Review by horror_spooky

"Devil May Cry and Prince of Persia...with ninjas"

Before you take one look at the average score I gave Ninja Gaiden II, just let me say that despite it being a flawed, overly frustrating, and sometimes even a little buggy, you can still get a ton of enjoyment from the title. The first five hours or so are extremely awesome and while the game doesn't break any barriers already established in the action genre, it is still worth your time, even if the last few hours of the game almost ruin the whole experience.
The most important thing in pretty much any action game is the combat system because in these kinds of games, you are going to have to kill a ton of stuff really, really fast. This is where some of the originality shows up in Ninja Gaiden II as this combat system, though in itself isn't original, when it is coupled with a great engine that allows you to literally dismember your enemies, it provides for plenty of mouthwatering carnage that should be experienced by anyone who calls themselves a gamer and owns an Xbox 360.

You have your basic weak attacks and strong attacks with your melee weapon, which ranges from the “Dragon Sword” to a really badass scythe. Combos can rip enemies to shreds and you'll find yourself becoming giddy with glee whenever you see someone's head fall off. Blood goes everywhere as you do this and doing this to a ton of enemies at once is fun, but since Ryu wears black and sometimes looks similar to some of the enemies, you'll get lost in the crowd.

Melee weapons aren't the only weapons available to you, however, as there are also some projectiles to use against your enemies. From the beginning of the game, you can use shuriken, but later you can earn new weapons like a bow that shoots flaming arrows or an explosive kunai. Sadly, besides the bow, most of these projectile weapons are rarely useful in most situations and whenever the game expects you to use them it literally stocks you up on supplies, so you'll always know when you'll need to whip out that good ole bow.

In Ninja Gaiden II, your magic is called Ninpo, and it is measured by circles below your health meter. A lot of the Ninpo is useless except for certain situations or enemies, but the Fire Ninpo is awesome and very helpful in almost any battle. Basically, once you cast your Ninpo, you are invulnerable to attacks and a reticule of sorts appears on the screen. Depending on what kind of Ninpo you are using you will either lock on to all of the enemies your level allows or you will have to aim at them before Ryu finally casts it. Some Ninpo doesn't require any of this and simply allows you to cast it and be done with it, like the Ninpo that summons these fire birds to circle you to protect you and set enemies on fire. Since the Ninpo is cast by hitting two buttons at the same time, it is sometimes hard to pull off and there will be plenty of situations where you will try to use your magic, end up throwing something, and then die because of the poor responsiveness of the controls.

Enemies come at you in segmented waves, meaning as you move forward x amount of enemies will charge you and after you kill them, you continue on and x amount of enemies will attack you again. While this isn't very noticeable, once you do discover this system, it kind of takes a little from the game's quality, but I'm sure you'll be able to look passed it.

You can increase your maximum health by using an item or collecting nine of another item. When you need to heal yourself, you either use items or you simply get away from combat Gears of War style and let your health meter recharge. Speaking of the health meter, Ninja Gaiden II has a somewhat unique health meter in that while you can recharge your health simply by avoiding combat for so long a portion of your health will remain damaged, indicated by the meter being filled red. You can only get rid of this by healing yourself using the items or blue “essence”.

Weapons and Ninpo can be upgraded by various means, whether it be certain items or by upgrading them at the shop. Each weapon and Ninpo has three levels for you to upgrade them to and these upgrades really do make a difference. Unfortunately, the upgrades are priced a little high and you will be spending most of your money in the game on healing items so you probably won't get to enjoy most of the weapon upgrades your first time through Ninja Gaiden II.

I mentioned essence earlier and this essence comes in various colors and they do various things. Essence is little floating orbs that come from broken objects, treasure chests, or dead enemies and when you're not attacking something they will zoom to you. Blue essence, like I said before, will refill your health, but red essence will give you more Ninpo. Yellow essence, on the other hand, is used as currency in the shop, but like I said, most of your money will be going towards healing items.

All of that is fine and dandy, but does any of this sound a little familiar to you at all? Before I go on further, at the end of each chapter you are given a score based on how you did in the level. Yes, a lot of Ninja Gaiden II's gameplay is taken almost directly from the Devil May Cry games, but those games are pretty awesome, so I don't see anything wrong with that.

However, Ninja Gaiden II doesn't only borrow elements from Devil May Cry. On the contrary, the game also takes elements from another popular action series, Prince of Persia. What it takes from Prince of Persia are the platforming elements and some of these platforming maneuvers are some of the worst parts in the entire game.

In Prince of Persia, you can run up walls, run across walls, leap from wall to wall, swing around on poles like some drugged up monkey, but since you are climbing pretty high in that game, falling would be a big pain in the ass…if it wasn't for a gameplay mechanic that allowed you to rewind time so falling from so high wasn't very frustrating. Ninja Gaiden II has you wall running and pole swinging your way up to pretty high locations, but without the Sands of Time, Ryu, the game's protagonist, doesn't really stand much of a chance in these platforming sections that quickly become repetitive and frustrating when you fall a million times.

Running up walls is a ninja's calling anyway, but since the Prince already took it, there has to be some other ninja abilities that Ryu can call upon in order to progress through the game. Well, there definitely is: Ryu can run on water. This is a pretty cool mechanic, except you constantly have to tap the A button in order to pull this off, meaning that you are very limited in your attacks while running on water, so you won't be spending much time doing it.

