Ninja Gaiden II for Xbox Goes Heavy on Gore and Glitches
Its probably a good thing Game On wasnt around to review Ninja Gaiden when it hit Xbox in 2004 -- we probably wouldve written An awesome, brutal, majestic action masterpiece, then filled the rest of the space with crude crayon drawings of ninjas. Because really, thered be nothing else to say.
Its easier to ramble on about Ninja Gaiden II, which in some ways isnt a good sign. The original set the bar so high that its not just the competition that falls short: The games own sequel suffers in comparison. NG2 is just as intense, fast, flashy, and challenging as you would hope. But the games lack of polish, coupled with an equally disappointing lack of ambition, renders it not quite as laudable as its predecessor.
The real difference here -- and the one Tecmo hyped in its NG2 publicity campaign -- is the bloodshed, and lots of it. Nothing like the Nerf batons wielded in Soul Calibur, the swords here actually cut -- and cut deep, leaving splashes of blood and sundry appendages to litter every map you tear through. Then it cranks the carnage to 11 by pouring on hordes of foes; a few of the battles here number more enemies than there were in all of NG1. One fight later on in the game, up a long staircase, features a mob of ninjas so thick, they seem to cascade down the steps to meet you, like a black-garbed waterfall swirling with razorblades. It might be discouraging if you had more than a split-second to actually take it all in; instead, its merely sublime.
In terms of that sort of over-the-top awesome, NG2 delivers. One battle takes place in a coliseum filled with thousands of werewolf spectators, who naturally decide to jump the wall and run you down when you get the upper hand on their champion. Then theres the zombies armed with chainsaws and bazookas -- thats zombies, armed with chainsaws and bazookas! To some, that would merit a 10 out of 10 right there.
But for all of NG2s spectacular highs, there are some unforgivable lows. Most of all, the game just feels unfinished, exhibiting a clunkiness thats especially jarring after NG1s technical brilliance. Every possible goof is represented here: slowdowns, stutters, glitches -- even a few crashes. Thats PC shit, man.
Even the mania of NG2s action is a mixed blessing. Yes, the game offers a spectacular, satisfyingly difficult challenge with an insanely deep combat system. But the crowds of foes cant help but change the feel of the game significantly, almost smothering everything else. NG1s strategic, measured action is no more -- now its combat played in the snug confines of milliseconds, a game of perpetual evasion and survival by the skin of your teeth.
Later on, theres a moment of unusual quiet: Walking slowly through a bamboo forest, a few ninjas lie in waist-deep grass, waiting to spring an ambush. After getting nailed by a few, you start creeping through the bracken, baiting attackers into showing themselves and engaging them one on one.
More moments like that -- levels where you slink in shadows and engage the enemy on your own terms, rather than charging like a freight train through a Ginsu factory -- might have resulted in a more satisfying experience. As it is, NG2s badassery is as admirable as it is exhausting.
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