Thunderbolt logo

Ninja Gaiden II

Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden II has become a significant title over the past few weeks. If you’ve been following the gaming news you would have heard of Tomonobu Itagaki’s departure from Tecmo as a result of some alleged incidents within the company. So, in a way, Ninja Gaiden II has become Itagaki’s swansong title; as the last game made by one of the bigger gaming personalities out there.

screenshot

Once again you’re thrown into the shoes of master ninja, Ryu Hayabusa – member of the Hayabusa Ninja Clan. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the story. It’s a nonsensical mess, only really serving to move Ryu from location to location. But this doesn’t affect the game in any way. If you come into NGII expecting a deep and engaging narrative, you’re in the wrong place. NGII is all about chopping people up. The story just gives you a reason to.

The original Ninja Gaiden had little story, yet it was one of the best action games to greet the big black box way back in 2004. It managed to maintain the intensity when it made its way onto the PS3 – in the form of Ninja Gaiden Sigma – a few years later. NGII sticks close to its predecessor’s winning formula, providing high octane action with a stiff difficulty curve. However, NGII has dumbed things down a bit to appeal to the mass market. This is good news for people like me, who enjoyed the first, but became frustrated with the huge leaps in difficulty throughout the game. However, some purists may find it a little disappointing.

screenshot

NGII sticks close to its predecessor’s winning formula, providing high octane action with a stiff difficulty curve.”There are two difficulty levels to start with, and two more to unlock with completion of the game. Acolyte is the easiest of the bunch, and is obviously the perfect choice for someone new to the series. Don’t expect a walk in the park though. It’s supposed to appeal to a wider audience, but it can still be hard as nails. Sadly, this is mainly down to the cheapness of some of the enemies, rather than the AI and the way they attack. This is mostly evident with the bosses that often drain more than half of your health with one attack. Luckily Team Ninja have been generous with the health, designing a new rechargeable system – as is the case with most games nowadays. With NGII your health will recharge after each battle, but if you take damage your health bar will become shorter, so it can only recharge a certain amount unless you use a health item to get it back up full. It works well as you don’t have to constantly worry about preserving health items, but it does just enough to maintain a stiff challenge. It’s the perfect balance.

The combat hasn’t changed too much since the first game, but that’s no bad thing. Ryu has a whole host of moves at his disposal, and uses a variety of cool and exciting weapons. Each weapon is different from the last, and they all offer up a new way to play; as well as a large selection of new moves and combat strategies. The combo list is deep, so learning them all is going to take some time. But it’s definitely worth it as some of the moves on display are breathtaking.

screenshot

The intensity of the combat has also been ramped up in NGII as the gore levels have risen. In the first Ninja Gaiden you might occasionally see one or two heads fly off, but in NGII there are limbs flying all over the place. Start mashing your way through the waves of enemies and you’ll see more blood than you thought imaginable. You can really see the destruction as you rip your enemies to shreds. You can feel the power within your sword, and it just looks really really cool. Your enemies are a persistent bunch though. Chop their legs off and they’ll keep coming; crawling along the floor armed with suicidal, explosive devices. Luckily Ryu can stop any impending attack from an injured enemy with the brand new Obliteration Technique. By pressing Y over a downed enemy, Ryu will perform a brutal finishing blow, often chopping off the enemy’s head. These attacks look great, although they do get repetitive after a while, even when they’re different for each weapon.

“Start mashing your way through the waves of enemies and you’ll see more blood than you thought imaginable.”The combat can also get rather repetitive at times. You can level up each of your weapons once you’ve gathered the required amount of essences (cash), but generally they always feel the same. The levels are also very linear, with only one path through each one. But the worst thing is the level design. This wouldn’t be such a big problem if it wasn’t for the terrible camera. The original NG camera was poor, but somehow it’s gotten worse in the sequel. It will constantly get stuck on walls, and keep enemies off screen. I couldn’t count the amount of times I’ve been attacked by off-screen enemies, all because the camera is too poor to show you the whole combat zone. It works well in open spaces, but because of the poor level design, you’re in tight corridors most of the time, so it’s nigh on impossible to position it in a good spot. The speed of the combat doesn’t help matters – even though it’s what makes the game so enjoyable.

screenshot

The speed of the gameplay and amount of action on screen at any one time has also brought about some framerate issues. NGII often chugs down to a snails pace, especially when outputting in 1080p. This is very disappointing as the graphics aren’t that much of a step up from the original Xbox game. They do the part, but I think Team Ninja really need to work on a new game engine (if they ever make another NG, of course).

And that’s the problem with NGII: it feels too much like an old game, a last-gen title. There’s nothing about it that feels next-gen. Its only saving grace is the exceptional combat. And for that, I recommend NGII to all. It’s surprising that a game can falter on so many levels, yet still provide a hugely entertaining gaming experience. Playing as Ryu is a joy, as you rip enemies to pieces, limbs and chucks of meat fly all over the place. It’s all very satisfying and the new difficulty level should appeal to more gamers that couldn’t get to grips with the original.

screenshot

“It’s surprising that a game can falter on so many levels, yet still provide a hugely entertaining gaming experience.”As an added bonus there are a couple of online features. There are leader boards so you can upload your score at the end of each level and test yourself against the world’s best. And if you want you can even watch the best with the new theatre mode that lets gamers save and upload videos for others to download. This is a great feature as you can watch some truly great players, learning from them and gathering tips for yourself.

Ninja Gaiden II does have its faults, but the combat is good enough to keep the game entertaining and engaging, providing one of the best action titles on the 360. It’s a fitting send off for a man who created the Ninja Gaiden series just because he wanted a violent game. He has certainly succeeded in his mission.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

Gentle persuasion

You should follow us on Twitter.