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Game Over Online ~ Ninja Gaiden II

GameOver Game Reviews - Ninja Gaiden II (c) Microsoft Game Studios, Reviewed by - Russell Garbutt

Game & Publisher Ninja Gaiden II (c) Microsoft Game Studios
System Requirements Xbox 360
Overall Rating 80%
Date Published Monday, July 14th, 2008 at 04:25 PM

Divider Left By: Russell Garbutt Divider Right

I’ve been there through it all. From the very first Ninja Gaiden arcade experience all the way through the currently released Ninja Gaiden 2 for the Xbox 360. It is because of my long standing following for this beloved “hard-core only” series that I feel this review must be different from my usual work. Anyone reading this piece must have already read at least a few of the myriad of Ninja Gaiden 2 reviews available on the internet and in print, with all of the usual perspectives and platitudes that generally follow the release of a title from a series with such a devoted following. It is because of this that I am breaking usual review form and presenting this piece from a first-person perspective (mine) and, more importantly, from the perspective of a hard core fan of the series. I am doing this primarily because like most of you out there reading this, I was anticipating the arrival of this game with a rare sense of adoration and fervor. When it arrived I felt what was delivered by Team Ninja was not the game everyone was expecting, but rather a rushed-out-the-door testament to the professional mayhem its creator’s career had become.

Let’s get this point out of the way: Ninja Gaiden 2 is a good game. Considering how the last iteration of the series on the Xbox, Ninja Gaiden Black, is considered to be a generation’s action masterpiece, this is a bit deflating. What really ends up being the shame of the whole thing is that while playing NGII you can feel that it was on its way to becoming another masterpiece for this generation if it had more time to bake and was less, well, fragmented. It is not news to anyone that both Tomonobu Itagaki and several staffers at Team Ninja had been locked in a heated battle with upper management at Tecmo since the relase of Dead Or Alive 4, which happens to be the last title from Team Ninja prior to NGII. Itagaki announced his departure from the company on the very day NGII was released, and it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what life was like during the development cycle of NGII.

First, the good points: NGII is graphically gorgeous, even without being the “console-limit-pushing” kind of beautiful its predecessor was. The gameplay has remained largely unchanged from the last title, which is also the title’s strong suit. It wasn’t broke before and Team Ninja didn’t try to fix it… instead, they just tweaked it a bit. You can now switch weapons and apply health and ninpo enhancements without having to go into a pause menu (the same way it was presented in Ninja Gaiden Sigma). As is the norm in video games today, there is also a regenerating health bar. During the course of battle, Ryu will experience damage from enemies, some temporary and some permanent. The permanent damage can only be healed by a health aid of some sort, where the temporary damage replenishes itself after each battle is complete. So yes, it can be said that your health bar will refill after a battle, but it may still only be half of what it was when you entered the area. The combat itself is as fast and furious as it ever was, with the battles being more relentless and fraught with seemingly impossible goals… just as it should be.

Now here is where the wheels fall off. The problematic camera from the last title is not only still present, but even more of a problem to such an extent that it seems schizophrenic. It is like the camera is a boss battle in itself, and one that you fight from the beginning to the end of the entire game. Not only must you constantly adjust the camera to see what is going on around you, but a lot of the time you have to do it while battling as many as 100 enemies at once who are throwing lethal projectiles at you from a place far off-screen!

Speaking of on-screen enemies, the game contains one sequence after another where your screen is literally teeming with death for Ryu, and these battles also seem to be equally lethal for the GPU of the Xbox 360. The game displays slow down in several sequences to such an extent that the game chugs down to single-digit frame rates in the heat of battle. There is one sequence in particular where spider ninjas literally flood the screen, and when launching an ultimate technique to deal with them the screen becomes like a flip book of action until most of the characters disappear. This is not the normal quality level for any Team Ninja title, and a shining example of a development team that may have stopped caring.

Another source of frustration when playing this title is the inconsistent artificial intelligence of the enemies and bosses alike. Sometimes they stand there and wait to take a beating and sometimes they are so ruthless and unbeatable that just putting down the controller and watching will yield the same result as trying to take them down. Some of the winged bosses simply float in the air and remain far enough away to avoid injury while they pummel you with one barrage of projectiles after another. I am not speaking from the perspective of an amateur player who doesn’t have the skills to get the job done; I am speaking from the perspective of a player who took on the Master Ninja difficulty of Ninja Gaiden Black just for the sheer jollies of it all. The game is inherently flawed in this regard, bottom line.

It is little details like this, and bigger details like the fact that toward the end of the game you have to “re-fight” each one of the fiends you’ve already defeated in order to reach the final greater fiend, that make the whole experience feel like Team Ninja had become so disgusted with the state of things that they were cutting corners wherever possible.

Some of these “dark side” features have already been addressed. The game has already been patched once to fix a bug that allowed infinite karma scoring and threw the entire leaderboard stats into a state of debatable veracity. Also, on July 25, 2008 Team Ninja will release a “mission pack” that will add many non-storyline missions to the game the same way the “Hurricane Packs” changed Ninja Gaiden into Ninja Gaiden Black. This major addition may also bring with it several other fixes for the more annoying bugs within the game. That is, if you’re willing to shell out another few dollars for the pack.

All of this having been said, I want to say (for perspective) that I completed the game on Warrior (middle) difficulty and then re-played it again from the beginning immediately. As of this writing I’ve begun a third play through on Mentor (very hard) difficulty. The point here is despite all its flaws, Ninja Gaiden 2 was still able to deliver some excitement and thrills and every now and then it exhibits some of the pure kung-fu insanity that placed its predecessor on the mantle of genre-defining action titles.

Even with all its flaws, it may do the same for you.


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