Ryu doesn't just spend time running on the water though, he also spends some quality time under the water, and this is also an extremely annoying part of the game. To go under water, you have to hold down the A button, but often times Ryu will just jump right on top of the water and start sprinting. When you finally manage to get the bastard under water, you'll find him pretty hard to control since the controls seem to change their mind every few seconds by switching from inverted to normal based on how close you are to the surface of the water. While you're underwater, everything is a little murky so you can't really see what you're doing and enemies can kill you very easily under here as well, so any time spent underwater in Ninja Gaiden II is time wasted.

As you walk through the levels, you will come across the dead bodies of some random ninjas. These guys have some helpful items on them sometimes like an unlimited supply of arrows, but other times they have these really long notes on them that are just ridiculous. Ninja Gaiden II is an action game of the extreme combat variety and I know that the developers were trying to add some back-story with these documents but they are poorly written and like I said before, too long to hold your attention.

Items can also be found in treasure chests that, depending on the design, hold a wide variety of items. Some of these chests will contain arrows while others will contain items that you can use to heal yourself. Two chests will be around at the same spot on other occasions and one of them will hold a useful item while the other one usually houses an enemy.

A large part of Halo 3 is the collection of skulls that are hidden throughout the levels. By finding these skulls you can unlock various cheats or extra features, but in Ninja Gaiden II the only thing finding these skulls is good for is for achievements and a gamer picture that isn't even worth it. The skulls aren't hidden that well either and since the levels are set up in a very linear fashion, you won't have any problem at all coming across them.

Have you ever wanted to record yourself playing a Ninja Gaiden game so you could watch it later? Probably not, but that option is available to you in Ninja Gaiden II. Unless you're really good at this game, you probably won't want to record yourself playing it (since you'll be getting your ass kicked), but the inclusion of this “Ninja Cinema” feature is probably a godsend for the better players who want to show off to their friends.

The enemy A.I. in Ninja Gaiden II is very, very annoying. I guess you could say they are smart because what the enemies seem to do is spam as many moves as they possibly can. Ryu gets knocked down with just one hit from a projectile weapon, making the later portions of the game particularly frustrating, especially when enemies start using guns. Smaller enemies are usually more annoying than the larger ones as they will crowd you and attack you one at a time so you never get a chance to block or whack them away. Your only means of escape in this kind of situation is usually by using Ninpo, but even that is not guaranteed to save you from the irritating creatures.

The Devil May Cry games have the “secret missions” in them that are way too challenging to be any fun, but Ninja Gaiden II has a similar feature that is much more fun to mess around with. Similarly to the secret missions, you find special portals that will start a “Test of Valor”. During these tests, you basically just have to kill every enemy there is and you will eventually be rewarded with a useful item. Every time you complete one of these tasks you don't only earn an item, but you also unlock an achievement, adding even more incentive.

When I play a game like this, I expect an awesome story; it's just part of the package usually, right? The two series that Ninja Gaiden II borrows heavily from both have pretty good stories, and those are (if you haven't figured it out yet) the Devil May Cry and Prince of Persia games. Unfortunately, the storyline in Ninja Gaiden II is ridiculously bad and the game just kind of throws you all over the place. Ryu Hayabusa is being sought out by a busty blonde woman working for the CIA and meanwhile a bunch of creatures called the “Fiends” have returned to try to take over the world. That's basically the story. Almost none of the cut-scenes are really that great, plus all of the characters have paper thin personalities that you won't care about at all.

For some weird reason, nearly everything in Ninja Gaiden II looks a little slimy. The monsters are expected to look slimy, but nearly everything in the environment, plus nearly every character in the game, has the same slimy effect. Environments, though varied, look extremely bland. So bland in fact that I felt like I was playing a game from the sixth generation sometimes and I'm not even kidding. Everything feels lifeless, but the death animations for enemies were pretty sweet no matter how many times you see them. Blood spatters everywhere, which leads me to yet another complaint about the graphics, and that is the terrible physics. Almost none of the items in the environment can be destroyed to the same degree as many other seventh generation games which is disappointing and there is such a lack of detail that if I didn't know anything about the game and saw someone play it, they could have convinced me that they were playing it on their PlayStation 2. There was a bright side to the graphics, though. The fire effects in Ninja Gaiden II are the equivalent to the water effects found in BioShock. However, this awesome effect is drowned by a particularly bad camera that will cause you plenty of headaches throughout the game.

Since I wrote that huge rant on the graphics, I won't spend much time explaining the audio aspects of the game. Honestly, it's not really to make this review shorter, but it's just because there isn't much to say about the audio. The background music is good, but sometimes annoying. The lack of subtitles is a real pain in the ass because the music is insanely loud compared to the voices, meaning that you'll miss key plot moments, plus Ryu sounds like a teenage kid as opposed to some badass ninja like he should sound like. I could go on, but my mom always told me that if I didn't have anything nice to say I shouldn't say anything at all.

Since Xbox Live is pretty much only used to post your scores and there are no offline or online multiplayer modes, you'd think that the replayability would be in the gutter. However, there are plenty of things to unlock, plus there are four different difficulty settings for you to master. You can start a “new game+” mode after you complete the game once on any given difficulty setting, meaning you can use that second time through to focus on getting all of the awesome weapons powered up to their full potential. One play through of Ninja Gaiden II can last about twelve hours, meaning that the game is great for a rental that will still give you plenty to enjoy.

One thing I love about this game is that it reminds me a lot of the 2D Castlevania games with its level design and battles, but the game unfortunately suffers from being a little too frustrating, very poor graphics, bad audio decisions, and a particularly weak story. Despite all of this, Ninja Gaiden II is still a blast to play and is definitely worth checking out if you've already played through the Prince of Persia and Devil May Cry series of games.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/07/08

Game Release: Ninja Gaiden II (US, 06/03/08)

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