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Patience a virtue with stellar 'Ninja Gaiden II'

July 31, 2008

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Patience a virtue with stellar 'Ninja Gaiden II'

Every year sees a handful of titles that laughs in the face of the way-too-easy hand-holding games that are flooding the market more and more all the time.

For 2008, you can be sure Ninja Gaiden II is cackling maniacally.

For anyone who has ever played a Ninja Gaiden game (yes, even the ones released on the NES years ago), it's no secret that they're difficult. Very, very difficult. But that's not a bad thing. It's almost a badge of honour players wear when they manage to complete one of these bad boys.

Ninja Gaiden IIThat being said, someone must have told developer Team Ninja that things had to be toned down just a little bit for its most recent release, Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox 360.

And like a truly defiant warrior, the developers shipped Ninja Gaiden II with a new, 'easier' difficulty setting that is still sure to send most gamers into fits of rage. It simply wouldn't be a Ninja Gaiden game if it was easy, okay?

Ninja Gaiden II takes protagonist Ryu Hayabusa all over the world - and netherworld for that matter - as he tries to take down the evil Archfiend and his four Greater Fiends, who are creatures that want nothing more than to take over the Earth. There's more to the story, but it's all unimportant in the grand scheme of things. What this game is all about is taking out hordes of enemies in the bloodiest and most destructive ways possible, and that's exactly what you'll be doing almost nonstop. The only times when there's a break from the violence and brutality is when Ryu has to traverse an environmental puzzle that requires him to jump, swing, wall-run or climb all kinds of ledges to get to the next battle.

The combat itself is much deeper than it looks on the surface. To someone simply observing, the game may look like a typical hack-and-slasher, but that couldn't be further from the truth. To survive at this game, a player has to learn how to master all of Ryu's special moves, from the Counter Attack technique (self-explanatory) to the Flying Swallow technique, to the Furious Wind technique. A good player will quickly learn that running into every battle willy-nilly while mashing the Y button will result in many quick deaths. Do I sound like a ninjitsu master yet?

Ninja Gaiden IINow, though performing Ryu's many moves is truly satisfying, there's one big problem holding the game back, and that is the camera. Although players have full 360 degree control of the camera by moving the right analog stick, and can centre it at any time by simply tapping the right trigger, the camera itself always seems to be fighting for control. It's constantly moving back to an ungodly position that makes a lot of acrobatic moves a lot more difficult than they should be. It's not as noticeable at the beginning of the game but as the battles become more harried and ferocious, and as the environments become more difficult to get around, the camera becomes more of an annoyance than anything else.

And while on the topic of annoyances, the only other one in this game is the all-over-the-place difficulty, the bosses especially. Oddly enough, the horrific-looking Greater Fiends all take but a few moments to defeat, while the 'minibosses' (if you can describe these behemoths that way) are the true challenges. But the annoyances come in different forms. One boss took many, many turns to finally take down, yet when I died soon after defeating him, I wasn't taken back to the point right after beating him, but right before beating him. Another difficult boss turns into a seemingly unavoidable bomb when his energy reaches zero. I died over and over and over again until I realized (well, guessed really) that you have to hold down the block button just as the bosses final shockwave hits you. Who knew ninjas can block massive explosions with only a sword? Sheesh.

Simply put, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a great challenge in a game. I love 'em. But be fair about it. Otherwise, it just comes out looking like bad game design.

Besides constant mayhem, there are some other things to keep gamers interested. Several skulls are hidden throughout each level (similar to the ones found in Halo 3's campaign) and though some are simple to get to, others require some real ninja-sleuthing to get to.

There are also new weapons and magic spells introduced at a constant pace throughout the game. Gamers can use yellow essence gathered from downed enemies as currency to upgrade these items from a shop owner known as Muramusa. It's a fairly simple upgrade system, but one that doesn't take away from the focus on the game, which is the combat.

And again, that is the bread and butter of this game and every Ninja Gaiden game before it. As frustrating as it can be at times, there's something wildly addictive about it that will have you coming back for more. Luckily, save points for the most part are placed fairly often throughout each chapter and checkpoints work the same.

You don't have to be a Ninja Gaiden veteran to hop right into this title, but you sure as heck better be a patient gamer because even the easiest difficulty setting doesn't hold back.

Ninja Gaiden II
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: TECMO/Team Ninja
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site:

Rating: 8 / 10

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