Ninja Gaiden II review
You really need to bust your balls to stay alive


This is what gaming used to be. You were sent into a room or a space or whatever, forced to defend yourself against impossible odds. Enemies would be able to dominate you unless you got yourself some skill and fought back. The best thing is that your hand wasn't being constantly held throughout, so you really had to fight back. That's the nature of Ninja Gaiden 2 on the Xbox 360. You really need to bust your balls to stay alive, and that's what I ended up loving about this game. Few problems here and there, but it doesn't stop the game from being a recommended purchase.

You're Ryu, a ninja and the last of the Hayabusa clan. There's an evil force that's determined to destroy the world. The Archfiend, as it's known as, is a stereotypical super powerful demon about to cause chaos and destruction throughout the world. The kicker? He's in another dimension, or some shit like that. Meet the other bad guys - the four Greater Fiends. They have to summon it, or their desire won't come true. Of course, it's up to Ryu to destroy them before the Archfiend destroys everything. Choice bits include the Black Spider clan attacking the Hayabusa village to take the Demon Statue needed to resurrect the Archfiend, and having to fight the leader of the clan a number of times because the clan sides with the Greater Fiends. Oh joy, it looks like Ryu's got his work cut out for him.

The story comes across as cliche, yeah. More destroy the world plots, but it at least involves other ninja clans, so it's not as if you can just put in some generic hero and it'd be the same. Development doesn't really exist beyond a few events, one of which, is recurring and involves the leader of the Black Spider clan. Basically speaking, it's a basic plot, but it manages to come across as a good one nonetheless.

Presentation for the cutscenes is pretty good. There's a fair bit of detail in the models and surroundings. Looks a bit blurry, but mostly only where it needs to be anyway. SOMETIMES, the textures on the characters are blurred, but not to the point of obscurity or just plain shitty... just to the point of nitpicking. The colors are definitely there, and makes everything stand out. Really, these scenes look great.

Although ingame graphics aren't exactly that good. Of course, you'd have to downgrade from the higher quality graphics or else it wouldn't be able to have combat flow as well as it does for the most part. What's my problem, though? I got two - one, textures are damn flat on a fair few models. They look like they have maybe one layer, but they have the same sort of quality PS2 models do. Two, the game just loves to lag when there's a lot of enemies at once. You'll notice maybe a few moments on the easier difficulties, but on the higher ones, expect it a bit more often. It also likes to glitch out a bit, but it doesn't happen heaps - but often enough to warn you. There are a few instances, like the ever so evil freezing glitches. When I first played through this game, it froze a few times, usually after I save and it starts loading. It'll happen, and it's kind of a pain in the ass too.

I guess I should add that the audio isn't something you'd smack right onto your MP3 player. It just sounds better when you play the game, mostly because the tracks fit the situations and gives the game a bit more life. The songs themselves are nothing to write home about - which is why you'll probably forget them - but they definitely add feeling to the game beyond a foreboding one. Voice acting, you'll find yourself remembering, mostly because it's quite familiar. The Greater Fiends' voices totally remind me of cheesy 80's/90's cartoon villains' voices - in other words, cheesy. They'll definitely stick out if you grew up during those two decades. Not to worry, at least they get that part right on the money. Everyone else, not so much, but they're all at least tolerable.

So yeah, what you got here is a hack and slash game. You run through levels, carving up enemies with a variety of weapons (sword, two swords, scythe, rod, nun-chucks, and a few others), secondary weapons (bow, shurikens, kunai and a couple of others), and spells (fireball, fire birds that swarm around you as a shield, razor wind, and a couple of others). At the midsection and the end of a level, you fight bosses. As long as you learn their patterns and can respond in kind without getting your ass handed to you (this is Ninja Gaiden, a series best remembered for being hard as tits), you should be fine to kill the bosses. Sounds like something that would get old, but it really doesn't. The feeling of killing heaps of bad guys at once, especially ones that love to gang *bleep* you or blow you to smithereens, always manages to stay fresh and exciting. Sure, level designs get a bit old after a while when you consider the common elements (straight hallways/caverns, a few big rooms, and a couple of extra sort of rooms), but as long as there are legions of enemies waiting to fully exterminate the Hayabusa clan, you need not worry about something like level designs.

