No bad dudes, just dragon ninjas

Well it’s two in the morning and I’ve just completed Ninja Gaiden II (~12 hours, ~21000000 Karma), a fact I will regret tomorrow morning when I’m in work early but which I will be thankful for tomorrow evening when I no longer have the nagging urge for “one more level”.

I have to say overall my reaction could be best summed up in three letters “meh”. The game is certainly greatly improved graphically and the flagrant displays of gore are amusing (though soon fade into the background). But as far as improvements that’s about as far as I’d go, most of the gameplay improvements (no or extremely stream-lined puzzles, quick select bar, etc.) were already introduced in Ninja Gaiden Sigma. And those additions which are unique to NG II too often feel pointless or tacked on (yes the extra weapons are nice but not much use when one or two are clearly superior).

In terms of gameplay I’d say NG II has been a regression compared to the last three iterations of the franchise. Whereas in the original game one felt a sense of achievement after defeating a difficult part of the game in NG II I only felt relief that I was further towards ending the experience. The enemies in the previous games were challenging, whereas the enemies in this game are frequently just cheap. Spamming explosive projectile or attacking in strings that have a much higher priority than Ryu’ (the main characters), often pointless, combo’s.

What this boils down to is that one quickly determines the optimal weapon and technique to deal with an enemy and then you repeat it ad nauseam. It doesn’t help that this basically boils down to three or four patterns of attack for all enemies in the game. Adding to this disappointment is the fact that the bosses are generally embarrassingly easy; I was killed more often by waves of mooks (aided by the often wonky or awkward camera) then by any of the bosses. The lack of difficulty in boss battles becomes even more pronounced after you receive and level up the scythe. Then all boss battles require is dodge, Y combo, dodge, Y combo and that’s usually it.

Certainly disappointing compared to the challenging boss battles of the earlier games. What might make it more disappointing is that overall I thought the range of different enemies and their design (particularly the design of Genshin and the Arch-Fiends) was pretty cool and a nice step up from the previous game. Though I preferred the older version of the black ninja costume, Ryu’s current look verges a little too much towards the gimp for my liking.

This odd imbalance in difficulty was mirrored in other parts of the game, for example the “Tests of valour” – arenas where you could enter and fight a pre-set number of enemies in order to earn a power-up. If I recall correctly the fourth and fifth tests of valour were a right bastard whereas the sixth, seventh and possibly eighth were a joke, requiring you only to spam the one “Ultimate Technique” again and again to achieve victory.

Also, while no Ninja Gaiden game is winning a prize for storytelling anytime soon, I found it difficult to really engage with the story of NG II as the leap from chapter to chapter often spanned large chunks of plot development and a lot of stuff seemed to happen “off-screen”, this left each chapter feeling like an individual experience rather than part of a greater whole.

The design of the levels was also often uninspired and frankly boring, a sin for games of this kind. The level design certainly did pick up around chapter 10, with the highlight being the fight against waves of ninja pouring down the stairs of an evil underground temple. But it felt like too little to late, the earlier levels had already left their stamp on the experience.

Finally upon completion the “extras” one unlocks are more insult than reward. You can’t even go back and view the in-game cinematics – a feature which was in previous games but is inexplicably stripped from this one. All in all had it not been for the redeeming features of the last few levels I would have found the entire experience a waste of time, whereas now I consider it an average diversion or time which I could have better employed elsewhere.

If you haven’t played a Ninja Gaiden game before then I’d suggest picking up Ninja Gaiden Sigma over this and when you’re done with that try out the demo for this. Though if you share the same kind of blinkered mental deficiency that haunts the rabid xbox supporters that pollute the Gamefaqs Ninja Gaiden II message board then you could get Ninja Gaiden Black – which according to some is superior to Sigma – even though Sigma includes everything it has and adds more on top (as well as nicer graphics). Ah well as anyone with any familiarity with console platform partisanship can tell you sense rarely enters into it.

Listening to: The Beta Band - Assessment

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