As you progress through 14 breathless chapters, you’ll gain new abilities, weapons and magic—yup, Ninpo is still your go-to offense if you wish to quickly clear a room. The Dragon Sword is your old stand-by, but some new blood-letters are hard to resist. Our new fave, a sharp set of foot and hand claws, offer an organic fighting experience, as these extensions of your limbs make you feel like Wolverine’s worst nightmare. Ryu’s also equipped with a nice array of projectiles that come in super-handy for those hard-to-reach foes.
The default Shurikens are about as damaging as a mosquito bite, but the bow and arrow and exploding throwing knives are highly effective. Using money at the blacksmith’s shop will allow you to upgrade many of your death-dealers, and this is probably the single most important reason to play through the game multiple times. Each weapon offers a truly unique feel and gameplay experience, and although you’ll want to experiment with them all, you won’t be able to max each one out in a single go-round. Don’t be surprised if the allure of powering -up your staff to maximum skull-crushing potential lures you back to Ryu’s fantasy-meets-sci-fi world.
NG2 also serves up some of the coolest baddies we’ve ever seen. Sure, the boss battles have always been a hallmark of the series (and they don’t disappoint here), but even the low-level menaces are a sight to behold—and a bitch to take down. Every enemy, from the various versions of the Black Spider Clan ninjas to the grotesque hordes of fiends, is an absolute blast to face-off against. Of course, the hardcore challenge is still a big part of the NG experience, so don’t expect—even on the easiest mode—to breeze through this one. Bosses will take up to an hour (an multiple attempts) to defeat, and even smaller enemies bring the pain. In fact, NG2 has given your blade fodder a new defensive tactic to take you out; once wounded, many baddies will charge you or explode in an attempt to take you to hell with them. Being chased by a purple, goo-spewing demon-dragon-thingy—whose clawed paw we’d just severed—was just one of several encounters that had us fearing our downed opponents as much as the able-bodied ones.
Whether you’ve been slaying fiends for years or are just learning the power of Ninpo, it doesn’t matter; Ninja Gaiden 2 is a game all action fans should spin in their 360s. Be prepared for gore like you’ve never seen; blood flows like an over-active geyser and limbs fly like fleshy confetti. The difficulty is also nuts—you will toss your controller…several times. But, if these elements don’t dissuade you, don’t let our earlier complaints keep you away either. It doesn’t pack the knock-your-socks-off punch of the original, and some of the design feels dated, but despite these flaws, NG2 is still an amazing ride.