|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Team Ninja||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft / Tecmo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 3, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Head Chopping Fun
by Jonathan Marx
Just as I had expected, Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox 360 is an exhilarating, gore-filled ride that's heavy on action and not much else. All the best elements from prior Team Ninja offerings are present and accounted for, along with a few changes and improvements that make the game more accessible. Fans of action titles and the Ninja Gaiden franchise will be pleased with the lightning-fast pacing, silky-smooth combat, utterly stable technicals, and the ability to hack a demonic threat into quivering lumps of sushi.
The game is not without flaws, however. Repetitive combat, indestructible environments, a couple graphical hiccups, and less-than-stellar boss battles combine to make the title feel imperfect. As such, if this is the series' swan song that producer and creator Tomonobu Itagaki says it is, then it's not the kind of legacy he should be leaving. Don't get me wrong; it is a very fun game and the best Ninja Gaiden to date, but it's not the immaculate epic on which to end.
I could launch into a whole bit about the story and background of Ninja Gaiden II, but it's not particularly pertinent. Suffice it to say, players will go on a world tour and battle it out in the underworld against the Black Spider Ninja Clan and the minions of the Archfiend by leveraging their dragon ancestry via Ryu Hayabusa. The various cutscenes, character interactions, and hidden scrolls do a good job of telling an interesting story, but the real meat and potatoes of the title lies in its combat.
As with the other games in the series, gameplay consists of shredding waves of enemies apart with supernatural martial abilities. Ryu Hayabusa is a true ninja hero who knows his way around exotic weapons and carotid arteries. Ryu has always been capable of dismembering foes in a matter of instants, but never has it been more decisive and satisfying as in this title. I especially enjoyed carving through packs of Venetian werewolves. They thought they were bad until I harried them with Dragon's Claw and Tiger's Fang, leaving them in piles of lycanthropic refuse. The theatrical way in which I dispatched with all of the untoward minions was a thing of beauty. In fact, I was even able to capture some of the best moments on Ninja Cinema. That's right; you can record your bloody exploits and submit them online for others to view! You can also send your Karma score to the Xbox LIVE leaderboards and see where you stack up in terms of your friends as well as on the world stage.
As cool as combat looks, it does get quite repetitive. Team Ninja mixes things up a bit by including a bunch of interesting weapons you can upgrade, adding new moves to your repertoire, and throwing new, fiercer enemies into the mix. Unfortunately, all you'll really ever do is mash on the X and Y buttons, cast a little Ninpo action with Y and B together, hurl a set of shuriken in enemy faces with B to extend your combos, or block and counterattack with LT and a timed X or Y. After the first few levels, you'll become so used to combat even the spurting green ooze from a demonic stump won't amuse you.
To be fair, I liked being able to employ the Obliteration and Ultimate Techniques with Y. If you've lopped off an enemy's limb, you can turn them into slop by tapping Y and letting Ryu do the rest. The resulting Obliteration finishing move usually involves a decapitation or severing clean through the creature's midsection. If you can hold on to Y long enough, a powerful charged attack known as the Ultimate Technique will be unleashed. This whirlwind of death typically will take anywhere from one to three opponents out of the fight. All in all, I'd say combat is delightfully brutal, but also somewhat desensitizing and monotonous after a while.