Ninja Gaiden 2 Review

Dan Webb

Following the resignation of Tomunobu Itagaki recently, Ninja Gaiden 2 is sure to be the last project that the prodigal son and Team Ninja will ever create together. The sequel to the hugely successful original, released in 2004, is built from the ground up exclusively for the Xbox 360. Being a newbie to the series, I wasn’t sure what I was about to let myself in for.

Form an orderly queue please.

Ninja Gaiden 2 thrusts you in to the role of re-emerging ninja, Ryu Hayabusa who is as bad ass as a ninja can get. Your aim is to stop an evil bunch of ninjas, namely the Black Spider clan and the mysterious Elizébet, from resurrecting an evil power known as the Archfiend. After 20 minutes though, you’ll have forgotten the plot and will be enjoying slashing your way around the globe to some fantastic and varied locations.

The first thing that strikes you in NG2 is the fantastic visuals. The defined characters and smooth animations are only complimented by the hugely detailed environments. The game’s visual aspect is really only marred by some occasional frame rate hang ups and some graphical glitches where blood seems to float in some peculiar places. However, watching your sword (or whatever weapon you choose) slice off limbs of your foes is a joy to behold and an experience that seems to overshadow the slight hiccups. It’s made that much better when Ryu flicks the blood off his weapon after a battle before he holsters his weapon. Fantastic little touch. Ninja Gaiden 2 is a proverbial blood bath and a visual delight that should be experienced by one's eyes.

I wish we could say the same about the audio aspect of the game as there is some  truly poor voice acting with terrible lip sync and 80’s-TV style bad-guys quips which create plenty of roll your eye moments. Hey, Ninja Gaiden has never been about its plot and quality of acting, so why start now. The game does slowly make up for it with respect to the weapon effects as they chink off surrounding walls and as they slice through your opponents making you feel more at home.

Taking control of Ryu Hayabusa is a fairly simple affair with one button corresponding to a quick attack, one to a strong attack and another to a projectile attack. Yes, it’s that easy. Of course, if you press the Y + B buttons together you can unleash Ryu’s magic attack, Nippo. However, don’t think you can just dive in there and swing away and button mash and be successful. Far from it. Blocking and evading is more important on this game than any other game I have encountered. You’ll find yourself watching enemy patterns and working out when you can go on the offensive. Although, when you are on the offensive, I couldn’t help but think that it was more of a button mashing exercise than anything else.

No fair, he has more arms than me!

Do you want to perfect your style and see where your weaknesses are? Now you can, thanks to the Ninja Cinema which allows you to record your playthrough of a level to watch back at a later date. While it seems like a great feature, the replay mode only allows you to watch it through with the exact same camera angles as you played through it through originally, no camera rotation or anything. Despite that, still a very nifty feature.

Being a ninja also requires the ability to be as agile as a spider monkey and Ryu is. You have the ability to run up walls, across walls and even on water. God forbid you get involved in a battle on water though as it can be the most frustrating part of Ninja Gaiden. It seems to me that the fighting on water is a serious design flaw in the game as every time you seem to leave the ground for an attack you’ll find yourself underwater as a result and taking a beating as you struggle to the surface. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between.

Ryu has a wide array of weapons available to him, which are fully upgradable, not only in power and looks but the upgrades bring fresh combos with them. There are 8 weapons to collect in all across the game, ranging from flails, ninja style batons called Tonfas to crazy Katanas each having strengths and weaknesses. That’s all well and good but when you have weapons like the Eclipse Scythe and the Lunar Staff, you won’t want to use another weapon because of the death and destruction these bad boys leave behind. Weapons and magic alike are upgraded by collecting yellow orbs which the dead opponents leave behind and jewels found round the game respectively.

In addition, Ryu can buy plenty of health and ki (magic) replenishment items throughout the game from strategically placed stores run by legendary ninja Muramasa. These are key to your survival throughout the game and you purchase them with the previously mentioned yellow orbs that you collect throughout the game. So the more you kill, the more you get to spend.

