Ninja Gaiden has been long-awaited on the next-gen console and the new instalment in Ninja Gaiden II comes exclusively to the Xbox 360 for the final game in the franchise. But should you trade hard-earned for hard-core? After our First Look a few weeks back, we got hands on for a more intensive fight.
It is impossible to talk about NGII without mentioning the graphics. On the back of the box you’ll find 1080p mentioned and the game has been designed to take advantage of all the power the Xbox 360 has. The graphics can only be described as breathtaking. The gentlemen amongst you will no doubt notice the assets of Sonia; whereas in the past her femininity might have been represented by two over-sized protrusions in the chest region, now they leap around like two puppies in a sack. Whilst this might raise a snigger from the back of the class, it is the sort of graphical detail you can expect to find in NGII.
Cutscenes are a graphical feast, served with a dollop of poetic licence, and fairly frequent, helping to break up the pace of the action, but at the same time giving the "director" time to flex his narratory muscles. You can’t skip the cutscenes, so you know that you were intended to watch them. You might think you are just here to hack and slash, but evidently Team Ninja want the storyline to be an immersive experience.
The transition from live action to cutscenes is slick, and you might find yourself trying to divert the course of action, when of course you can’t. In some ways it is an irritation: whilst pursuing the NGII story your character does things that you might not.
At the outset you get to choose between two gaming options dubbed Path of the Acolyte or Path of the Warrior, basically, your difficulty level. Those who have played all the games from the Gaiden series might want to take the Warrior route.
The first levels play out giving various hints and tips so you’ll pick-up fighting techniques as you go. Contrary to what you might want to do, in NGII you need to stop and read all the scrolls and practise the moves that are revealed to you. NGII has a way of drawing you into the action, but this is really not the aim – you cannot progress without learning – so taking a step back and learning some of the advanced moves will not just stand you in good stead, but is essential.
As we just said, NGII draws you into the action and also has a habit of pulling you in the direction of progress, not always giving you time to explore all the avenues available. Again, it is worth looking around to collect treasures and make sure you don’t miss anything. Having said that, in some cases, the game will teach you with a new skill, then present you with a situation where you have to use it. The principle of good education…
But it can be frustrating, the rhetoric of having to learn all these skills, when you really want to be carving chunks out of people; perhaps this justifies the reputation that the Gaiden series has attracted. It is verging toward the hardcore: you have to be fanatical about it or you won’t reach the end of the path. At times there is not so much a learning curve as a learning cliff; you’ll be doing fine, then you’ll reach the end of a level and get stuck because you don’t have the skills to progress.
There are a wide variety of ninja weapons to collect: you start with the Dragon Sword, then collect others as you go. Once you have completed the game you restart with everything at your disposal. You also get a range of projectile weapons to help you on your way as well as various health boosting options and so on.
The acrobatic 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. It is in the combat the Gaiden II really finds it’s feet, but also its fatal flaw. Whilst Ryu can do amazing things, sometimes it all becomes a little too overwhelming, not just for the player, but also for the console.
When things get sticky the frame rate becomes a problem and every so often there are a heart stopping moments when you have a lengthy pause, just as you are about to open a can on your amassed foes. Your eyes widen as you think about pulling the plug and then you are back in the action.
The camera also has something of a mind of its own. Because Ryu is so dynamic within his environment you can find the camera disappearing behind some foliage or an awkwardly-placed piece of timber formwork. You can control the camera manually, but whilst fighting eight guys you sort of run out of fingers and thumbs.
Other irritations include spawning of enemies. Sometimes they just appear literally from nowhere. Sometimes you’ll clear an area and someone will lob a shuriken into your back as they leap out of invisible wormholes. But one nice feature is the way that once you have finished asserting your Ninja-self, the bodies of your slain enemies litter the ground around your feet.
Blood splatter, for fans of Dexter or CSI, is apparent in bucket loads. One other common issue we found was blood that sprays against a moveable object will then hang in midair, when the door, wall or floor falls away, a minor point, but surprising considering the detail elsewhere. The way Ryu flicks the blood off his sword, accompanied by a satisfying splat, is particularly noteworthy.
In our return to Ninja Gaiden II, we were again impressed with the graphics. This really is a game where you’ll miss details, so worth playing through to catch these elements again.
Annoyances do come in with the frame rate problems, bizarre appearances of enemies suggesting some sort of inconsistency and although intentionally aimed to appeal to the hardcore and casual gamers, you might find that Ninja Gaiden II asks a little too much of you to perfect your craft.