|"Ninja Gaiden II" makes its long-awaited debut on Xbox 360 as the blockbuster action-packed sequel to "Ninja Gaiden." "Ninja Gaiden II" features a new and improved game engine, developed from the ground up exclusively for Microsoft and Xbox 360 by Team NINJA and legendary game developer Tomonobu Itagaki, creator of the famed "Dead or Alive" franchise.
In "Ninja Gaiden II," gamers must guide Ryu Hayabusa on a mission to avenge his clan and prevent the destruction of the human race. Armed with an assortment of ninja weaponry, players must help Ryu skillfully maneuver through a world fraught with peril. "Ninja Gaiden II" will feature an all-new gameplay engine, a new auto-health regeneration system, levels, adventures, enemies and thrilling combat with an extensive assortment of ninja weaponry, representing a true evolution of the highly popular franchise.
|Ninja Gaiden II is the latest entry in the action series based on the classic NES franchise, which was jolted back to life with two spectacular titles on the original Xbox. The highly anticipated sequel is again being developed by Tecmo's Team Ninja, although the Xbox 360-exclusive title is being published by Microsoft, not Tecmo. The latest version of the game was on display at Microsoft's press event today and offered a new level to try and the chance to check out the upcoming costume pack.
The playable level in the game--the seventh, for those keeping score at home--was set on board the Daedaelus airship and kicks off with a cutscene showing Ryu Hayabusa performing a flying leap out of a helicopter onto the ship's deck. Your first threat in this punishing level is a series of turrets that need to be taken out with your bow and arrow. Once the turrets are dispatched, you'll have to make your way into the airship and eventually fight a familiar foe, Genshin. The road to Genshin has you facing off against some twisted cyborg enemies that feature torsos strapped into a spiderlike harness, and larger abominations that are fast, deadly, and well armed. The challenge, as always, is to dispatch them by figuring out the best weapon and attack combo.
In addition to the new level and enemies, the playable demo let us have a peek at one of the costume packs that are coming for the game. The handful of costumes that will form the first downloadable content pack for the game was selectable and had a definite fiend feel to them, which ties in to one of the recurring themes in the story. We saw several variations on the creepy, armored costume that mixed some colored bits into its mostly black scheme. In speaking with MS reps, it sounds as though the pack will run 200 points and hit just a bit after Gaiden II's release.
Ninja Gaiden II looks as visceral as ever.
The visuals in the game are sharp and feature plenty of detail. Hayabusa has never looked better and, more importantly, has never moved better. The game's animation is fluid and packs a hefty amount of visceral appeal. The ninja's moves are both brutal and elegant, which makes for some sick but cool visuals. The enemies we faced--both the serious and slightly off-kilter--were highly detailed as well. The new system of reflecting damage (and dismemberment) on enemies looked pretty gross, but cool at the same time.
The airship mixed up your standard corridor fare with some nice twists and turns that kept the level interesting. As far as performance goes, the game burned along at a speedy clip despite the bloody madness and plethora of onscreen effects. There were still some awkward camera moments here and there but, as with the previous games, they're not problematic once you get into the swing of things.
The audio didn't hold many surprises and stayed true to the high standards of the previous games. Although he's a ninja, Ryu makes an awful lot of noise during battles, which helps add some emotion to his stabbing. You can also expect to hear a respectable array of environmental sounds and various weapon effects. Some enemies also chime in on the action with screeches of their own during battle.
Based on what we've seen, Ninja Gaiden II should definitely pop on the Xbox 360. The game appears to be retaining all the appeal of its predecessors in terms of tight gameplay and visceral hacking action. However, it also appears to be benefiting from some subtle touches that make it more accessible to newcomers to the series. If you're longing for some special, ninja-flavored slice-and-dice action, you'd do well to keep an eye out for Ninja Gaiden II. The game is sporting a ton of promise that, given Team Ninja's track record, we're hoping to see pay off in some exciting ways. Look for more on Ninja Gaiden II in the coming weeks, with the game slated to ship the first week of June exclusively for the Xbox 360.
|GameSpot Score 8.0 great
This action-packed sequel isn't quite up to the standards of its precursors, but it's still a brutal blast.
