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This game is hard. Really hard. In fact, you wouldn’t quite believe just how mind-bogglingly hard it is. Nonetheless, I pride myself on recently finishing it on the first two difficulty settings (‘Acolyte’ and ‘Warrior’) and still enjoyed it enough to know it deserved a review. For those who have gone further than I and completed it on ‘Mentor’ or (God help you) ‘Master Ninja’ – I salute you.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is a 3rd person action/fighting game for the Xbox 360 with a whole lot of bloodshed.  It follows the exploits of ninja Ryu Hayabusa as he makes his way through armies of evil ninjas, demons and dragons and what not, trying to stop ancient devilish creatures called the Fiends re-awakening an enormous evil hell-bent on taking over the world. Some criticise the game for it’s lack of plot, but honestly, what kind of plot does a game like this need? It’s simple: you are ninja. They are ninja. Let’s kill each other.

To reiterate what I started this review with – Ninja Gaiden 2 is a seriously difficult game. You often have dozens of enemies on-screen: these vary from rather generic ninjas, to winged demons,  monstrous spider-like ninja’s and even ninja’s with rocket launchers (yes, I know how insane that sounds). You start off with your trusty Dragon Sword and kick ass by means of light, quick attacks and larger, slightly slower attacks. These two can be combined for effective combos, with the latter kind used to quickly finish your opponents: once you’ve taken off an arm (or head) with a quick attack, you can immediately take out the rest with the bigger attacks. There are, of course, possibilities in the air while jumping and you can charge up your large attacks for an ‘ultimate technique’ (with which Ryu sometimes automatically kicks the crap out of everything in the vicinity). Finally, you’re also armed with ranged items, such as the familiar shurikens but also bow and arrows, and Ninpo: a kind of magic to blast the nastier enemies out of the way. As you go through the game, you can buy and collect other weapons and scrolls with Ninpo enchantments to become even more lethal.

While not all of these are necessary (I’ll get back to that later), you really need to master your weapons and quickly or you don’t stand a chance in hell of ever completing this game.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is not something for the ‘casual gamer’: the action is fast-paced and brutal. In the very first few seconds of the game, you’re tossed into a pile of ninja’s bent on killing you. Even in that very first level, you shouldn’t be using all the health-items you encounter to keep yourself out of trouble, but saving them up for the fights with the bigger foes, where you’ll sorely need them. While the first two of the 14 levels aren’t too difficult, certainly not on the ‘Acolyte’ difficulty-setting, the third and fourth (taking place in a demonised New York City) give a pretty good taste of things to come. It’s here that you’ll encounter the dark angel Alexei, first of the four Greater Fiends that’ll serve as bosses throughout the game. After slaughtering your way through legions of the living and undead, your furious boss fight with this guy on the top of the Statue of Liberty serves as the first big threshold to separate the occasional gamer from the more experienced.

It only gets worse from this point on, as you’ll fight werewolves, security robots, Xenomorph-esque cyber-demons, giant man-eating worms, dragons and the aforementioned (and annoying as hell) ninjas with rocket launchers, who won’t give you a second’s rest. And, of course, there are three more Greater Fiends to kill and you square off with your rival Genshin from time to time too. It all leads to a journey through Hell itself (literally), where you’ll have to kill all the Greater Fiends for a second time and face three major bosses in rapid succession for the finale (each creature more difficult to slay than the last).

All this makes the game a challenge, but also fun for those who find many games now-awadays to be too easy. Unlike those games, you’ll see the ‘Game Over’-screen plenty of times. As is often the case, however, Ninja Gaiden 2’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness as the difficulty makes it rather tiring to play.

Aside from the gameplay, Ninja Gaiden 2 is good, but not exceptional. Most of the areas you go through are rather generic and routes are ceiled off rather sloppily (these days, it feels rather weird that you can’t jump over a knee-high obstacle in some areas while you’re scaling walls in others). The graphics are good enough, but not particularly impressive. The soundtrack is reasonably, but somewhat disappointing; while the tunes are usually okay, you often hear the same one in different levels.

Finally, I also have a smaller pet-peeve. You come across quite a few weapons and Ninpo’s in the game, but out of all these, only a handful are actually useful. For main weapons (all of which you can upgrade), you don’t really need much aside from your Dragon Sword and Eclipse Scythe. Of course, you can buy them if you want to, but why waste your money on them when you need them for health-items? You can’t help but wonder why some weapons and Ninpo were included at all.

The same goes for some of the characters in the story. While she saves Ryu’s ass from time to time in the story, his ‘sidekick’ Sonia often isn’t much more than a damsel in distress and fanservice.

But all in all, these are minor complaints. Ninja Gaiden 2 is still fun to play and, due to it’s difficulty, finally completing it feels incredibly satisfying. This is not a game for the faint of heart (in fact, it might be one of the goriest games I’ve seen in recent years), but for those who want a challenge and can stand walking the path of the ninja – be sure to give Ninja Gaiden 2 a try. Or the new version that’s coming out for the PS3.

My rating: 4/5

Until next time,

~Celestis Ruthwen

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