The most annoying aspect of Ninja Gaiden 2 without a shadow of a doubt is the camera. You would have thought that after all the criticism the camera of the Ninja Gaiden series has got over recent years, that this would be a priority fix... Apparently not. Throughout the game you are plagued with awkward camera angles and fighting from positions where you are just hitting the buttons hoping for the best. Not the way a game of this calibre should be played and it certainly detracts away from the game in closed off environments.

From the bad to the good however. The save system in Ninja Gaiden is one that Capcom should take note of for the next Devil May Cry title, allowing the gamer to save mid level and with them being placed at really convenient points. If you’re struggling with the difficulty of the game, you can even make your way back to them sometimes so you don’t need to kill all that you have annihilated since.

The enemies throughout have fairly basic AI in the sense that they pretty much charge on sight. They start off as your average ninjas with some slick sword skills but slowly move towards ghastly beasts and then towards ED-209 wanna-be robots and guys with rocket launchers. It was at that point why I questioned why on earth would you send a guy with a sword and a bow in to take on them on and slowly the game seemed to lose me. I mean come on, there is nothing ninja about robots and rocket launchers!!

The boss fights in NG2 are equally elaborate as Devil May Cry and most definitely as difficult. There are times however that puzzled me and made me realise that beating the bosses did require some skillful moves but seemed to be more luck than judgment.

You seem to have something in your eye dear.

As far as the achievements go, there is something for everyone. If you're a casual gamer and complete a playthrough, chances are you will net between 400-600 points, leaving only the true veterans and perfectionists of the game to get the full 1000 seeing as it will mean beating it on all 4 difficulties and eight times, each with a different weapon all the way through. Where would an achievement list these days be without a collection achievement as you are required to collect 30 silver skulls dotted around the game. The rest is split up in to story achievements and achievements for clearing the 9 tests of valour which are pretty much bonus levels available throughout the game. All in all, not a bad list but nothing really original about it.

Unfortunately, unless you are a hardcore Ninja Gaiden fan, the title is sure to be a flash in the pan. Something to kill the curiosity rather than get lost in. The Acolyte level difficulty which claims to be for “casual” gamers is actually a bit too challenging at times and gives new players and the non-hardcore sector of the gaming world a rough start. It will be a huge hit amongst the fanatical Ninja Gaiden fans offering plenty of replay value with 4 separate difficulties. For the everyday gamer though, I fear that after a story lasting of about 10-15 hours that the title will be destined to game dust forever. Definitely a game worth experiencing, if only to experience the difficulty and gore fest fuelled violence that is Ninja Gaiden on a next generation platform.

The 80’s style dialogue in the cutscenes can get a little grinding at times but the weapon sounds as they chink walls and slice your enemies in two is where the game excels. You don’t play Ninja Gaiden for the plot and voice acting though, do you?

The game looks great. Some of the most detailed and varied environments experienced in a game with some smooth character animations. Not much to fault here.

Easy to control but the whole game is marred by an annoying camera with a mind of its own and the frame rate issues that become apparent later on in the game when there are so many on-screen enemies. Bit repetitive? It does have its button mashing moments and combos seem generically easy. Other than that... Great.

A game delivered with a combat system that is more luck than judgment sometimes. Supremely difficult lowest difficulty setting that gives new Ninja Gaiden players a tough and unnecessary rough ride. New players will only be curious to try it and veterans of the series will lap up every second of it.

Mixed bunch. Some for the hardcore Gaiden fans, some for the casual gamers (if they can actually get through the game). All in all, a well rounded list. Could have done with some originality and isn’t it a bit much to ask even the true veterans to play through the game 8 times?

Don’t get me wrong, Ninja Gaiden 2 is a title that I truly enjoyed playing. However, it was a frustrating ride with difficulty levels, luck and that damned camera not helping matters, but I would encourage everyone to experience the game, if only for a while. It does have its “just one more stage” periods and that is always the sign of something great. It will be the best game ever for Ninja Gaiden fans, for others, it will be collecting dust within a matter of weeks or in my case... Days.

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