The Video Review
GameSpot editor Kevin Van Ord hacks and slashes through this video review of Tomonobu Itagaki's latest--and likely last--Ninja Gaiden game, Ninja Gaiden II.
Watch It | Download It
Hold still--this might pinch a little.
Team Ninja also went back and fixed a few of the frustrating issues from the previous entry. For example, should you lose a boss battle (and you'll do it frequently), you can restart most of them at the beginning of the encounter, rather than having to revisit 10 minutes of lead-in gameplay. There are more save points, which also replenish your health, and your health will replenish on its own after action sequences. But for every step forward, the game takes an infuriating step back. It isn't as slickly paced as its precursors, and it isn't the visual leap forward that Ninja Gaiden was. Most noticeably, the camera has taken a turn for the worse, seemingly more interested in flaunting the game's flamboyant flurries of steel and black spandex than in being functional. Ninja Gaiden was hard, but it was rarely cheap; when you died, you knew it was because you needed to perform better. In Ninja Gaiden II, the badly implemented camera and other factors (more on this later) can lead to trial-and-error repetition that relies more on dumb luck than on your controller-wielding prowess. Sure, this sequel is a fantastic game, but it isn't as good as the game that reintroduced the franchise.
The core action is both familiar and remarkably intense. As returning hero Ryu Hyabusa, you hack, slash, and decapitate your way through hordes of nasty-looking foes, many of which are returning enemies from the Xbox original. What makes it so satisfying is how fast and fierce these encounters are. Using just two attack buttons and a jump button, and pulling a trigger to block, you can execute a flurry of slashes, ground-pounds, and high-flying feats with ease. And it looks fantastic in motion. The particle-heavy, blood-spattering special effects and silky animations will make your jaw drop, thanks to the exciting spectacle they create. Each battle keeps you focused and engaged, and the speedier your thumb waggles, the more satisfying and explosive the resulting acrobatics are.
In fact, the standard combat is even better than before, thanks to a few violent touches that take the series to new levels of adrenaline-pumping ferocity. Humanoid combatants routinely lose limbs at the mercy of your steely weapons, but rather than collapsing in a pool of spurting blood, they just get angrier. Amazingly, a werewolf with one arm is more dangerous than one with both limbs intact, but this fact is nicely offset by the possibility of a finishing move. If you get close to a de-limbed demon and hit Y, the camera will move in close and showcase a fantastically over-the-top fatality, complete with flying viscera and the ghastly sounds of spurting blood and squashed tissue.
Bosses are more frequent now and vary in terms of quality and challenge. Some of them are maddeningly difficult, such as dual armadillos that spew fiery rocks toward you. Others, like a blood-dripping, sword-yielding she-fiend, hit all the right notes. And one of them, a giant worm that speeds through subterranean caverns, will get stuck in walls due to a glitch and is easily defeated by slashing at its head while it tries to extricate itself. You can slash and bash using some of the old weapons, including the dragon sword and the lunar staff, but you may want to go into these battles with some of the newer additions such as the blade tonfas, which deliver some excellent combo moves and are fun to wield.
The action looks spectacular...
Make no mistake: All of this is really hard, and the second half of the game in particular is certainly just as hard as the original game. You'll face a number of enemies at a time, but they aren't content to lounge around like Dynasty Warriors refugees. They jump around quickly, may tackle you and execute an overpowering assault, and are often remarkably in tune to the actions you're trying to pull off, ready to counter with their own violent reply. The insane level of difficulty may not seem apparent in the first few chapters, which franchise fans may notice are hard but not as hard as Ninja Gaiden's. However, the challenge ramps up considerably as the game progresses, and you'll eventually be repeating certain sequences multiple times until you find a way to dispose of the brawny baddies. Much of the time, death brings with it the realization that you simply need to be a better ninja. When Ninja Gaiden II relies on its formula, it's not unfair; it's tough, certainly, but not punishing.
