Ninja Gaiden II Review

Ninja Gaiden was an astounding entry on Microsoft’s original big, black box; it redefined the action genre with bar-raising visuals and amazing gameplay. Years later, it’s still considered one of the console’s crowning achievements and one of the best hardcore gaming experiences of all time. And as great as it was, it was actually bested by its own enhanced versions—Black, also on the Xbox and, more recently, Sigma on the PS3. Now on the 360, gamepad ninja finally get the true sequel they’ve been waiting for with the aptly titled Ninja Gaiden 2

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Once again, Team Ninja doesn’t disappoint with a balls-out, gore-filled actioner, offering a challenge and addictiveness that will gnaw dedicated players’ thumbs to bloody nubs. But more on the blood-soaked goods in a minute.

First, as much as it pains us, it’s got to be said that NG2 just doesn’t pack the “wow” factor of its predecessor. In part, this can be blamed on Team Ninja’s excellent track record, specifically the three aforementioned versions of Ninja Gaiden. The original was just so damn impressive that topping it is a near impossible task. Because its visuals were practically a generation ahead of the hardware, it’s difficult to get as excited about NG2’s slightly upgraded presentation. Additionally, rather than delivering a sequel earlier, Team Ninja honed their skills on Black and Sigma. So, advances—both graphical and technical—that could’ve been saved as sequel surprises, are now the norm because they’ve already appeared in these NG follow-ups. By delivering such fantastic previous entries, Team Ninja essentially shot themselves in the tabi-booted foot; had we not seen uber-ninja Ryu Hayabusa since the Xbox’s original offering, then we’d no doubt be more struck by his next-gen debut.

Not all of NG2’s inability to leave our jaws on the floor can be blamed on the developers’ previous awesomeness; another issue is that NG2 stubbornly sticks to some old school conventions most current games have moved on from. For example, invisible walls and cheap path blockers are much more noticeable in a generation when even movie-based mediocrity like The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man offer some moderate free-roaming.

It just seems a bit odd when Ryu, who can scale an elevator shaft with ease, can’t jump a hip-high blockade. After doing pretty much whatever we wanted in GTA4’s Liberty City, it’s somewhat jarring when Ryu attempts to hop on the roof of an NYC taxicab, and is deflected by an invisible wall. Additionally, Ryu can slice through bone like warm butter with his steely arsenal, yet his blades don’t leave a scratch on this same cab; shouldn’t he be able to tear it up like a ginsu through a tin can? NG2‘s other occasional aggravation is the sometimes difficult camera. In any other game it probably wouldn’t be noticable, but because the action unfolds at such a rapid pace, you’ll wan’t optimal viewing angles at all times. These can usually be achieved, but be prepared to frequently center the camera (with the right trigger) behind Ryu.

You’ll be pulled out of the action occasionally by these dated design choices, and you won’t be saying “Holy sh*t, look at that!” nearly as often as you did with the original, but that’s not to say NG2 doesn’t deliver one of the best action experiences the 360 has ever seen. Don’t let the complaints fool you; this one’s still an amazing experience, both in its gameplay and presentation, and a must-own for fans of the franchise. The combat is as beautiful as ever. Ryu’s acrobatic moves make the Prince of Persia’s look like grade school gymnastics, and his finesse with a blade yields a bloody ballet that’s endlessly satisfying to control. The simple combination of light and heavy attacks (X and Y buttons) and left trigger-controlled blocking deliver visually impressive animations almost always resulting in large piles of chunky, blood-spitting flesh. As with the original game, button-mashers will quickly learn that quick hammering just won’t cut it. The block button is your friend, and blink-of-the-eye counter attacks will generally keep your black-clad badass safe.

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