Ninja Gaiden IIWhen you think of hard games, you bring up Contra 3, Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, Silver Surfer and, of course, the Ninja Gaiden trilogy. The Ninja Gaiden trilogy for the NES was and still is awesome (except the third one - it was okay but was way more frustrating than challenging). Nothing but nostalgia from there on. There was also 3D Ninja Gaiden for the original Xbox. Damn good tribute to nostalgia, I say. Its one tricky mofo, much harder than God of War and Devil May Cry, but still an awesome game everyone with either an original Xbox or a 360 should give a shot (and there’s always Sigma for PS3 owners). So after doing away with Ninja Gaiden Alpha Turbo Dub Edition Remix, the developers started tinkering with some new stuff for a sequel. When it came out and everybody played it, they noticed that it was a good sequel, but needed about 4 or so months of development since it got glitchy at times. Nothing that makes the game unplayable (yeah, cop that Sonic 06), but some blemishes that sully this otherwise good sequel.
Nothing worth going back to studios to redevelop, but the story wasn’t that flash. Granted that it’s a hack n’ slash and the story should take a backseat to the action, the story was odd. All I managed to get out of it was that some vampire-looking chick takes a statue to use for the resurrection of the Archfiend, and that Ryu has to defeat the 4 Greater Fiends so that nothing stands between him and prevention of the ritual. Okay, the premise isn’t so bad. It sounds promising actually.
The reason for it not being so flash is that there isn’t a whole heap of development, so to speak. Again, hack n’ slash game, I don’t expect an overkill of plot and character development, but there isn’t ANY development to speak of. Nothing really makes the story stand out or anything, and the characters aren’t exactly interesting either. Ryu hardly ever speaks, Sonia (female lead) only has size D tits going for her otherwise bland personality and the other characters only have their cheesy voice acting to back up their minimal existence. All I can say is thank god you can skip the cutscenes.
Oh well, all that really matters in a game like Ninja Gaiden is the gameplay. Thankfully, they didn’t tinker with the combat system too much, pretty much to the point where it’s the same game with some differences here and there, though some differences, it was better without.
But let’s start with the basics. Each level consists of slicing and dicing enemies while keeping yourself alive. Basic hack n’ slash affair, nothing too big or anything that separates it from its predecessor or Devil May Cry. I like it when a game doesn’t try too hard to be different, keeping to the same traditions and all that happy stuff.
As per usual, button mashing ultimately nets the best results – whether you’re mashing X and Y in different patterns, it’s still going to be one hell of a button mashing fest as you slash your enemies shitless, with limbs flying off and blood spewing. It doesn’t bullshit around with quicktime events and puzzles – you’re either slashing enemies to bits or... slashing enemies to bits. There’s also holding Y for a sort of killing spree attack, though enemies can be cheap and stop you rather quickly, but when unleashed – they’ll regret not stopping your earlier. With a good variety of weapons – ranging from swords to staffs to flails and even to scythes, and secondary weapons like ninja stars and exploding shurikens – there’s always a number of ways to dismember most of your enemies.
Among your heavy arsenal of weapons, you can use magic spells. Much like in the last game, they’re quite useful. Ranging from a ranged windy decapitation spell to high powered fireballs and a sort of mini-Phoenix shield, they really help mow down the mobs of enemies. I wasn’t particularly into the gravity orb; I felt it was useless because it didn’t seem to do much offensively or defensively - at least, not what the fireballs and wind blades couldn’t do.
Level designs are a bit of a drag, though. They are 97.89% linear, meaning each level and its gameplay structure consists of halls, enemies, more halls, some tricky ninja stuff here and there (ala walljumping), a mini-boss, halls, enemies, enemies, halls and then the main boss. Sounds more repetitive than it needs to be, right? Not necessarily. Yeah, you’re basically carving up enemies, but the enemies themselves change. You could be dealing with ninjas suffering from an extreme case of leprosy, clawed ninja with exploding kunai (oh, you’ll love those guys), dogs with swords in their mouth (my personal favorite for aggravation), big purple demons, Ridley’s entire clan of children and tons of others in your pursuit of getting to Point B and killing the big bad bosses.
