Head Chopping Fun
Just as I had expected, Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox 360 is an exhilarating, gore-filled ride that’s heavy on action and not much else. All the best elements from prior Team Ninja offerings are present and accounted for, along with a few changes and improvements that make the game more accessible. Fans of action titles and the Ninja Gaiden franchise will be pleased with the lightning-fast pacing, silky-smooth combat, utterly stable technicals, and the ability to hack a demonic threat into quivering lumps of sushi.
The game is not without flaws, however. Repetitive combat, indestructible environments, a couple graphical hiccups, and less-than-stellar boss battles combine to make the title feel imperfect. As such, if this is the series’ swan song that producer and creator Tomonobu Itagaki says it is, then it’s not the kind of legacy he should be leaving. Don’t get me wrong; it is a very fun game and the best Ninja Gaiden to date, but it’s not the immaculate epic on which to end.
I could launch into a whole bit about the story and background of Ninja Gaiden II, but it’s not particularly pertinent. Suffice it to say, players will go on a world tour and battle it out in the underworld against the Black Spider Ninja Clan and the minions of the Archfiend by leveraging their dragon ancestry via Ryu Hayabusa. The various cutscenes, character interactions, and hidden scrolls do a good job of telling an interesting story, but the real meat and potatoes of the title lies in its combat.
As with the other games in the series, gameplay consists of shredding waves of enemies apart with supernatural martial abilities. Ryu Hayabusa is a true ninja hero who knows his way around exotic weapons and carotid arteries. Ryu has always been capable of dismembering foes in a matter of instants, but never has it been more decisive and satisfying as in this title. I especially enjoyed carving through packs of Venetian werewolves. They thought they were bad until I harried them with Dragon’s Claw and Tiger’s Fang, leaving them in piles of lycanthropic refuse. The theatrical way in which I dispatched with all of the untoward minions was a thing of beauty. In fact, I was even able to capture some of the best moments on Ninja Cinema. That’s right; you can record your bloody exploits and submit them online for others to view! You can also send your Karma score to the Xbox LIVE leaderboards and see where you stack up in terms of your friends as well as on the world stage.
As cool as combat looks, it does get quite repetitive. Team Ninja mixes things up a bit by including a bunch of interesting weapons you can upgrade, adding new moves to your repertoire, and throwing new, fiercer enemies into the mix. Unfortunately, all you’ll really ever do is mash on the X and Y buttons, cast a little Ninpo action with Y and B together, hurl a set of shuriken in enemy faces with B to extend your combos, or block and counterattack with LT and a timed X or Y. After the first few levels, you’ll become so used to combat even the spurting green ooze from a demonic stump won’t amuse you.
To be fair, I liked being able to employ the Obliteration and Ultimate Techniques with Y. If you’ve lopped off an enemy’s limb, you can turn them into slop by tapping Y and letting Ryu do the rest. The resulting Obliteration finishing move usually involves a decapitation or severing clean through the creature’s midsection. If you can hold on to Y long enough, a powerful charged attack known as the Ultimate Technique will be unleashed. This whirlwind of death typically will take anywhere from one to three opponents out of the fight. All in all, I’d say combat is delightfully brutal, but also somewhat desensitizing and monotonous after a while.
Players will utterly dominate the majority of each chapter. New foes provide a challenge for the first few minutes, but once you see how they attack, they are dispatched as quickly as the initial Spider Clan baddies. Where things get really tough, especially on the Warrior difficulty setting, is in the boss battles. — Thanks for the information, Captain Obvious! — Seriously, Ninja Gaiden has always been known for tough bosses and NG II is no exception. The problem is these showdowns aren’t nearly as interesting as they are in say, Metroid Prime or God of War. In fact, I only found the boss battles to be frustrating and not particularly enjoyable.
All the dominance and unbashed ass-kickery I threw down while roaming the city streets was negated by some Sephiroth-looking D-bag with a purple-trimmed outfit. After quickly figuring out each boss’ little tricks, you’ll only be challenged by the task of executing your strategy with expert timing. Moreover, all the delightfully gruesome ways in which minions are slain are reduced to far more noble, and relatively blood-free, cinematic death sequences.
My last couple of gripes have to do with the graphics and the environments. The framerate is incredibly smooth and the textures are stunning, but there are a few chinks in the visual armor. Certain environments are fantastic, while others are simply standard. For example, the awesome views of the futuristic Tokyo cityscape were great, but the interior of the buildings are bland and featureless. Similarly, New York, a city known for its details, nooks, and crannies looked as if I was plodding around Denver. I didn’t mind the mildly branching, basically linear level design at all, but I would have liked to have seen more attention paid to puddles, rust spots, billboards, etc. Those are the kind of details that bring gaming to the next level. Finally, the splattered blood on walls, while fun to look at, would often carry over into mid-air. This is a fairly knit picky complaint, but it’s not the kind of thing for which the last game in the series should be remembered.
There are a number of things the game gets spot on, however. For one, the pacing is fast and furious. There is never any downtime, and you will quickly advance from area to area. Additionally, there is almost no shuttering. I was absolutely thrilled at just how stable everything is. It really is ultra-smooth. Finally, the regenerating health meter and ability to play in either Acolyte or Warrior difficulty makes the game accessible for more people. This may be unsettling for those who cut their teeth on Ninja Gaiden Black, but having the option to breeze through the chapters in Acolyte is nice for everyone except the most dedicated gamers. Thankfully, Warrior difficulty will still be a challenge to Ninja Gaiden masters. Anyone who says otherwise is either bionic or a lying snob!
Bottom line, Ninja Gaiden II is a very good action title that has a repetitive yet satisfying combat mechanic. It doesn’t look or feel quite like the masterpiece Itagaki stated it was, but it will provide you with several hours of a bloody good time.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The textures and framerate are astounding, but the environments are often bland and uninspired. Don’t get me started with the phantom blood splatters! 4.0 Control
They function extremely well, but the lack of creativity makes combat a bit too repetitive. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sounds of cloven flesh and gurgling blood-filled throats help set the tone. The Japanese voice work is more engaging than the English one. 4.2 Play Value
Cutting through the horde of enemies is fun. I just wish the boss battles were more intriguing. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.