Ninja Gaiden 2 Review

Ninja Gaiden II contains more "fuck yes" and "aw fuck" moments than any three action games put together. In the course of Ryu's journey, you'll be both bad ass and just plain bad. And sometimes, if only for a moment, you'll hate this game.

For every brilliant action sequence, there will be another marred by a bad camera angle. After every gorgeous level, there will be another set in a dull, dreary cave. Following every exciting fight, there will be another boring cutscene that defies all laws of human decency.

Some of this sounds terrible in description, but don't worry--these will be temporary feuds. The truth is, it's difficult to stay mad at something this beautiful. I mean, just look at this: Registered users can use the HD Stream

Do you see that video? Doesn't that look awesome? Yeah, that was me. I did that. I didn't tap a button in time with the rhythm of a techno track, or wave a Wii controller in a disco move, or follow an on-screen prompt that triggered a scripted attack. Each slice and swing was an immediate result of my sometimes skillful, and frequently lucky, button presses.

With Ninja Gaiden II, what you see is what you get. It's a frantic, skill-based brawler, and retains the responsive mechanics that set the first game apart. It's all about quick action and quicker reaction, a careful balance of parry and thrust and total coincidence. Only the most dedicated players will dominate at the highest difficulty, as it should be.

That being said, this is unquestionably a Ninja Gaiden for the rest of us. Thanks to a relaxed health regeneration system, I happily defeated most of the game's levels and bosses--on the easiest mode of four, mind you--without coming close to a frustrated toss of my controller. Occasionally I'd get stuck on a boss for a few minutes, sometimes to the point of rampant ninja cursing, but I was rarely red-faced to the point quitting--as I was with Team Ninja's first.

Speaking of red-faced, let's get this out of the way right now: Ninja Gaiden II has to be one of the bloodiest games ever made. Brains will be roughly coaxed from skulls, launched into walls with a sickening smack. Limbs will litter the ground by the dozen. Ryu may have a fancy walk-on-water move, but he'll be wading through more pools of blood than anything else. You really have to admire a game that leaves you feeling empty if you leave an enemy with a single appendage still attached. It's over the top, but deliciously so.

Weapons such as the claw-like Falcon's Talons and the hefty Lunar Staff can literally tear tough-guys to shreds. Each can be upgraded at shops found within levels, changing in appearance and killing power up to three times. Easily accessed by a new in-game crosspad, the wide choice of blades, blunts, and ranged weapons is half the fun. There is nothing like using akimbo katanas to deal with a spindly monster, then switching to the flail-like Kusari-gama to mow down a group of ninjas. The Lunar Staff and its cranium-crushing power is my personal poison, but then, Donatello was always my favorite.

In many ways this is a Turtles-like affair, with everything from humanoid ninjas to insectoid monstrosities opposing you. Most of the enemies are memorable and great fun to dispatch. Some are simply re-skins of enemies seen earlier in the game. Others are merely boring. A general rule: anything that flies or swims will never be as fun to kill as your standard land-based foe.

The bulk of Ninja Gaiden is spent eliminating hordes of these enemies at a time, and their appearances and attack patterns are varied enough to keep you interested. I never once tired of decapitating or de-limbing the lot of them, and the game is a clear winner in that respect.

Of course, development time has also been spent elsewhere to provide for a more complete package.

Turn the page for more. _PAGE_BREAK_ The developers at Team Ninja know their old-school mentality shouldn't be an excuse for poor design decisions these days, and they have done much to alleviate common Gaiden complaints. Health now regenerates to a degree after each battle, taking away much of the need for strict potion management. Auto-save points are plentiful and well-paced through each chapter. And now when you bite the dust during a boss fight, you can simply start the battle over again--a recent change from an earlier build of the game, which annoyingly sent you back to your last save.

Like all good action sequels, Gaiden II improves on the original while adding new features. The best of the latter is Ninja Cinema, which allows you to record your bloody exploits in full color or stylized black-and-white. It's a great feature, with my only complaint being that you must enter the pause menu to turn recording on or off. That, and I'll have to actually get good at the game before I can show off my videos: only ranked scores are worthy of uploads.

So it's bloody, and you kill things, and you can record yourself killing things. What else is there?

A cringe-worthy assortment of silly cutscenes, over a dozen lengthy levels, some magic spells, and, um, more things to kill.

What you see is what you get; the good, and the bad. Registered users can use the HD Stream

For instance, do you see how the camera angle often totally obstructs the action? While you fight back thick waves of enemies, you'll also be fighting with the camera. The view is constantly positioning itself behind monsters or up against walls, especially in the game's later stages, where Ryu battles in caves and the narrow corridors of castles. There are camera speed controls, but you'll still find yourself using the right stick too often. It's not a deal breaker, but it is often annoying.

While the level design is largely improved over the original game due to its mostly-linear nature, some stages are undeniably sloppy in places. There is never a giant arrow pointing the way, and often I ended up running in circles within a semi-open area, wasting minutes before finding the door I needed. Real ninjas shouldn't be peeking at GPS units, but a "Four Tails of the Golden Compass" move might have been handy at times to keep up the pace.

I would argue that real ninjas shouldn't have to deal with annoying platform puzzles either, but there are a couple of those anyway. Luckily they are made easier by the fact that Ryu can't fall from a ledge until you hit the jump button. Oddly enough, this platform-to-platform jumping reminded me a bit of Star Tropics.

And yes, even though this sequel is markedly less frustrating on easy difficulty when compared to past games, it will still throw you for a loop at times. The between-battle health regeneration isn't much help in the midst of a fight, and bosses can literally tear you apart in seconds. You can also end up stuck in a difficult boss fight without a single healing item, doomed to face utter domination ad nauseam. It's never impossible to overcome a boss with a single health meter, but it can feel like it sometimes.

And I still don't mind. You can criticize the best action movies for their bad camera work and tepid storylines, but those elements ultimately take little away from the experience. The same is true with Ninja Gaiden II. In the end, the pure fun of the carnage far outweighs any fleeting camera issues, level design shortcomings, or boss frustrations.

What you see is what you get. And just look at this ridiculous game: Registered users can use the HD Stream

You can get the Xbox 360-exclusive Ninja Gaiden II on June 3 in North America.

Filed Under
Hello, Meet Lola