Unfortunately, the game strays all too often from its roots and meanders into the abyss of cheapness that Ninja Gaiden only rarely peered into. There are some hints of this early on, but the first third of the game and the final third are incredibly satisfying. Nevertheless, the center portion relies on tricks that simply don't cut it. Ninjas who you can't see pummel you with unblockable rockets over and over again, a defeated boss explodes and takes you down with it, and under- and over-water sequences feel more like work than fun. These sections are where the camera is at its most annoying. Apparently designed to focus on Ryu's exciting swordplay, the camera has been pulled in closer and moved a bit downward, which isn't ideal, but at least it isn't a hassle in wider levels, like one in a postmodern New York City. However, for the majority of the time you're in confined spaces and narrow corridors, where the camera gets stuck in corners, moves into uncomfortable positions, and requires more resets than before.
Then, after the infuriating middle section comes to a close, Ninja Gaiden II jumps an impressive hurdle. During its final third, everything clicks into place, and brilliantly so. The enemies become more interesting, unfair difficulty is replaced by breathless challenges that reward your skill, and the level designs take advantage of the platform's visual strengths. In the best of these levels, you fend off flying fiends while fighting ground foes across bridges and on ledges, as lava cascades down the cliffsides. Other quality levels throughout the game include a nail-biting trek through a hulking airship and a tour of duty in a sprawling castle, where you slice up dining-room chairs in addition to growling lycanthropes.
It's disappointing that the same amount of attention wasn't given to other levels, or to environmental design in general. Devil May Cry 4, Ninja Gaiden II's closest competitor, showcases sumptuous backgrounds that stand in beautiful relief to its furious action. By contrast, Ninja Gaiden II's environments are generally bland and utilitarian, such as the ugly and repetitive green caves that one of the previously mentioned bosses calls home. Some trips back to Hyabusa Village provide some needed narrative connections to the previous game, but it looks barely better than it did before. As far as its environments are concerned, Ninja Gaiden II does not feature the technical prowess you would expect from a game in 2008. It also suffers from some occasional hits to its normally smooth frame rate, which was simply never an issue in the past. Another familiar visual glitch is a returning one: Splotches of blood and goo still stick to the invisible walls, and because there's so much gore, this flaw sticks out all the more. By now, this sort of thing should have been addressed. By contrast, the vivid special effects, excellent enemy design, and fluid animations are fantastic, and they make it easy to notice that the rest of the visual design is decidedly behind the curve.
The environments? Not so much.
The cutscenes are great as well, if a bit cheesy, and they give some flair to Ninja Gaiden II's throwaway story. Not that it's bad, but the tale's just an excuse to pit you against a series of greater fiends, and to introduce you to the game's femme fatale, Sonia. She's exactly what a Ninja Gaiden fan would expect: blond, beautiful, and buxom. So buxom, in fact, that you will marvel at how she manages to move at all without suffering from back pain, and at how much breast physics have evolved over the years. Ryu's archenemy Elizebet is just as curvy, and a scene that features blood dripping from her bare bosom is wild, intense, and disturbing. You probably won't get invested in any of these characters, but the cutscenes are good enough to look forward to, and the finale may very well knock your socks off.
Leaderboards and unlockable, masochistic difficulty levels provide some replay value. You can also record sections of gameplay and upload them for other players to watch, but though this feature is neat, it isn't implemented very well. You're stuck recording entire swaths of gameplay, and the frame rate takes a bit of a hit when you turn the option on. But it's a feature that, like its amped-up combat, will please the game's core audience. If you're one of those folks, you'll enjoy what this sequel offers. Its various inconsistencies and visual deficits are obvious, but the fluid, heady action makes Ninja Gaiden II a great game.