Can you handle the heat?
People familiar with the first Ninja Gaiden are also probably familiar with breaking their controllers. Few games have had their difficulty so carefully balanced – and hard – to tickle that flange connected to my rage center. Some people, with a special brand of rage, remember the bosses who were impossible to stun. Others clench their fists at the mere mention of those goddamned ghost fish.
[image1]Ninja Gaiden 2 continues this proud tradition, at least if you’re playing the proper difficulty level. The
not all that easy setting is for skirts and guys who don’t eat enough red meat and chili peppers!
Ryu Hayabusa, wielder of the Dragon Sword and top ninja in the Hayabusa clan, is an all around badass waiting for your input. You will run along walls, leap up walkways, and pin people to walls with arrows. You will perform finishing moves that chop both legs off a ninja, leaving him on the meaty stubs that once were his limbs, and then cut his head off. The gameplay is substantially cooler than anything that happens in the cutscenes, and that is a Good Thing.
Ninja Gaiden 2 is also an incredibly tight, balanced experience that expects a whole lot from you. The game punishes you severely for slipping up and rewards you by not having a boot shoved so far up your ass that you’re tasting leather. The margin for error is quite small, too; a momentary mistake can cost you half your life.
The difficulty of Ninja Gaiden 2 comes from several key aspects. First is that you’re almost always fighting four or more people at once. Frequently, these groups are mixed in type – you’ll have a claw ninja to your left, a ninja with two katanas to your right, a floating ninja who can make the ground spew agony behind you, and one of those fucking ninja dogs that can throw exploding shurikens and hold a knife in their mouths right in front of you. That, by the way, is if you’re lucky; the second boss fight is the first boss fight plus ninjas. You know, just in case you thought that first boss was a breeze.
Oh, and he isn’t. He can pick you up and thrash you for half your health. He’s five times your size and just about as quick. He’s apparently crossbred himself with a spider, too, since two gigantic clawed limbs aren’t enough. When he’s done ripping you into a pile of meat, he’ll eat your remains and shit murder on some other hapless ninja. And that’s just the first boss – don’t get me started on how many times the third boss left me in ruins. Anyone with a sword the size of King Kong’s monster should not be able to move that fast…
[image2]The second significant factor contributing to the difficulty is all the inescapable attacks your foes have. Every foe has at least one grab move, some of which you can escape by jamming the left analog stick about, some of which you cannot, and all of which are deadly. One of my personal
hatreds favorites is the katana ninja’s grab after you’ve chopped one of his arms off: He trips you to the ground, stabs its katana through your gut, pulls out a kunai, and then flings himself onto you, exploding on impact. Somehow the sword and all the remains of the exploding ninja are wiped from the world, but Ryu (assuming this didn’t kill him) is fine. Internal hemorrhaging is clearly meaningless to Ryu Hayabusa!
The enemy A.I. is varied and difficult, and will actively exploit any habit you fall into. If you attack constantly, they’ll block constantly. If you block a great deal, they’ll start to use their grab moves constantly. Dodge too frequently, and the ninja dogs will stick exploding shurikens onto you, preventing you from doing much other than detonating and crying.
When you’re not too busy being murdered or doing a little murdering yourself, you’ll notice how much of a treat the game is to look at. The quality of graphical artistry that has gone into Ninja Gaiden 2 is impressive, the animations are fluid, environments are vibrant and attractive, and the frame-rate is very smooth. Even the blood from the corpses you leave in your wake looks disturbingly realistic.
The sound is problematic, though, especially the voice acting during the cut-scenes. Characters can be hard to hear over the ambient noise, making it difficult to follow the storyline, which is primarily idiotic anyway. Admittedly, I don’t much care what the walrus-tittied CIA agent had to say, or what Ryu’s brother, Joe, (no, I’m not making that up) is discussing with Generico the Dark Ninja (yes, I am making that up) since it’s all too over-the-top to take seriously, but it’s distracting to have softly spoken lines drowned out by roaring flames and screeches of swords.
As for as the storyline goes, I was unable to resolve Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden 2. They essentially have the same plot but disparate settings. You’ll see some of the same locations found in Ninja Gaiden early in Ninja Gaiden 2, and then suddenly you’re in New York City fighting demons. There is little to no coherence present, and you essentially have to accept the flood of unrelated scenes at face value, because the developers surely won’t help you out. Maybe all the sense and transitions were lost in translation, but that’s a very big maybe.
[image3]Another big piss-off in Ninja Gaiden 2 is re-fighting all the bosses near the end of the game. Developers: Stop it! It wasn’t fun in Illusion of Gaia, and it hasn’t been fun since! Just stop! Padding this kind of stuff out just results in more Hulk films, and nobody in their right mind wants that. (Edward Norton say “SMMMAAASH!!!” ~Ed.)
With so many elements pushing you to switch down to the lower difficulty, it’s hard not taking the easier course. No bones about it, this game is incredibly hard, and it will frustrate you to no end. The thing is, the game’s at its best when it’s pushing you to play it on expert. Ninja Gaiden 2 on easy is a bland experience by comparison, and sucks the life out of the title: It’s a chili dog without the chili; a martini without vermouth. Sometimes making a game accessible to the masses strips all of its power away, and that just doesn’t suit Ryu’s tastes. Now pass the wasabi.