Review by caw317

"Five steps forward and four and a half steps back for the series."

As an avid fan of 3rd person action games and Ninja Gaiden for its impeccable polish in regards to its difficulty, I greatly looked forward to playing Ninja Gaiden 2. The series itself has taken some great steps forward, and some equally big steps back. We'll start with the less important details.

Graphics - 8/10
The graphics, while they haven't advanced much at all past Sigma and Black, are still quite good. The character models in particular are quite slick. Ryu is as fluid and graceful as ever in his brutalizing, his weaponry and movements are flashy, gore is splashing all over the place and limbs are flying everywhere. Most of this is done at a good 60 fps, but occasionally the game will slow down immensely due to too much action going at once. Also disappointing are some of the level textures which are quite bland, as well as level designs.

Sound - 8/10
Satisfying for it's purpose. Ryu is excellent for his battle cries, the sound of slicing and pounding flesh is crisp, and the enemies are just as good at expressing pain. Past that the music is forgettable for the most part, as is the voice acting. It's not particularly bad, there are just no standout performances.

Story - 2/10
Well, no one honestly expected an Oscar-winning performance here but it was actually worse than I anticipated it would be. Ryu's village is attacked and devastated yet again, an artifact stolen from it yet again and it's up to Ryu to avenge his clan yet again. I wouldn't have much of a problem with this if it wasn't presented in such a poor and disjointed manner. Worse is the replacement of Rachel with someone named Sonia who not only looks suspiciously similar to her, but is developed worse than she was. The story on a whole would've done a lot better without Sonia, breasts and all.

Gameplay - 7/10
Here is the meat of the game, and what we all bought this game for. We'll start with the good.

Obliteration Techniques
Obliteration techniques were added as a brutal finishing technique that applies to practically every enemy in the game, including most bosses. When an enemy has lost a limb or in the case of some of the bigger enemies and bosses, weakened, you can use Y to initiate a small auto-kill sequence that not only is a great looking execution but renders you invincible for the time it's being performed. The sheer variety of the techniques is also an achievement; Every boss that can be obliterated has a unique sequence for every weapon available, and this also applies for most of the enemies.

Regenerating Health Bar/Healing Save Points
Ryu's health bar will now regenerate to a certain point when he is out of combat. This is great for taking off a bit of pressure from the player because believe me, the pressure rarely if ever ceases in NG2. The save points will also heal you to full on your first use, and the saving system itself has been streamlined to be automatic.

Combat Variety
New weaponry includes the Eclipse Scythe, Tonfas and the Kusari-gama (a sickle and chain), but all the returning weaponry has been updated with additional combos as well. No weapon in this game is weak, they're all quite strong and are usually able to handle most situations given your skill level. With the large amount of choices you can change your game up significantly and each weapon is a joy to use and a joy to watch. Probably the only blemish here is that the scythe is almost TOO good; Its weakness is supposed to be speed but this is rarely an issue due to it's reach and power, and it is honestly not that slow either.

Tried and True Gameplay
Ninja Gaiden 2 does not deviate much from it's core at all, and this is a good thing. It is definitely faster and fiercer, but it is still Ninja Gaiden at it's heart. Ryu is still fast and powerful offensively and defensively, counters, evasion, ultimate techniques and liberal use of items are still there. If you loved NG's combat system, NG2 is very much the same.

And now let's detail what's wrong.

The Camera
While I am a nitpicky gamer that likes to micromanage his camera, I can easily see why NG2's camera is frustrating. It is all over the place, often moves too much, gets stuck in certain areas and worst of all, does a damned good job of obscuring enemies from your vision. This is a massive problem when you're often swarmed and surrounded by them and several will take pot shots at you from offscreen. It is simply not excusable for the camera to be so inept, especially in a game that has problems with difficulty already. I understand that Team Ninja wanted to showcase the flair of obliteration techniques by having the camera zoom in and out madly when they're performed, but they very well could've provided us an option to disable such motion.

The Difficulty/Cheap Factor
NG2's difficulty is what I ultimately wanted. I wanted another game with the polish of NG, one that could push you to the edge but hardly ever do so in a punishingly cheap manner. NG2 sorely disappointed me in that regards. Though the camera certainly does its share of helping the difficulty be even more frustrating, in the end the game's most difficult areas aren't fun at all due to enemy tactics.

The theme of NG2's enemies is more. More enemies are thrown at you, they are more aggressive, and most importantly and most unfortunately, they throw more projectiles at you. Much more projectiles. Often when you can't see them, and with absolutely no abandon. Practically every chapter in the game features at least one enemy that will use projectiles on you. Whether it's the black spider ninjas throwing up to 3 or 4 incendiary shurikens at a time or soldiers with cluster rockets, you can guarantee to have enemies rain down projectiles at you from a safe and often offscreen location while you're trying to deal with multiple enemies in melee who are just as aggressive. The result is that you can often end fights hanging on by a thread, and frustrated that you couldn't get into an offensive rhythm through constant interrupts and knockdowns by explosions. The regeneration health bar and save points were initially supposed to make the game more accessible but they're a big part of what makes some of the fiercer encounters simply bearable.

Some of the bosses are just as bad, but for different reasons. In NG bosses often telegraphed themselves, even if it was minor, and could be dealt with using precise evasion and a careful balance of aggression and caution. In NG2 it is much of the time practically impossible to avoid sustaining some damage, often severe. Be it through fast and deadly accurate projectile attacks, block-crushing combos or brutal throws that you can't see coming at all and often occur in a flash, you will be taking quite a bit of damage. Boss AI tends to be a hit or miss affair; Either you will run into their combos which can be partially blocked and evaded from, or you will run into their throws which result in a large portion of your hp gone. The trade off is that bosses themselves are quite weak and can be defeated in 4-5 solid combos.

This unfortunately gets worse in the later parts of the game, and in the harder difficulties - you start running into bosses with escorts of enemies. As if fighting an annoyingly random boss wasn't enough, they add in enemies to interfere with your focus. This forces you to usually alter your strategy drastically depending on how much items you have left (speaking of items, you can only carry 3 minor and 3 major potions this time around). Most of the time it means you have to increase your aggression and hope that the boss doesn't abuse throws and the enemies don't abuse projectiles OR throws. You can guess how such a situation does a number on the fun factor of the game.

In the end, it all results in the game being less fun. It was towards the halfway point of Path of the Mentor where I just sat back and realized that this just wasn't fun anymore. Every boss was an uphill battle of attrition where no matter how much heart and skill I put into the battle, it came down to how bad does the enemy wish to abuse their tools and if I brought enough healing into the fight. It was disappointing to say the very least.

Overall - 7/10
If you're a fan of Ninja Gaiden, there are parts of Ninja Gaiden 2 that will certainly entertain. It retains much of the gameplay of the previous games, only faster, bloodier and bigger. Unfortunately it runs into crippling balancing issues with its difficulty, which is truly a shame as that was one of the crowning achievements of the previous Ninja Gaiden games.

Cheers, ladies and gentlemen, for my first review. I hope it was useful.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/18/08

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

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