Review: Ninja Gaiden II
Separating the men from the boys and we don’t even qualify as a foetus.
It seems the lot in life of every Honorable Ninja or demon-hunter with his own game is the prevention of some idiot from their attempts to open the Gates of the Hades and in doing so, clear a path for the permanent vacation of every fiend residing there. That’s the way Ninja Gaiden 1 did it; that’s how Dante does it and I’d say it’s worked out pretty well so far. Well, Ninja Gaiden 2 mixes things up a little by opening the Bowels of Hell (located in Mount Fuji FYI) on the second level.
This time, heir to the Dragon Ninja clan (now that his father has returned from the dead), Ryu Hayabusa must wipe every Fiend, Greater Fiend and mid-level Fiend from the earth single-handedly with occasional assistance from a living sex-doll called Sonia. You’ll encounter hundreds of varied, though level-specific enemies through each lengthy (hour or so) chapter and each one will put up a fight to the death. My favourites being Grendel and the Zerg. Unlike Assassin’s Creed, these guys aren’t shy about attacking together. Fortunately the tools of your grim trade are scattered generously, ranging from traditional ninja equipment like bows, dynamite shurikens and staves; to devastating magics and over-the-top weaponry such as the Wolverine claws and a Death-defying sickle. They’re all fine replacements to the original’s, but now with the additional pleasure of seeing them in action during the spectacle of ‘finishers’ – the killing stroke to a maimed enemy that would otherwise be prone to kamikaze. The combat is undeniably the deepest out there, offering a range of moves and animations to rival a beat ’em up.
Taste the Rainbow
Dismemberment plays an important part in the overall sense of immersion that this sequel creates. Every process is as streamlined as leather-bound Ryu, whether it be the instant save points, the zero loading-times, the d-pad item selection or most graciously, the instant spawning at the start of boss fights (with all your health items restored, thank you LORD).
For so long enemies have gone from full capacity to 6-feet under at the point of defeat that it seem natural to our beleaguered eyes, but for every slash or pound that you deal onto your foe, a consequence of blood and viscera is your reward. The system let’s you know how vulnerable an enemy is to a final blow, but also how desperate he is and therefore his potential to use last-resort tactics. Be grateful it doesn’t work the other way round.
The crystal skulls! They do nothing!
Though for all I know it does, as the difficulty I played on for review was the hardest option from default, and I’m relived to say that the difficulty curve has been toned down dramatically – almost too much. Even the dreaded ghost fish may as well be remodeled as koi karp for all the damage they do! Enemies are less vicious, but more intelligent pack-animals, forcing you to rely on tactics over impenetrable defense. The touted health regeneration works perfectly, meaning that no victory should be taken as Pyrrhic. Don’t get me wrong, though; this is still hardcore gaming and a single enemy can take you out if you aren’t playing the game properly (by that I mean keeping up the offensive and dodging to reposition – basically never letting up the initiative). Even if you are, the difficult spikes are frankly impaling and require the patience of a saint or at least GameFaqs to get by at times. Enemies using the same special attack twice in a row is simply bad games design.
Heads will roll
Speaking of bad games design, the bosses are gashtacullar. They’re more like puzzles (specifically the one at the end of The Last Crusade, where if you don’t follow the one true path, you die) dependant on luck and greasy-fast speed. The few occasions when you might have had a good time, such as against a rival ninja Head-honcho, the cheap bastard decides to bring a squad of incendiary shruiken-flinging lackeys with him. As if his own attack didn’t wipe out all my health in one combo already! As a responsible reviewer I feel it incumbent upon me to warn you now that one of the bosses explodes upon death.
This game is a very different beast from the first Ninja Gaiden. Now you face off against hordes of baddies at a time as opposed to one or two. The story of this game makes little or no sense with each chapter jumping to new locations with little narratives to explain why. The difficulty curve, instead of being smooth, is up and down all over the shop. Certain early levels are difficult with easy bosses yet some of the later levels are easy with difficult bosses.
These difficulty niggles are compounded by some very cheap sections of the game, with enemies that just spam you repeadetedly with the same attack and wear you down. To round off the problems, the camera is just the wrong side of adequate, often missing the action and not giving you a proper view ahead.
But these issues all but disappear when you consider the flawless fighting system, with better weapons at your disposal than before and many more enemies to dispatch. You now need even more skill if you are to beat them.
It’s this peerless fighting system which saves the game and with replayability added through an online leaderboard and video sharing, this is still the best roaming beat-’em-up out there.
Secondary Score: 7/10
Teach them the exquisite pain of the Dragon Sword
What little I can say about the music, the best thing about it is that I never felt the urge to switch on my custom soundtrack. It’s all very foreboding and serious, which fits in with the overall tone. A clinical, surgical, very Japanese way of doing things compared to the the boisterous Conan and God of War. This is also present in the visuals, which are crisp and fluid, yet somehow devoid of life to the extent that I can feel incredibly blaze about the corpse-strewn floors that I leave in my wake. Maybe it’s intentional that Ryu is always masked.
No-one knows where a Ninja goes
I wish he’d take it off though, as that bloody thing is blocking his peripheral vision like a motherfucker. The camera is so penned-in and narrow that micromanaging the thing is a must, to the point where I assumed it’s belligerence to track any enemy at all must’ve been a deliberate design decision. As a result the R-trigger got as much work resetting the camera behind Ryu as it would’ve done in a chuffin’ FPS. Another mark of shame must go to the framerate, whose shudders and stutters are just unwelcome in a game that exudes professionalism from every pour.
There’s a schizophrenia inherent to NG2. In the same hour you can experience the agony and the ecstasy of what it has to offer. I don’t know which side will be your lasting impression. The inclusion of new features already present in the Sigma iteration on the PS3 made this an essential purchase for me, as a card-carrying fan of the first. What say you, old man? Can you still get it up?