Ninja Gaiden II

The original Ninja Gaiden (on Xbox, not the NES one) was a tough game. So much so that FHM infamously gave it a scathing review because they couldn’t get past the first boss. For this sequel an ‘Acolyte ninja’ easy mode is available from the start, but the strange thing is that the game keeps on getting easier and easier – the weapons get more powerful but you’re still fighting the same old enemies. To put this into perspective: the predecessor took me 32 hours to finish; this took just over 13. So yes, the easy mode does exactly what it says on the tin. But does this sequel provide the same slick joyride?

The biggest and only new inclusion – ignoring a few new weapons and magic attacks – is the ability to cut off enemy’s limbs, leaving them to hobble around or attack you wildly with just one arm. It doesn’t really affect the combat to any extent though – you can still pull of flashy moves by merely hammering the attack buttons. Press Y when fending off a handicapped foe and Ryu will finish them off in a grizzly way, spilling claret all over the place. He’s still an acrobatic sort, able to run along walls and the like. It’s just a shame that the camera doesn’t always manage to keep up.

Like before, Ryu starts off fighting other ninjas and evil fiends, before taking on soldiers with guns and rocket launchers. There is plenty of variety in the missions which include a jungle level, a battle on a high-tech military jet, a snow covered city and a jaunt to the underworld to rid the world of a greater evil. You also get to revisit the dragon ninja clan village from the first game. A spear gun makes underwater combat a lot easier, but those pesky ghost fish are back again. The dogs with swords in their mouths are pretty annoying too. I wonder what the RSPCA would make of that.

Despite smooth combat and some huge bosses, this isn’t as good as it should be. I don’t think Team Ninja are entirely to blame – Microsoft wanted the game out on shelves the same time as Metal Gear Solid 4. My copy crashed a few times, glitches are common and in one section the frame-rate dropped to a single digit figure and didn’t recover until the next save point. The last few missions lazily involve fighting previously vanquished bosses – which supports the suggestion that the game was rushed out – before ending with a three stage final boss battle that’s unfairly tough.

It’s no wonder that the lead director has quit – this was meant to be his masterpiece. Instead it’s flawed genius, like watching Pulp Fiction on a badly tuned TV.

Matt Gander

Matt is Games Asylum's most prolific writer, having produced a non-stop stream of articles since 2001. A retro collector and bargain hunter, his knowledge has been found in the pages of tree-based publication Retro Gamer.

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