Ninja Gaiden II Review
Ryu Hayabusa has returned in full form for his first true sequel, Ninja Gaiden II. Ryu once again has to battle off the Black Spider Ninja Clan who happen to accompany a legion of supernatural creatures, namely fiends. These fiends are your toughest opponents throughout the game, coming in a variety of forms. The toughest of which are greater fiends and the legendary archfiend.
Whilst the storyline is not much to go on (literally give it a try, you can amaze your friends if you can avoid confusion), it is little to worry about as there is enough to know who must be slaughtered. You will quickly realise that the sensible introduction is quickly thrown off balance with each storyline twist and character introduction. In a nutshell, from the very start, you are forewarned that the fiends are to return, followed shortly by the pillage of your home clan and theft of the ancient statue which can bring forth the legendary ancient archfiend. It does not take much to figure out that unless you stop them, a whole lot of trouble will be incoming.
The Ninja Gaiden is well known for its action packed, sometimes quite tricky, gameplay – and Ninja Gaiden II follows that trend. As you travel half way around the world chasing the statue, you will clean up the mess left behind in the form of countless enemies, soon to be nothing more than a few stray ligaments. The beauty of Ninja Gaiden is not the meandering storyline, but the heart pumping action and the ridiculous challenge that awaits.
Ninja Gaiden was renowned as one of the best action titles on any platform, ever. This was thanks to two reasons: The first being the fluid combat system which boasts precision controls which work fantastic even at the fast pace, and secondly the difficulty of the game. Unlike most action titles around, Ninja Gaiden did not provide a difficulty curve which would suit the average gamer, instead the curve would resemble a straight line. Enemies were constant, combat was brutal and death was an extreme annoyance. For better or for worse, the difficulty has been eased slightly in the form of more save locations and a rechargeable health bar out of combat. However the enemies still come down hard and provide a constant battle of just staying alive during a single fight. This level of challenge is only a stepping stone for what is left to come, with two additional difficulty levels to be unlocked after completion. If you are looking for a challenge, Ninja Gaiden would be it and if you manage the first competition, you are more than welcome to try your patience and control pad durability at the later difficulty settings.
The controls are generally simple on paper, with X and Y being your main forms of attack, and A as jump. The left trigger is used to defend incoming attacks, which will be over used if you expect to survive for long. These few buttons will be used excessively over the course of the game, with certain combinations proving fatal. The single new feature which sets Ninja Gaiden II ahead of the previous title is the sheer volume of gruesome gore filled decapitations. You can literally cut an opponent apart as you slice off arms, legs and heads with a few button presses, and amazingly enough a ninja (or a fiend) will not go down so easily. The enemies will happily continue to fight with a missing ligament, and will often perform suicide attacks which can be extremely devastating to your health. Thankfully Team Ninja have provided the ability to ‘Obliterate’ wounded enemies. The simple press of Y near an injured enemy will perform such brutal actions that games such as Manhunt are left feeling timid. Blood splatter, ligaments flying around and decapitations galore; Ninja Gaiden II is not for the faint hearted.
Throughout the game you will encounter a long list of items at your disposal. These come in the form of melee weapons, projectile weapons, general items and information scrolls. The first two provide additional weaponry to deplete your foes, with a range of items at hand from swords, claws and staffs to shuriken, bows and even a gatling gun. All of the weapons handle differently, vary in speed and offer different combo and finishing moves. Other than the weapons at hand, you will have the obvious health and power boosts, items to progress through the game, information books, scrolls and Ninpo special ability scrolls.
Ninpo scrolls take advantage of Ryu’s Ki energy, restored throughout the game. This energy can quickly be called upon by pressing Y and B together, resulting in a devastating attack that can easily get you out of a tight spot. An alternative to this quick and simple special ability, you have the ‘Ultimate Technique’. By holding down Y for a prolonged period of time you can charge your ultimate attack, which will obliterate all enemies in your wake. The level of destruction that these two abilities have often leave your opponents not only dead, but legless, armless, headless and typically in tiny little chunks around your feet. The only exceptions to this are the boss fights, which are typically magnificent to behold and provide the age old challenge of ‘how the hell do I dispose of this thing’. When the answer to that is found, the bosses usually fall at your feet in no time at all. Few bosses however will leave you guessing, frustrated or confused as hints are not given willingly.
Whilst it all sounds truly fantastic, like its predecessor, flaws are present. Small issues like the extremely linear level design, repetitive enemies and confusing storyline can be overlooked thanks to the sheer quality in the gameplay. Unfortunately the one gripe that lets the game down, also gives the gameplay a large knock as well, is the camera. The camera can easily be your worst enemy, and the deciding factor between life and death. Action games have always struggled with camera issues, and due to the speed and high velocity movements this is only made a whole lot worse in Ninja Gaiden II.
None the less, whether combat is fast and gruesomely beautiful or at a halt leaving nothing but the scenery to admire, Ninja Gaiden II is presented beautifully. The locations and general style follow heavily to the original, which is not a bad thing. The scenery literally oozes detail in the background and the immediate combat animation combined with the blood effects look truly amazing. The sound effects are also of an equal quality, with every slice and clunk of flesh that flies off sounding exactly as you would expect. The same can be said for the voice acting and the audio tracks, which unfortunately are not used near enough throughout the title.
Ninja Gaiden II is without a doubt one for the fans, something of which I am sure the developers are proud of. Newcomers to the series will likely find some form of enjoyment from the fast, action packed gameplay, where others who steered clear of the original would likely be best doing so once again as the wheel hasn’t been reinvented, but repeated.