|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Team Ninja||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Tecmo / Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 3, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
May 15, 2008 - If this were a Simpson's Treehouse of Horror episode, this would be the time when Marge would stroll onto the screen and beg for parents to put their children to sleep to shield them from the somewhat mature content about to follow.
If you are still reading this preview, then it is time to start talking about the super stylized and brutally violent Ninja Gaiden II I recently got a chance to play at Microsoft's Gamer's Day. Fans have been waiting a long time for a true sequel to Ninja Gaiden, originally released for the Xbox and then revamped and rereleased for the Xbox and PS3. The previous edition of Ninja Gaiden was heralded as a game for the hardest of hardcore with its extreme difficulty level. Fortunately, Ninja Gaiden II will finally allow players of all skill levels to feel like a deadly ninja.
Ninja Gaiden II will include four difficulty levels ranging from fairly easy to frustratingly difficult. The architecture of this sequel was built from the ground up to make these different difficulties feel natural and balanced. This was evident when watching players of several different skill levels play the game. When playing on easy, you are more likely to meet with success even if you haven't played the previous installment in the series. As you get into the third and fourth difficulty level, the game begins to rival the difficulty found in the original Ninja Gaiden.
Another change made to make the game more accessible is its regenerating health bar. When you are damaged in the game, you will lose health, some permanently and some not. You have a red and a blue life bar, with the red being your total possible health and the blue being your current health. If you lose some of your blue bar, it will eventually refill if you can avoid enemies for a while. The catch is that your blue bar will only fill to match the red bar, so if you lose massive chunks of your red bar you are much easier to dispatch. The red life bar can be refilled but only at healing statues that are also used to save your game progress. I can't tell you how much this system helps players who may be a little on the less skilled side. Don't get me wrong: this doesn't make the game easy to play through by any means, but it does help take a bit of the frustration out of getting damaged.
I was able to play through about three levels of the game and was taken aback by just how violent it actually was. I had heard about the blood and dismembering present in the game, but you have to play the game to understand just how brutal it truly is. After playing only a few minutes of the game, I could have supplied Mr. Potato Head with enough parts to comfortably equip his relatives until the end of time. It seemed like at least every five seconds or less I was stylishly spinning around and taking a variety of limbs from the constant waves of advancing enemies. Skillful play will provide you with constant fountains of blood and airborne appendages as you tear apart anything that moves.
I was given the choice of any of the game's core eight weapons, each balanced with their own specific weaknesses and strengths. There is a good mix of both short and long-range weapons, each having their own style of turning your opponents into puddles of blood and random body parts. For instance, the staff was excellent at dispatching large numbers of foes with many spinning combinations, while the sword gives you less range but quicker and more precise attacks. My personal favorite weapon had to be the Wolverine-esque claws that came with matching boot blades. When using this weapon, Ryu becomes a whirling dervish of pain as he used his hands and feet to their full potential as killing tools. These different weapons help to add variety, both in gameplay and visually, while dispatching your foes.
The enemies are much smarter this time around. If an enemy spots you, there are only two ways to get them off your back: cut off a leg and run away or kill them. Otherwise, enemies will just keep coming for you. Even if you do happen to sever a leg, enemies will continue to crawl towards you using their arms and swords until they find you. They are extremely tenacious. Enemies will also always present a challenge when fighting since the game includes adaptive A.I. that helps make every fight feel unique and interesting. You can perform the same moves four times in a row, and the enemy may very well react differently each time you attempt. This keeps the combat feeling fresh even though you will spend a ton of time hacking down hordes of enemies.
Fans of the previous Ninja Gaiden know just how good that game looked, even on the original Xbox. Ninja Gaiden II is stunningly beautiful as well, taking full advantage of the more powerful hardware of the Xbox 360. Aside from just the beautifully done dismembering, the game's animations and environments are also fairly impressive. Be it running, jumping, or fighting, Ryu moves realistically and silky smooth at all times. The game's environments are quite varied, ranging from partially destroyed modern cities to more rural older looking towns. Each have nice touches such as blossoms falling from nearby cherry trees or neon signs advertising the Xbox 360 Elite (shameless in-game advertising). Speaking of, I also got a chance to see some of the costumes that will be made available as downloadable content shortly after the game's release. The variations on Ryu's classic costume looked nice, but you will have to pony up some Microsoft points if you want to fight in style.
This really is an excellent title for both skilled and new players alike. Team Ninja clearly wanted this game to meet with more commercial success than its previous iteration did. Although the game was excellent, many people got frightened away by its unrelenting difficulty. Because of this they have actually made great strides in making it possible for just about anyone to have fun playing Ninja Gaiden II. I personally can't wait for this game's June third release date and encourage anyone over seventeen with an Xbox 360 to pick up this game. You won't be disappointed.
CCC Game Journalist