly execute a fast or heavy slash, instead of being staggered by the enemy's attack as you normally would be. This is a risky maneuver, since Ninja Gaiden's enemies strike fast and hit hard. But the reward for mastering this technique is substantial, because it allows you to quickly turn the tables on your foes. Furthermore, since the countermove's technique can no longer be found in the game's airship level and is instead only available for purchase for a high price at Muramasa's shop (more on this later), the new guard-canceling maneuver proves to be indispensable early on. It's also just a really fun, new play mechanic that makes Ninja Gaiden an even faster-paced game. Now the one relatively passive aspect of the game's combat system--defending--has a new layer of depth to it.

Additionally, Ryu may now execute an ultimate attack when you press and hold the Y button, even without absorbing any nearby essence orbs. This gives you more tactical versatility, but it's not that big of a deal. In practice, you won't often have time to charge up an ultimate attack against Ninja Gaiden's fast-moving enemies.

Read on for details about the camera, changes to the levels, the game's difficulty, the new enemies, and more.

What's this about a new camera? How does it work?
The Hurricane Pack features a new manual camera option, which may be toggled on at any time by pressing in on the right analog stick. A momentary flash of light indicates that the camera-control toggle took effect. This camera option lets you freely rotate your perspective around Ryu by moving the analog stick left or right. You may also tilt the perspective up or down. As with the default camera option, the right trigger instantly snaps the camera to a convenient behind-the-back view. This new camera option will be greatly appreciated by those who took issue with the original game's limited camera controls (by default, the right stick switches to a first-person-perspective view and lets you both realign yourself and look about from that viewpoint).

The optional, new camera mode can be helpful for getting your bearings. Too bad you can only use it in the context of the Hurricane Pack's much tougher levels.

It's useful for the adventure-style sequences in which you're trying to find a ledge or an item that's hidden in a nook or cranny. It's not very useful, though, during the game's near-constant, high-speed action sequences; there's no time to be messing with camera angles when you're fighting for your life. Frankly, we weren't frustrated by the game's camera in the first place, since the right trigger worked so well to keep us aligned and oriented. But the new camera option is nice to have, and we think some players will find it to be superior to the default camera.

Are there new levels? What's different about the existing levels?
There are no new levels in the Hurricane Pack. The course of the game is more or less exactly the same as before. The difference is that many items have been moved to different places; enemy placement and enemy behavior has changed to make the game more challenging; bosses have likewise been beefed up; and--as if to add insult to injury--many of the prices in Muramasa's shop have been jacked up. Again, the sum total of all of this is that the Hurricane Pack can be considered a harder, remixed version of the original Ninja Gaiden.

Seriously. How much harder is it? Is it really that hard?
Yes, it's that hard. It's significantly more difficult than the original Ninja Gaiden on "very hard" difficulty. Put it this way: If you fancy yourself a Ninja Gaiden pro (as we did, going into the Hurricane Pack) and can basically breeze through the game on normal mode, then the Hurricane Pack is going to make you feel a lot like when you first started playing the original game. We were actually very impressed at this effect, because the Hurricane Pack really does feel like a brand-new, even tougher challenge.

So, whereas the developers at Team Ninja clearly took the opportunity with the Hurricane Pack to make concessions to those who complained about Ninja Gaiden's camera, they most certainly did not use the Hurricane Pack to address criticisms that the original game was too hard. If you found the original game to be too difficult, then the Hurricane Pack is most certainly not for you. In other words, unless you've finished Ninja Gaiden at the default difficulty, we wouldn't recommend bothering with the Hurricane Pack (though we'd love to see the look on your face if you tried it).

What makes it so much harder? How have the old enemies changed?
Basically, in the Hurricane Pack, you encounter more enemies, many of whom are tougher (meaning both more damaging and harder to kill) and more aggressive (meaning they attack more frequently). You also encounter some of the game's tougher enemies earlier in the adventure, when you have less maximum health and fewer moves and weapons with which to fend them off. For example: In the very first level, the brown ninjas from the original game are completely gone. Instead, you'll fight the tougher white ninjas in their place. And in place of where the white ninjas used to be, you'll face the black-clad Spider Clan ninjas from later on in the adventure--the ones with the incendiary shurikens and the unblockable throat-slashing move. As another example, in the second level of the game, the teleporting, spellcasting ninjas you'll square off against now fire a volley of energy bolts at you instead of just one energy bolt at a time. It should be noted that not all of the enemies in the game have changed. The zombies you'll fight in the catacombs are basically the same as before, as are the wraithlike, scythe-wielding foes you'll face in the monastery. The fact that these enemies will seem so easy to kill demonstrates the relative changes that make most of the old enemies a lot stronger in the Hurricane Pack.

These ferocious cat women will shred you to ribbons the first time you face them. Trust us on this.

There are new enemies, right?
Right. Once you reach the airship level, you'll notice that the Vigoorian commandos now look differently. They have a more robotic appearance than in the original game. (Honestly, we prefer their old look.) But they're mostly just the same, old commandos. You'll meet a brand-new type of foe once you reach Tairon, after the airship level. These feline enemies are extremely fast, attack in groups of three or four, and can deal tons of damage in the blink of an eye. They can also easily avoid many of Ryu's attacks and will attempt to disorient you by literally running circles around you--often along nearby walls. These foes will kill you the first time you meet them. But in time, as with Ninja Gaiden's other opponents, you'll be able to find weaknesses in their seemingly impenetrable defenses. It's best to attack these kitties right as you roll out of the way of one of their pouncing attacks. And if you manage to knock one down, press the attack till she doesn't get back up. In final analysis, we really enjoy these challenging, new foes. And there's an even bigger, new foe waiting to be discovered...

