Once again Ryu Hayabusa returns to be confronted by the Black Spider Ninja Clan in Ninja Gaiden II, the follow up to one of the most critically acclaimed games on the Xbox. If you were a fan of the original then this is sure to appeal, however don’t be expecting a revoluntary gaming experience.
Ryu is certainly no run of the mill Ninja because while most prefer a stealthy hide in the shadows approach our hero is just as happy charging in for a full frontal assault leaving a plethora of corpses in his wake. Across the 14 stages you battle an array of foes ranging from Ninja’s to full on supernatural monsters.
The story is even more confusing and bewildering than the first incarnation, however as the original was so successful perhaps it isn’t a critical part of the game. This is just as well as the plot this time around mixes the CIA with greater fiends and the resurrection of the Archfiend …. ermm. It gets even more convoluted as time progresses but the brief description gives you an idea of what to expect. At least the new title doesn’t require you to have played the original.
The weapons are very cool, with the Dragon Blade taking centre stage and you also have a limitless supply of shurikens. As the game progresses your arsenal expands to eight melee weapons and an array of projectiles and magic spells. Each melee weapon can be upgraded and new combos can be unlocked which adds great versatility to an already solid combat mechanic. Some new weapons have been added as well as including some old favourites and the overall feeling is that the game is very well rounded in regards to the combat system.
Ninja Gaiden II is very fast, even the larger weapons move at lightning fast speeds and the smaller weapons such as the Tonfas are hard to even see as they move so fast they blur on screen during combat. There are two buttons for combat, a strong and a fast move. Hold down the strong attack and you can absorb karma from dead enemies and unleash a powerful attack. Combat relies on the skilful use of combos, which means some practise will be needed to make sure you can string the various attacks together in a smooth motion.
Every attack has a limb removal percentage chance which adds to the games gore level … with legs and arms literally flying across the screen. Even some of the counterattacks can leave an enemy without an arm or leg. Not only do blade based weapons remove body parts but blunt weapons such as the Lunar Staff can crush sections of torso and body so that they explode with the impact. With giblets, limps, guts and entrails everywhere it is safe to say this game will appeal to the more mature gamer. Parents be aware!
The attackers are resilient however and even without a leg or an arm they will limp or crawl their way over to Ryu in the attempt to cause some damage. Wounded enemies are actually quite dangerous, however they are also easily disposed of. If they have a missing limb then they are open to a destruction technique performed with a press of the Y button. While this sounds extremely gory, in practise it certainly adds to the realism of the game, the camera angles are chosen to enhance these fantastic looking death moves.
Similar to the original, the game difficulty even on the easiest of four settings proves to be a challenge, the top two levels have to be unlocked, if you are suicidal enough to try them. Thankfully the learning curve this time around is more user friendly and less frustrating and there is also now a regenerating health system. That said, on harder difficulties near the end of the game your maximum health level bar shrinks with each successive fight. The game is now certainly more rewarding than before with the challenge level set at a much less frustrating level.
The camera is a bit of a mixed bag, generally it works reasonably well and the death moves look spectacular, however there are times I felt that the angles were chosen for the stylish appearance on screen rather than a useful combat overview of the surrounding area. To be fair, developer Team Ninja have included options to manually move the camera or re-center it with button presses, in practise this proves to be extremely hard during the thick of action. Several times during the game, due to sloppy programming I was left almost blind, with enemies off screen attacking me. When compared to the original however the camera system is no worse, especially as a large portion of the level design has been changed for more open environments. These new environments are a welcome addition however playing devils advocate there are times they seem under populated which doesn’t aid the overall impression of a bustling and active city.
Graphically the game is absolutely superb with some of the most impressive backgrounds I can remember seeing. The backdrops were always a sight to behold however the new game has pushed the envelope even further. There were some occasions when I actually stopped to pan the screen to take in the attention to detail. The only possible negative I could mention would be some frame rate issues which become apparent during high octane scenes, especially when explosions were prevalent. Later in the game when the programmers would increase the number of enemy units, there would be some slow down. It isn’t a game ruining aspect, however it is a shame to see it ruining the overall polish of the superb graphics from time to time.
The audio side of things is equally as impressive with rock music and ambient tunes adding excitement and immersion to the overall experience. There are also some great musical build ups to some key scenes which works very well to add some tension to the forthcoming action.
The clever inclusion of Ninja Cinema mode to record the game as you play is a great addition especially as you can upload and share with friends and colleagues. The leaderboard support is also a very welcome addition.
As an overall game experience Ninja Gaiden II is a success and it is one of the most fun and enjoyable action games on the Xbox 360 to date. The combat has plenty of depth and remains an exciting experience right until the end which is no mean feat. This time around the game is certainly more focused on action combat which will be a positive feature for most people. That said, there is nothing new being brought to the table and those wanting a fresh new experience might be disappointed. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the game and I feel fans of the original will feel the same, therefore it comes highly recommended.
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