Review by Dr. Deezee

"One of the best action games the XBox 360 has to offer."

Ryu Hayabusa, reaper incarnate and star of the Ninja Gaiden series, is back for another vengeance-fueled romp on an Xbox 360 near you.

When last we left the young Dragon Ninja, he had single-handedly reduced a powerful military dictatorship to ruin, staved off a demon invasion, saved the damsel in distress, righted some family wrongs, and still managed to get back home before sunset. Did I mention he did this all with only a handful of medieval weapons, to include a giant wooden oar and some shurikens? Let's not forget when he defeated two tanks and a helicopter with a COMPOSITE BOW. Yeah, he's THAT kind of action hero.

Things only get more ridiculous in Ninja Gaiden 2. Set one year after the events of the previous game, Ryu's home manages to get attacked again (begging the obvious question: exactly who would live in Hayabusa Village? Does the tour of the neighborhood include the overfilled cemetery? Do the realtors mention the annual village raids prosecuted by fiendish armies and rival ninja clans?), jettisoning our hero on a world-hopping quest to defeat four more Greater Fiends (didn't we kill three of these guys last time?) and the big-baddy behind them all, the Archfiend. Locales range from modern day cities like Tokyo and New York to Gothic inspired castles and the Underworld. Not that the change of scenery matters much – no matter where you find yourself, you'll be concerned with one or two things: Killing enemies, and if you're less skilled, not dying.

Of course, "less skilled" is a relative term – I fancy myself something of a seasoned gamer (and Ninja Gaiden was one of my most played games of the last console generation – I can beat the game in one sitting and rack up a Master Ninja rating) and this game definitely gave me a run for my money. Seasoned players of the franchise won't find much difficulty in the earlier levels, but the game certainly turns the heat on starting with the middle stages. Where once you were dodging a handful of melee baddies with an annoying fireball tossed your way here and there, you'll later be dodging 8 foot tall mecha-monstrosities with jetpacks who are supported by infantry firing rockets faster than a MK19 spits grenades. If you think that's an exaggeration, you clearly haven't reached the aptly named level, "Submit or Die!"

So, yes, the new sequel is hard. If you didn't expect that from the successor to one of the hardest games on the Xbox, then you might also be surprised when the plot goes nowhere. (Zing!) Subtle digs aside, this game isn't for the weak of heart or those lacking patience. A general rule of thumb for Ninja Gaiden 2 might be: "If it would be nice to have/do, you can't have it/do it." There's also "if it sounds hard, it'll probably happen." (This rule really got rammed down my throat: after playing a level full of fights on top of the water, I thought, "boy, it'd be terrible if I had to fight a boss this way!" Guess what happened.). The third core value definitely helps out here (you know, the one you like to forget about when it comes to women) – many segments of the game will require multiple plays to get down right. On that note, however, nothing feels better than dicing through hordes of hellish demons, racking up a high score, tons of cash with which to purchase items/upgrades, and not taking a single hit.

For the most part, the game changes little about what made the Xbox version so great. The basic design motto at Team Ninja may have been: If it ain't broke, don't fix it – but if it doesn't move like greased lightning, speed it up! Just about everything moves faster or has been streamlined for the sequel. Everything from combat to saving has been sped up, which keeps the game interesting from start to finish. (A nice touch was adding a separate button to open chests – no more accidental interruptions on your combos!) Even healing and switching weapons has been sped up – you can now select every item or spell you might need from the D-Pad, saving you the hassle of going through the pause menu to switch to your bow or what have you. Svelte!

One major addition to the game is obliteration techniques. Ryu now hacks off limbs like it's going out of style. Once an opponent's limb has been lopped off, you can press the Y button to deliver a brutal finishing move – which usually involves decapitation or slicing a body in half, all the way up to quartering a wolverine. Talk about motivating! There's also a much larger variety of enemies this time around, including but not limited to ninja DOGS. Yes, there are dogs wielding short blades in their mouth, capable of lightning speed and impaling you with incendiary shurikens. If they sound like a joke now, talk to me after you've lost to a pack of them roaming a rain-swept New York alley.

Graphically, the game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second at nearly all times, and boasts significantly more characters on-screen at once over the previous Ninja Gaiden. Performance (those high frame rates, in case I lost you) does a lot to make a game look and play great, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, just give Ninja Gaiden 2 a shot. When compared to other high class titles on the Xbox 360 that have a plague of performance issues (people who've played Mass Effect may have noticed the frame rate dropping , resulting in "stuttering," or those annoying moments where textures fail to load) Ninja Gaiden 2 stands a full head above the rest. Some of the environments may be a bit bland – but who's paying attention to that, with all the glistening blood and body parts flying around? Don't let naysayers dissuade you – Ninja Gaiden 2 is a great looking game (even though it may not be as big of a step forward as Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox was).

With four difficulty modes, a number of challenging achievements to unlock, and a silky smooth combat system, Ninja Gaiden 2 is more than capable of keeping your Xbox 360 an active fire hazard (you did swap out your power cord like Microsoft told you to, didn't you?) for weeks to come. The game's faults are minor (a high difficulty that may turn some off, a failure to bring anything revolutionary to the genre, a plot that starts off in the middle of nowhere and ends in the same place) and its redeemable attributes more than make up for these missteps. Recommended to fans of action games, especially fans of the previous game or of the Devil May Cry series, or people just looking for a fun, challenging and ultimately rewarding experience.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/13/09

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

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