Ninja Gaiden II Review

The recent news that Ninja Gaiden lead designer Tomonobu Itagaki would be resigning from his position at Tecmo and Team Ninja was a shocking development in the videogame industry, but it comes as no surprise that Ninja Gaiden II, now the swan song of the Itagaki era, is a stellar action title and a worthy successor to the critically acclaimed first entry in the series.

Ninja Gaiden II feels very much like an extension of the original Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox console. It follows similar chapter-based linear progression and features a nearly identical, although slightly upgraded, visual style as well as many of the same combat maneuvers, weapons, and environments. Veterans will easily recognize places such as the Hayabusa village and surrounding area as carbon copies of the first game, and will be intimately familiar with at least 6 of Ryu’s weapons this time around. But does that mean that Ninja Gaiden II is nothing more than another rehash?

Fortunately, no. In terms of gameplay and fun, Ninja Gaiden II has taken what made Ninja Gaiden great and has refined and expanded upon it in a number of ways.

The first thing that players will notice about the game is that it is possibly the bloodiest game on the market. In this case, however, the blood — or at least the cause of the blood — is a functional addition rather than gratuitous excess. As part of the game’s combat system, players are able to hack off opponents’ limbs as fights progress, opening up new opportunities to land subsequent attacks and allowing them to vanquish foes more quickly and efficiently.

The combat, as a whole, is seamless and very well-executed. The basic premise here is that players are equipped with a basic skill set in the early-goings and given free reign to explore the system at their own pace. Moves and techniques are learned rapidly to give players a solid repertoire as soon as possible, and gladiatorial prowess is improved through the acquisition of new weapons, weapon upgrades, and most importantly, the player’s increased understanding of the combat system as they progress through the game.

Attacks are arranged according to button-combo techniques for easy cataloging, but during combat each attack is effectively based upon the preceding strike and Ryu’s spatial orientation and motion. In Ninja Gaiden II, players can strategically string together attacks to accomplish very specific goals. For example, one can plan and execute a strategy of cutting off an opponent’s leg and then impaling him through the back as he falls on-the-fly and with little difficulty. Additionally, it helps to use particular weapons and attacks for the many different enemies the game throws at you. While some enemies may be more susceptible to counters, others will cave under heavy all-out offense, and so on. There is always a degree of education taking place with regard to combat technique, and the game rewards players who do not simply mash buttons, but who choose strikes wisely and deliberately.

Players who use a less controlled approach will most likely still be able to complete the quest, however, thanks in part to a new, more forgiving health system. As Ryu is battered buy his enemies, he takes both immediate and lasting damage. Once all foes in an area are conquered, immediate damage is restored. Lasting damage remains until the player uses a healing item or reaches a save point. Combined with the improved fighting mechanics and less dangerous enemies, this makes Ninja Gaiden II’s base difficulty level seem subdued, relative to that of the first game. There are, of course, higher settings for those of you who are better-trained killers than myself, however.

While this latest game from Team Ninja has obviously seen a myriad of improvements over its predecessor, there are still a few nagging issues, and even a couple of new ones.

The option to manipulate the camera using the right control stick has been added this time around, and is a welcome addition. The camera, however, still manages to find its way into awkward positions far too often. It still interferes with combat at times, making it difficult to see Ryu, his opponents, and/or the surrounding terrain. Team Ninja is known to take pride in creating challenging videogames, but for camera flaws to dictate the game’s difficulty is just a shame.

Other issues include occasional frame rate slowdown, which during one scene was reminiscent of the blazing speed of a PowerPoint presentation, and the repetition of several boss encounters, which strikes me as a result of either lazy or overly time-constrained development. The boss fights, in general, leave much to be desired, and are less creative or significant than one might expect, usually ending quickly after a few good combos.

Faults aside, Ninja Gaiden II is an excellent game and is among the best I’ve played this year. Although it would have been nice to see more Xbox Live integration than online leaderboards and video clips, it does provide a highly enjoyable single-player action campaign, and improves upon a standard set by the first 3D Ninja Gaiden game four years ago.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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