Ninja Gaiden returns exclusively to the Xbox 360 for the final game in the franchise. Pocket-lint got a hands-on ahead of the launch as well as an introduction to the game from Tomonobu Itagaki, designer and head of Team Ninja.

Ninja Gaiden has been long-awaited on the next-gen console and the new instalment in Ninja Gaiden II has been designed to appeal to a wide-range of gamers, not just the hardcore, which was a criticism of the previous version. You take control of Ryu Hayabusa to avenge the persecution of his clan and ultimately save humanity from destruction.

The story plays out across 14 beautifully rendered levels in different locations around the world, taking full advantage of the power on offer in the Xbox. The scenery at times is breathtaking, but this being a fighting game, there is little time to admire the background as the enemies come thick and fast.

The first levels play out giving various hints and tips so newcomers should progress with ease and find themselves picking up some of the techniques they will need to pass all the levels. In our play we found you could only progress so far with random button slapping before you need to concentrate and master some of the special moves.

There are a wide variety of ninja weapons to collect, although once you have completed the game you restart with everything at your disposal. Itagaki commented that previously the sword was the favoured weapon because it didn’t have any obvious flaws, so in the latest game time effort has been put in to ensuring that the weapons have a level appeal to encourage wider usage. Itagaki added that his personal favourite is double swords.

The pace of the action is high, occasionally there will be a moment of confusion whilst you try to find out where you are supposed to be going and it if you miss something you’ll be backtracking again, so it is worth covering all possibilities as you go along. The enemies come in numbers but Ryu is exceptionally good at dealing with them.

The combat dynamics are incredible, both the movements of Ryu and his enemies are fluid and account for the environment in which the battle is playing out. Cutscenes fill in much of the story, which you sort of have to take with a pinch of salt. Enemies are usually your pretty standard ninja types, littered with fantastical characters and your normal super end-of-level bosses. Graphically, it is a feast for the eyes.

That said, NGII doesn’t hold back on the gore, evidenced in part by the 18 certificate on the box. You’ll find yourself severing limbs and going to work on enemies in various states of dismemberment – watching the gore unfold will raise a few gleeful chuckles as Ryu does his worst, then flicks the blood off his sword, of course, accompanied by a satisfying splat.

Although we didn’t get as much time to play the game as we’d have liked to, it was clear from our First Look play that there is plenty on offer here for advanced gamers and newcomers alike. Difficulty levels can be set from the start so you can really challenge yourself, and the hardcore gamers can seek solace in that.

First Impressions

With thick and fast action, Ninja Gaiden II will appeal to fans of fighting games across the board. The beautifully rendered scenes provide an indulgent stage on which the adventure unfolds. Whether you buy into the story or not, you’ll enjoy getting stuck into the enemy. The only word of warning is that notice should be taken of the more advanced moves that you pick up as you progress, otherwise you’ll find yourself up against a seemingly unbeatable enemy, without having practised the moves you need.