Next up is the obnoxiously bullshit difficulty. Oh, it’s not too bad on the easier difficulty levels (might result in a number of holes in the wall, but nothing more), but by the time you do Path of the Mentor (otherwise known as insanely hardcore to the max mode) and Path of the Master Ninja (also known as PULL OUT YOUR GODDAMN PUBES IN FRUSTRATION INSANELY HARD mode), you’ll be killing the innocent and violently *bleep* virgins due to obscene amounts of bullshit they present. Granted that the first Ninja Gaiden was hard, goddamn, way to rack up the difficulty! If you’re easy to anger whenever you get hit by unseen fireballs, unseen exploding kunai while you get slashed by clawed ninjas or molested by dogs, Ninja Gaiden 2 IS NOT FOR YOU! Go play a game that won’t burst your blood cells, like Call of Duty 4. Veteran mode may be challenging, but not to the point of suicide at least.
When the game tries something like water, you’ll probably wish you were back on land. The controls feel awkward and handle horribly. Whenever water comes up, I think about the Water Temple in Ocarina Of Time, and how much I’d rather do that than this upcoming part – this is Ninja Gaiden we’re talking about: Hard as tits, cheap AI, the works. So imagine fighting underwater... more likely than not, you’ll bust out the underwater gun and pummel mercilessly on B, and half the time, enemies nibble at you anyway because it targets whatever it wants, not necessarily the one closest to you. What kind of hell is this? It doesn’t occur too much thankfully, but enough to note and to add on to the difficulty.
Unfortunately, the difficulty isn’t always on a constant slope of continually piledriving you more and more. It’s not too evident in the levels; actually, I’d say that they are consistent, throwing one wave of enemies after another with some silly water part or platforming, but either way, they keep to a constant uphill slope in tedium. The bosses are quite inconsistent, however. The mini-boss might prove to be a worthy adversary, but come to the main boss, and he’s not as hard. Still a cheap move every now and again, but not as much of a prick as the mini-boss. It can also go vice-versa, so keep on your toes.
No, seriously, do keep on your toes. Some bosses are giant pricks and abuse the living hell out of (mostly) unavoidable throws/combos that deal a crudton of damage. Some bosses are such giant pussies that they won’t just do that; they’ll also spawn some enemies to keep you occupied.
Want to know how to make an already frustrating game worse? Employ what I would consider one of the shittiest camera settings known to man. The only camera controls you have are left and right movement. No zooms, no nothing! Add with the fact that it moves sluggishly, and this camera is just ridiculously stupid.
But why am I calling this game good? Well, it’s mostly because it appeals to a more hardcore audience – more specifically, the masochistic ones. It forces the best out of us. It forces a manly gamer to harden his chest and... whatever the girly equivalent of that is for the chicks. It forces us to look within ourselves and ask “do we want to go the next few miles, or head back a bit”, because... let’s face it; it’s the limit that many gamers will go. Crank up the difficulty mode to one of the harder two, and it’s a whole ‘nother nightmare, because at that point, the game will hate you and your mother, and will needlessly insult the hell out of you, make jokes at your expense, force irregular movement with karma dolls and anything else to keep you from beating the hardest difficulty modes – or even the easier ones at the worst of times – and it’s up to you to persevere.
Enough about the difficulty, because that could be a review in itself – let’s talk about the glitches. These don’t kill the game, but they serve as minor annoyances. You know you have a winner on your hands when it freezes on you. A decent amount of the time (most commonly, after saving), the game comes close to freezing, but then moves after a quick second freeze frame, thinking it’ll freeze. I thought the game was going to explode actually. Funny enough, it actually succeeds in freezing, most commonly in level 2 and towards the end.
But my favorite is during level 3’s main boss fight. There’s a random time when you aim your bow... and the camera goes way away from you, and after a bit, displays the level in a sidescrolling view, and then a dot. This is annoying since the boss itself is an annoying prick that utilizes cheap attacks – in other words, this is a shitty glitch that is thankfully rare. I said it once, I’ll say it again: There are a few moments where I think this game and the Xbox are going to explode!
