Review by zenandi

"A matter of perspective..."

Before you load the game disc into your console, you might want to ask yourself a few questions...

First, are you in it for a fun time, or are you expecting a challenge? Will you settle for acolyte, or does the small matter of pride demand that you take on warrior straightaway? The second, what is the difference between a fair challenge, and a challenge because the game decides to be cheap?

Undoubtedly, your answers depends on your gaming perspective. And whilst we're talking about perspectives, we naturally have to talk about...

...the Camera
That is, the camera is an absolute disgrace for such a heavyweight title. Ryu clearly is trained in some kind of Ninja sense, because half the time, you can't see what you're doing. The mess becomes an absolute wreck when the camera decides to get stuck somewhere so that you can't see AT ALL. On top of that, bigger enemies tend to block your view completely. Why Team Ninja didn't make these guys at least semi-transparent when they block your view is beyond me. Worst still, the action oftens happen so fast that you can actually lose track of Ryu in the melee, until your depleting health bar clues you in on the fact that the ninja that's dealing out all that impressive damage isn't you!

And there's worse, since Ryu homes in on the closest enemy with his regular attacks, it really doesn't matter if you brought the camera to focus on certain priority targets. Without giving too much away, the chapter 9 boss fight illustrates this point painfully. You want to shoot at certain targets, but no... your arrows land on the nearest worthless minnion...

Once again, its a matter of perspective, and I'm sure there will be plenty disagreeing on this point. Sure, I agree that camera control is essential in mastering any game. Yet ask yourself this: did you buy this game to fight the in-game baddies or the camera?

...The Cheapness
Ninja Gaiden one was supposed to be a hard game, even on the normal difficulty. Yet, I for one didn't find it all that hard until a certain monumental boss fight in the first game. With Ninja Gaiden 2, you get a regenerating health bar, and it seems that to compensate, they decided to up the cheapness factor ten-fold....

What do I mean? First, there is the endless stream of projectiles raining down on you, be it explosive shurikens, chunks of carcasses, or the much-feared rocket volley spams... On top of that, the guys near you are trying to grab you, or have guard-breaking attacks so that they force you to move and be open to the projectile attacks. Now remember what I said about the camera --- during half this time, you can't see very well.

Devil May Cry 4 had a distinct exploit in that off-screen enemies will never initiate an attack -- not the case here, since half the time, you won't even know what hit you.

What this leads to is basically to fight fire with fire, cheapness with cheapness... Incendiery Shurikens of your own are great helps, and other than that, just spam the Ultimate Techniques (the one where you hold and release ONE button...) again and again.

Once again, some might see all this as a fair challenge. Depends on how you look at it, and how long a fuse you have before you start breaking controllers. Or whether spamming one button constitutes fun... Which brings us to...

...the Bosses
They hit hard, and they have the cheapest attacks of the lot. Either that, or there are minnions spamming projectiles at you... again. And if you aren't bringing in a few reserves of healing items, well then good luck to you... Paradoxically, they are also extremely easy to kill. Find your attack window, and then go all out with everything you've got. If Ryu gets on a roll and chain together a decent combo or even a UT, then he can easily take out a huge portion of the boss' health. What this simplifies into is a tedious process of trial and error -- tedious because the boss tend to kill you too fast for you to learn anything -- and then when you've found out how to damage the boss, waiting for that one run where everything falls into place. In other words, boss fights become very hit-or-miss affairs. Its a good thing then, that they let you continue from the start of the fight. Once again, the camera makes distance gauging very difficult to do -- either that or that goliath that just swiped me out of the air has impossibly long arms. On top of that, apart from the more significant bosses, the rest are cliched and uninspired in design.

And so...

Why even play this game?
Because there are certain things they did right...

- Obliteration Techniques
Call it what you will... Obliteration, Execution, Finisher -- the most accurate would be to borrow Mortal Kombat terminology and call it plain old Fatalities. Ryu can now cut off limbs and portions of enemies and thereafter execute them with one button press.

Whilst politically correct people tend to want to frown on these, there is no doubt the rest of us get a kick out of doing this. And because the game is so damn cheap at times, pulling this off is extremely satisfying, not to mention giving you a small breather, and essence to spam your next UT.

In fact, damaged or weakened opponents are highly dangerous. Crippled ninjas will want to kamikaze you at the next chance, dealing ridiculous damage if they catch you. Trust me on this -- you want to execute these guys ASAP.

- Multiple weapons.
A huge improvement over the original vanilla Ninja Gaiden is the huge arsenal at your disposal. It is fun to play through the game with different weapons and see what each weapon can do. Your tools of destruction this time around include Double Katanas, a whip-scythe thingy, claws, Tonfas, a staff and the returning Vigoorian Flail and Eclipse Scythe. Of course, if all else fails, there's always the trusty Dragon Sword.

-Solid core gameplay.

As much as I hate the game's cheapness, there is nothing wrong with the basic gameplay. Pulling off a long combo instead of spamming UT is a very satisfying thing to do. Heck, even just watching a successful UT is fun to do. And because the enemies are so deadly, there is a certain adrenaline rush and wariness as you size up each wave of enemies. In short, when it's not cheap, its fun. Also, Ninja Gaiden 2 is intense. Even more so than the original, because standing around and blocking or even attempting to counter is usually a really bad idea... As painful as it is for me to admit, the cheap projectiles and cheap everything in general does force you to think fast and act even faster, although it's balanced on a knife's edge as to whether that constitutes fun.. there is a tendency to devolve into a series of UT spams which, while nice to watch, doesn't involve much playing...

Not much noticeable improvements for me, except bigger environments, and blood... buckets of blood. Add the new fatalities and it becomes a very visual, if bloody, feast.

- Sound
The usual... nothing too impressive, and certainly no Nobuo Uematsu-class stuff (so far... I'm not done yet...). Mostly ambient music. Voice acting is decent, although not helped by a pretty flat script -- not that there's too much of that...

Ninja Gaiden 2 seems to have more in common with Devil May Cry than fanboys would care to admit... If you remember, the brilliant original Devil May Cry also had a pretty dismal sequel in DMC 2... To its credit, Ninja Gaiden 2 does some things wrong, but hasn't disintegrated into a similar state of farce... Actually, were it not for the camera issues and the cheapness, this game would be right up there with the original Ninja Gaiden or even better. So if you're the forgiving type, this is actually a very good game. Or just play on Acolyte...

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 9 - A case of if it ain't broke. More weapons and Obliteration Technique means there's actually an improvement.
Cheapness: 10 - Nearly breaks the game. At the most obscene points, the game devolves into a chore and loses sight of any semblance of fun...
Overall: 7 - Good - A few problems, but worth the time to play.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/16/08

Game Release: Ninja Gaiden II (JP, 06/05/08)

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