By:Pat Sauriol
Review Date: Monday, July 07, 2008

I never got my hands on the original “Ninja Gaiden” but I have heard of the great love bestowed upon it by hordes of gamers. Nevertheless, after playing the sequel I can assure any of the other noobs to this gaming universe that you don’t need to be aware of any previous backstory to get right into “Ninja Gaiden II”. In fact, there really isn’t much to the story except that you’re a good guy ninja named Ryu Hayabusa and you’re out to rescue a blonde friend/love interest/secret agent from the clutches of the Black Spider Ninja Clan. Really, that’s about 90% of “NG2” in a nutshell. The rest of the game is an intense cacophony of non-stop action and carnage worthy of being found in a slaughterhouse – which, if you’re looking for a videogame that has you playing a pissed-off ninja, is a good thing.
Starting off in a slightly futuristic looking Tokyo and proceeding through 14 levels, you guide Ryu through his mission to rescue his pal Sonia (a CIA agent with a body and sense of fashion by way of Jenna Jameson, if you dig that mental image) and exact revenge upon said Black Spider Ninja Clan for stealing a statue from the Hayabusa clan. Right from the start the emphasis is on combat and plenty of it; this is a brawler similar to “Devil May Cry” where a ton of bad guys are flying at you and you have to slice and dice them into little itty bitty pieces. And I really do mean itty bitty pieces: when Ryu uses his sword, falcon claws or staff he brutalizes his opponents, limbs fly off and vivisection isn’t uncommon. Ryu also has some spectacular finishing moves that you can perform that would teach someone like Jason from the “Friday the 13th” series some new tricks for next summer’s round of campers to Crystal Lake. Blood, gore and button mashing are plentiful in “NG2” as you try and rack up as many combo hits as the computer can count. Along with weapons Ryu will also learn new fighting techniques by way of scrolls he finds in boxes as well as spells that he can use to fry and blow apart anything or anyone unwise enough to be standing near him at the time. Weapons can be upgraded and health renewed at shops found throughout the levels. As well, once you kill an enemy Ryu can claim their essence, a kind of energy that can be used to boost up Ryu’s ki (energy level for unleashing special attacks), top up his health or be used as currency to purchase items at the shops.

While the game isn’t boring at any point it can be frustrating at certain times. The camera (usually third-person but you can shift to first) can sometimes block the action resulting in you getting your ass handed to you by an unseen enemy. At some points it’s not immediately apparent what it is that you’re expected to do to advance to the next stage. There’s also the matter of some incredibly hard bosses to beat and when you lose your life you have to restart from the last saved point which sometimes means that you have to slog through some of the preamble leading up to the boss fight. The level design is also a little blah during some of the later stages. However, even with these four detriments there wasn’t a time when I was ready to give up on the game, it’s just that if the design were a bit better this could have elevated things to another level. On the up side, the sound effects that go with the gore? Thumbs up. And there is a little bit of humor to be found by way of the diary entries on some of the bodies of fallen ninja that Ryu searches. Who knew that the slower learning ninjas faced the same low self-esteem mental anguishes that unhappy teenage girls also like to write about in their diaries? Thank you “Ninja Gaiden II” creators for shining a light on this matter. Maybe Oprah can invite representatives from both groups on and get them to open up some more.

Bottom line: if you want to kill a lot of ninjas and stare down some crazy end bosses like giant spider people and werewolves, “Ninja Gaiden II” is your thing. The difficulty levels and the added feature of being able to save to video some of your crazier combos should keep you entertained for a while. I don’t expect real ninjas to endorse the game for its authenticity but then again, aren’t they more into the Wii scene and playing “Bratz” games?

Mania Grade: B+
Videogame: Ninja Gaiden II
ESRB Rating: M
Reviewed Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Action, Hack/Slash
Players: 1
Online: No
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Suggested Retail: $59.99
Graphics: B
Sound: B+
Gameplay: B+
Replay: B-
Fun Factor: B