Control-wise, it does mostly a good job. It responds to commands and movements, and the mapping is mostly good and easy to remember. I'm not a huge fan of where they mapped the spells (both Y and B? nope, try again), but the other controls definitely make a lot of sense in terms of where they're mapped. Jumping is a bit of a hassle when it's not forwards or backwards, making for some moments where it takes some time before you can get up that ledge or jump between walls (ooh yeah, cool ninja shit).

So yeah, most of the game is elementary stuff. I'll just explain things that stood out for me gameplay-wise, and some things to watch out for.

The game has some cheap elements and enemies going for it. One nasty little trick a couple of enemy types play on you is the exploding kunai one. The explosions do a hefty amount of damage, and the enemies are pretty quick throwers, so unless you're moving heaps and heaps, you're a dead man. They're not the most accurate, so just jump around a lot, and then slash them to bits. One type of enemy that gets on my nerves would have to be the robots. On any difficulty above easy, they take quite a while to kill off, and they don't stagger, so while you're whittling away at their HP, you'll get blasted by them. They can do a decent amount of damage, so be careful in your approach. Maybe use a spell to break them a bit? Yep, provided you have enough power for that, or are able to replace that unit with an item.

One really annoying thing has to be the water. I freaking hate doing water sections in this game. It sounds simple - mash the A button to keep running - but just think about it. This is Ninja Gaiden, where you'll, no doubt, fight heaps of enemies. You guessed it - you'll be fighting on water. The attack actions change, and a lot of them lead you underwater. While submerged, you'll have to scramble your way up to the top again. You're a sitting duck at that point, and by the time you get back up, you'd probably lose a fair bit of health and might even be juggled by enemies in a game of keep away. Yeah, if you kill them, you might get some health back from their discarded remains, but still, that's kind of a hard feat to accomplish, even in this game. And don't get me started on how hard it is to control Ryu when he's swimming. Sensitive up and down controls amongst... you know what, screw it, you'll figure it out for yourself.

So what happens when you get hurt heaps? Simple - patch them up with items. You can only carry 3 of each item, which feels like a rip off when you were able to carry more per item in the first game. It pretty much means you have to be conservative with item usage, meaning you need to be less risky in battle. Easier said than done, Team Ninja. The enemies hunt you down and won't get off your ass, and bosses can hurt like a bitch. Oh well. Thank god for the ever so useful revival item.

Thankfully, not everything involves enemies. The boss battles are also quite important, especially the shaping of one problem that started getting at me as I played through, but I'll explain that later. For now, let's discuss boss fights.

Fighting a boss can seem intimidating. Not to worry, because Ryu is a super badass in monster slaying. Each of the bosses are colossal sized demons (or just big - take your pick), and can do a good job of wrecking you if you're not careful. Unless you're playing on the easy difficulty, don't expect to beat a boss the first few times you encounter it, especially on the very hard difficulty setting (haha, feels more like goddamn impossible at times). The feeling from slaying these monsters is always satisfying, considering the difficulty and whatnot.

Unfortunately, the bosses also lead to one doozy of a problem. Balancing. Levels and enemies aren't nearly as guilty, since there's at least a series of gentle up and down slopes for them. For bosses, they're as big as the damn Himilayas! Some bosses are downright pricks who will spare no expense in kicking your ass, while some bosses... oh, they seem intimidating, but they're anything but tough. A bit tricky, but with practise, they're a joke. The problem here is that after a few rough as guts fights, you feel a bit disappointed, knowing that the last boss you just fought wasn't the challenge that the one before was. On the flipside, after a couple of easier fights, you think the next one will be easy too, but then you get walloped in a few seconds or hits. This ends up getting really annoying, and in the end, you just want to smack Team Ninja's programmers in the face.

I don't hate the game, but there are a few things I didn't like about it. But hey, that's what you expect when you have to criticise one of your favorite games - you look deeper and deeper, and when you find it, you find more. The reality is that this is a pretty good game, definitely for those wanting to carve up bad guys and feel like a real badass, even under extreme circumstances, and a couple of unlikable ones at that.

If you liked this game, I also recommend:
Devil May Cry 4 (360/PS3)
Ninja Blade (360)
Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox)

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