Microsoft Game Studios Ninja Gaiden 2
There will be blood
- Incredibly fast and beautiful combat action, tons of weapons and combos, plenty of amazing cinematic moments
- Persistent death by bad camera angle, inconsistent difficulty will aggravate even the hardcore, token puzzle-solving punctuates utter linearity
It's a slick game, but nowhere near as good as what fans have been hoping for.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
Ninja Gaiden reinvented an action classic and set the bar for viciously demanding combat. Ryu Hayabusa's lost none of his acrobatic vigour or combat prowess, but a few troubling problems keep this sequel from the soaring heights of a master.
The big show
On the eve of a massive invasion of Tokyo by the Black Spider Ninja Clan, Special Agent Sonia waits for iconic ninja Ryu Hayabusa at Muramasa's shop with a message, but is kidnapped before she can deliver it. Thus begins a rollercoaster that'll take Ryu from the streets of New York City to strange worlds where human feet have never dared to tread. Okay, so you won't find much in the way of coherent storytelling or characterisation in Ninja Gaiden II, but what the tale lacks in craftsmanship it makes up for with plentiful moments of jaw-dropping spectacle.
As inspired as some of the set pieces are, like a werewolf-infested tour of Venice or the steep slopes of Mount Fuji, each is an almost completely linear romp through paths that wander to and fro with no apparent logic or purpose. Injected into these staged spaces are doors to break down and invisible lines to cross, which trigger armies of foes to rush out of nowhere. Though the graphics are certainly slick, you'll never feel like you're exploring a living world, but rather the third-person melee action equivalent of a rail shooter. The occasional jumping puzzle or twenty-second key hunt breaks up the monotony a bit, but they're too few and far between to even qualify as bona fide elements of play.
Luckily, the sterile nature of the nevertheless detailed environments fades into the background any time you're fighting through teeming crowds of fleet-footed ninjas, horned demons, winged beasts, and creepy crawlies. These aren't Kung Fu Theatre rejects who wait patiently for their turn to get pummelled, either: they'll tear into you with incredible speed and effectiveness if you don't learn to block, dash-dodge, counter, and charge-attack like a pro. Sheer visceral spectacle is where Ninja Gaiden II shines the brightest, filling the screen with a gory and ever-shifting maelstrom of colourful costumes, amputated limbs, spraying bodily fluids, and the metallic streaks of Ryu's chosen weapon.
There's trouble in this cinematic paradise, though. The most common cause of death for the skilled warrior is an obstinate camera that's plainly unconcerned with giving you a decent view of the action a solid half the time. Ryu regularly jumps completely off-screen during attacks in any area smaller than an arena. Ninja Gaiden II is perhaps the most blisteringly fastest-paced action combat game ever, and as such demands a prodigious level of timing skill, but how is a newcomer to acquire such skill when he must constantly fiddle with the viewpoint just so they can see what's going on? The ability to save and upload extended clips of your most impressive beat-down sessions with the Ninja Cinema system is wonderful, but we'd gladly trade it in for a camera that more effectively tracked the action.
Though you start with just your dragon sword and ineffectual shurikens, you'll find a wide array of weaponry and a handful of Ninpo spells if you inspect chests and fallen would-be heroes. From a Falcon's Talons gloves-and-boots set that makes Wolverine look like a Care Bear, to the far-reaching devastation of a kusari-gama — it's basically a scythe attached to a long chain — you have a varied arsenal of weaponry at your disposal. You can also upgrade each weapon to unlock huge lists of combos and special attacks. The projectile weapons aren't as awesome: you have options like incendiary shurikens and an underwater spear gun but they're merely novelties, and prove useful only when you come across specific obstacles that have been designed to take advantage of these airborne weapons. Only the Fiend's Bane Bow comes in handy with any regularity, and then only because of foes who send bursts of unblockable rockets hurtling your way at a maddening rate.
This brings us to Ninja Gaiden II's biggest problem (the one aside from the fickle camera that is): its surprisingly uneven difficulty. Hardcore fanatics of the last game will undoubtedly relish the challenges to be found here, but they'll also lament just how inconsistent those challenges are. You'll gain back considerable health each time you clear a wave of baddies, but some nameless side boss could take considerable experimentation to beat, while a climactic confrontation with a major character ends in half a minute. Sometimes you'll face two bosses in a row without a break, or die at the very end of an exhausting skirmish because the damn thing exploded without warning. There's a fairly broad line between intensely challenging and pointlessly aggravating, but Ninja Gaiden II still dances across it too often, even at the easiest difficulty.
Silent but deadly
You might feel a weighty sense of accomplishment for enduring these uneven trials, and you'll undoubtedly enjoy the rich combat system and gorgeous visuals along the way, but by the end you're more likely to breathe a sigh of relief and move on than venture back for an even less forgiving encore. Ninja Gaiden II is a slick and thrill packed action game but it's nowhere near the masterpiece that fans have been clamouring for. It's worth playing through and you'll have plenty of fun but finicky camera and uneven difficulty definitely cuts into the fun.
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