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.
February 11, 2008 – Ninja Gaiden II is going to be one of those must-play games for fans of ninja action. Whether you buy, rent or borrow, if you’re into ninja action, you’ll probably be playing this game in the near future. If you haven’t heard of the Ninja Gaiden franchise, it is actually a pretty old franchise, which has a history that begins on the NES. The series experienced a bit of a slump after a poor unreleased effort on the Sega Master System. But the series was revived to much acclaim in 2004 with Ninja Gaiden, which was released on the Xbox.
This game has spawned several spin-offs, including Ninja Gaiden Black and last year’s Ninja Gaiden Sigma. But none of these games were a true sequel to the Xbox hit, rather they were more of a game recap with extra features rather than an actual follow-up. That is where Ninja Gaiden II comes in. Ninja Gaiden II will be a direct continuation of the original Xbox title, and will include many new features while maintaining the franchise’s commitment to awesome ninja action.
The game pretty much picks up where the previous game left off with our good friend Ryu Hayabusa. Still seeking revenge for his clan, Ryu finds himself at the heart of a clan war that has been brewing for quite awhile. At the head of this rival clan is Ninja Genshin, who seems to have quite an obsession with our main man Ryu. He has been training a ninja army just to take Ryu out. However, instead of just fighting other ninjas, Ryu Hayabusa will encounter some pretty interesting creatures that he will have to beat down as well. Early screenshots have shown werewolves and spider-like creatures as being among the super-natural beings that Ryu will have to take out. Not too much is known about Genshin, but my guess is that all will be revealed during the course of Ninja Gaiden II.
The real draw to this game, however, is not its storyline (enchanting as it may be) but its gameplay. The original Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox featured gameplay that had a core hack n’ slash feel to it, but gave gamers a deeper experience through varied combat options and expansive battle stages. It also utilized an essence system that was linked with special moves and weaponry. Ninja Gaiden II will build on this experience by keeping the core elements of the battle system, but will include special elements that will keep the gameplay fresh.
While the main goal of the gameplay will still be to cut through your rivals, there will be some tweaks along the way to make it more interesting. Chief among these tweaks is an addition to the essence system. Build up enough essence, and you’ll be able to use an obliteration technique to finish off your foes fantastically. Think of it like a fatality. These moves will improve players’ overall end stage score, and are also pretty cool to watch. Another new gameplay feature will be the addition of a regenerating health bar. While some might decry this as making the game too easy, I think that the trend towards the regenerating health bar seen in most modern FPS games, which have a 5-10 second regeneration time, will transition pretty easily to the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Plus, who doesn’t appreciate having to rummage around every few seconds for extra health?
Graphics are going to be stunning in this game. Much like last year’s Ninja Gaiden Sigma on the PS3, Ninja Gaiden II will feature graphics rendered in full 1080p. And if you have played the latter, you know that Ninja Gaiden II will be beautiful. Ryu Hayabusa is detailed to a fault, with muscles bulging and weaponry gleaming. Environments also feature some breathtaking detail and are an amazing sight to behold. My favorite environment so far has to be the one with cherry blossoms. Early footage shows Ryu slicing someone up in into a bloody mess right in front of a bright pink Sakura tree. The red and pink provide a stunning contrast, and this use of color is simply amazing to behold.
But besides all these great graphical aspects, there does seem to be a little bit of controversy surrounding the visual styling of Ninja Gaiden II, and it revolves around its gore factor. As you can probably tell from screenshots, this game is going to be pretty gory. Like Mortal Kombat in 1080i. And while gore enthusiasts like myself can celebrate the mass dismemberment and lavishly rendered blood sprays, some are speculating that the ESRB might not have the same affinity. Many are concerned that this game will be slapped with the dreaded AO ranking for its gory content. Of course, the rating is still pending at this point, but an AO rating would lead to a virtual ban on the game and would probably result in modifications to the game and a pushed-back release date. This would, needless to say, probably enrage more than a few gamers. So here’s hoping the ESRB gives Ninja Gaiden II the M rating, and we can all enjoy the gory goodness on May 20th.
Ninja Gaiden II is one of the most anticipated titles of the year, and for good reason. It is going to be a direct follow-up to 2004’s breakout Ninja Gaiden and will have more ninja action than you can shake a samurai at! There’s so much hype and anticipation surrounding this game that it is difficult to describe the high hopes that many have for this game. Even if you have never played a Ninja Gaiden game before, this looks like a title that you may just have to pick up anyway, because the buzz surrounding this title indicates that it may well be the best ninja-inspired game to date. This superstar follow-up will feature stunning graphics, an amazing story, and most importantly, lots of tiny ninja pieces. Have fun slicing!