I don’t see how, either, because the graphics aren’t that great. Sure, the cutscenes look nice and detailed-like, but the actual ingame graphics are nothing special. The quality is a touch above its original Xbox predecessor, but nothing like the other games released in 2008. There are some areas that are lacking in some details, and don’t quite melt my face. Sometimes, it’ll lag like hell, mostly because it can’t handle many enemies on screen at once.
The cutscenes, though, are damn impressive. There is a lot of attention paid to detail here, and the colors really shine their brightest here. Bit of a waste considering that the story is nothing special, but hey, at least it’s nice to look at.
One thing that’ll get you going is the soundtrack. Probably one of the more forgettable OSTs, but when you’re actually playing, it really grabs you and buckles you down while you plow through the game. It just sounds good. The reason it’s so forgettable is because there’s a lot of stuff going on most of the time, and the sound effects really dominate the soundtrack. Not saying that the sound effects suck – they’re actually good, though I could’ve sworn I heard that same explosion sound from Dragon Ball, but they’re appropriate nonetheless – but since there’s a lot going on, you won’t be hearing too much of the soundtrack. Shame, because when you do get to hear it, it sounds good.
As far as voice acting goes, it’s none too shabby. It’s in no way the best voice acting ever in a video game, and it’s not even that great. It’s cheesy, though, and that always counts for something. It’s about as believable as the rest of the game – what, with demons and anthromorphic wolves all over the place, cheesy voice acting should be expected. Ryu and Sonia are the only characters with humane voice acting, but either way, it’s all bearable and some of it is even pretty good, but doesn’t quite reach the great status.
Achievements are something that can make or break a game, and more often than not, motivates you further to do the other difficulty settings or find collectables. For the most part, it does, but wow, a decent amount of these achievements blow. Why, oh why, do we have achievements for finishing with specific weapons? Not only will you be lingering on hard mode to do this, but it’s just a waste. When it comes right down to it, the weapons are fairly identical, so what’s the point? Even if you really enjoy this game, lingering on a difficulty mode to finish with all of the weapons individually is just boring and tedious.
It sucks, because the rest of the achievements are typical “beat parts of game”, “beat game on all difficulty modes” and some secret stuff that actually matters (figure it out when you purchase the game). You know; the usual achievements!
So all in all: Gameplay: 4 You know how it is – meet enemy, then carve him up with some combo attacks. Rinse, lather and repeat. The only way it separates itself from the Dynasty Warriors and God of Wars is that it’s damn hard! Other than that, it’s standard hack ‘n slash affair.
Controls: 3.5 Mostly just mash X and Y, occasionally press B for ranged attack and A to jump every now and again. The commands respond, so I guess that’s nice. The only problem is that the camera is controlled horribly! Only left and right, COME ON!
Story: 2.5 The premise sounds good, if overdone. Some evil people want to raise the dark lord, and they hire a clan or seven of ninjas to prevent a ninja from preventing them from raising hell. Unfortunately, there’s no development, and not much that really stands out either.
Graphics: 3.5 A touch above the first Ninja Gaiden on Xbox, but not quite as good as you’d hope. Textures are a bit lacking and enemies look generic-y. It lags a fair bit, too. The cutscenes themselves look amazing, though. I guess that’s where all the effort went.
Sound: 3.5 Soundtrack doesn’t really stand out, but the voice acting is cheesy enough to appreciate.
Lastability: 3.5 It’s really a question of how long you won’t mind going through linear levels slashing the same enemies over and over again just for achievements (some of which are extremely stupid).
Funfactor: 3 Being honest, if you’re into this genre or difficult games, you’ll have a blast, but if you’re looking for an easier title, you’ll have very little fun due to the cheapness this game possesses.
Bottom Line: Ninja Gaiden 2 is a good game, if you’re able to forgive the difficulty spikes and some glitches every now and again. It manages to carry over some excellent hack ‘n slash gameplay and cinematics, though in the end, you’re basically doing the same shit over and over again. It’s just much harder than the average game. Technically speaking, though, the game is solid, so if you’re into hard games, this isn’t something to miss.