Read on to learn further details about Hurricane Pack: Volume I and whether or not we think it makes Ninja Gaiden an even better game than it already is.

What about bosses? How much have they changed?
The bosses haven't changed that much, but like pretty much every foe in the Hurricane Pack, they're tougher. Basically, they'll use their stronger attacks more frequently. For example, when fighting the dinosaur-skeleton boss, we noted that it would often swipe its tail three times in a row (which isn't its most damaging attack but is definitely its most dangerous attack), whereas it tended to swipe just twice in a row in the original game. Basically, the bosses are changed in such a way that you really need to master their patterns to defeat them, although in the original game, sometimes if you had enough healing potions, you could just muscle your way past a boss. Also, we thought it was cool to be able to fight Murai, the first boss in the game, with nunchakus just like the ones he uses.

Those who think they've mastered Ninja Gaiden already will be in for new challenges in Hurricane Pack: Volume I.

What kind of changes have been made to Muramasa's shop?
The locations of Muramasa's shops haven't changed. The prices (unfortunately) and the selections have changed. And so have Muramasa's rewards for golden scarabs (which, incidentally, may be found in the same locations as in the original game). Muramasa's first golden scarab gift is the wooden practice sword, which was instead available for purchase in the original game. Some more scarabs will earn you the armlets of fortune; some more scarabs will earn you the Vigoorian flail; and so on. Items that could be found during the course of the original game, such as the ninpo scrolls, and special techniques, like the counter arts and the izuna drop, can now only be purchased--and for steep prices that range from 10,000 to 20,000 essence points. (To put it into perspective, recall that a spiritual elixir costs 500 points). Furthermore, the weapon upgrades cost more than in the original game, so it'll cost 5,000 points for the first upgrade to the Dragon Sword or Lunar. Armlets are also very expensive.

By the way, the only ninpo that you find rather than buy is the Art of the Fire Wheels, which was the first ninpo that you found in the original game. It's still found in the same place early on in the Hurricane Pack, and since you probably won't be making the other ninpo a priority for purchase, you'll end up relying on this first ninpo much more than you did in the original game. It'll definitely help you out of a pinch.

Fortunately, items such as spiritual elixirs and other potions haven't had their prices jacked up. The net result of all this, though, is that you'll (initially) end up spending all of your money on potions, and you won't be able to acquire new and better moves as early on in the adventure as you could in the original game. In practice, the changes to Muramasa's shop do much to change the dynamic and pacing of the game's campaign, which is interesting; but not being able to use Ryu's better moves until more than halfway through the game was frankly somewhat frustrating for us.

Any other extras in the Hurricane Pack?
Why, yes. There are a couple of new outfits for Ryu that may be accessed by pressing and holding the white or black buttons when you first select the Master Ninja Tournament main menu option once the Hurricane Pack is installed. The first new outfit makes Ryu look just as he does in the Dead or Alive fighting games; his ninja cowl covers only his face, and his brown spiky hair and long ponytail are exposed. The second outfit makes Ryu look like a menacing biomechanical cyberninja, so it's pretty weird. Note that these outfits do not affect Ryu's moves or abilities.

Does the Hurricane Pack replace the original Ninja Gaiden game?
No. The original Ninja Gaiden game remains unchanged. Once downloaded, the Hurricane Pack version of the game is accessed by selecting the Master Ninja Tournament main menu option. If players save their progress during the course of the Hurricane Pack, they may load a saved game, as per usual, by selecting the Load Game main menu option. While we only recommend the Hurricane Pack for experienced Ninja Gaiden players, you don't need to have finished the original game to play the Hurricane Pack.

How big is the Hurricane Pack in terms of file size? How long is the download going to take?
Unfortunately, we don't have concrete answers to these questions. We got ahold of the Hurricane Pack directly from Tecmo and have not gone through the process of actually logging into Xbox Live to download the file.

Did they get rid of those damn ghost fish?
On the contrary, you'll face those damn ghost fish far earlier into the adventure than you did in the original game. We highly recommend using the Art of the Fire Wheels ninpo or repeatedly pressing the A and X buttons simultaneously--with the Dragon Sword equipped--to deal with them.

Sounds like there's a lot of new content. Are you going to rereview Ninja Gaiden because of the Hurricane Pack?
No, we're not. Though the Hurricane Pack is a great bonus for fans of Ninja Gaiden, it doesn't fundamentally change the game or anything else that drastically. In other words, we stand by our original review.

This here's one more good reason to have an Xbox Live account.

You gave Ninja Gaiden a near-perfect 9.4 out of 10. Let's say the game shipped with the additional content and features of the Hurricane Pack. Would you have rated the game even higher?
You'll never know, and you know what? Neither will we. The fact of the matter is...that was then, and this is now. The new features and changes in the Hurricane Pack are a great show of support from Tecmo to Ninja Gaiden fans. And it's those fans for whom the Hurricane Pack is squarely intended. If you love Ninja Gaiden, we think you'll love the Hurricane Pack. If, for some reason, you dislike Ninja Gaiden, we can't imagine that the Hurricane Pack will change your mind.

So when can I expect Hurricane Pack: Volume II? What's going to be in it?
Whoa! Hold your horses there, pal. We're talking about Hurricane Pack: Volume I here. To date, Tecmo hasn't announced anything specific about subsequent downloadable content packs for Ninja Gaiden. However, judging by the conspicuous "Volume I" part of the name for this first downloadable pack, it's implicit that there will likely be additional downloadable content packs to follow. We'll bring you details on any subsequent expansions to Ninja Gaiden as soon as we possibly can. Until then, good luck with Hurricane Pack: Volume I.

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