The original Ninja Gaiden fashioned a cavernous laceration between those whom lusted after the malevolent essence of the game and those who loathed it, leaving scarce few balancing amidst a savage duel of opinions. The game redefined eloquent barbarity with protagonist, and gore-fetish harbinger, Ryu Hayabusa and his blink and ‘hey I lost a limb!’ prowess. However whereas Ninja Gaiden had the advantage of being the forerunner of all things astounding, Ninja Gaiden 2 has to deal with the disadvantage of being a sequel and as such the game lacks much of the wow-factor it’s predecessor bore.
It is probably fair to mention here that you could quite as easily navigate your way through a review of Ninja Gaiden, the former, and construct a reasonable image of how the second installment fares. Ryu Hayabusa’s sophomore tour into fiend-ridden lands treads tentatively in the larger footsteps of its forefather, rarely straying from or fraying the formula that fashioned its popularity. Players can anticipate the same frantic, fluent slaughter-fest and for those who were hoping for a taming in the challenge, it’s so minute it doesn’t warrant the mention.
It’s safe to say if you bowed to the might of the previous chapter you’re no more welcome here and the game will make sure you know this. If Ninja Gaiden 2 were a maze it would be built jutting rusted nine-inch nails at every corner, and you would be blindfolded in navigation. On the other hand if you were comfortable with the True Dragon Sword in your mitts two years back, you’ll find the experience aptly challenging, yet no more so than before. It’s hard, and often prejudice, but it relishes its bastardised nature and laughs sadistically as your corpse is transformed into a magnet of frustrated pain and painful frustration.
As with the gameplay, the graphical flare that ravished the original has remained true to itself, only now it isn’t quite so brilliant. Though the game fails to conquer any graphical territories, the engine is still impressive in handling the fast paced nature of Ryu, and his adversaries, and manages to hurl an impressive sum of enemies at the player without tormenting the frame rate excessively (there are infrequent stumbles though.)
Where the game truly exceeds though, is in its variety, and ferocity, of weapons and the new and barbaric (understatement) gore mechanic. Whereas in the original the player had to settle for decapitated fiends and a flurry of blood, the sequel unleashes the carnage in a splendid storm of appendages, entrails, and violence akin to Tarantino’s Kill Bill. At its weakest its entirely satisfying and its strongest worryingly delightful. There have been a million scenarios in which I’ve unloaded clip after clip into the corpse of a begrudgingly fallen foe in any number of game wishing I could inflict a little more pain for the trouble said enemy has dispensed. Well in Ninja Gaiden 2 after any number of swiftly delivered lacerations, leaving your foe crawling futilely toward you utilising his only arm as a lever; a prompt press of the Y button will unleash a new, and fittingly labeled, ‘obliteration technique’ remodeling your luckless adversary into a human playdough. Oh it’s masochistic, more so with the fact corpses remain strewn across your playground for post massacre viewing pleasure. Coupled with the range of weapons from the familiar Dragon Sword to the Lunar Staff (think of a stick, only with two golden maces on each end), it’s nothing short of awesome.
Those who managed to cleave their way through Ninja Gaiden will have noticed the modestly shallow narrative that trailed in the bloody wake of Ryu. Those astray amidst the fluid gameplay are unlikely to have questioned it, convict to a craving for more awesomeness. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense and served only as a backdrop to the superior action. However that’s not to say the game crumbled entirely and the narrative did help define some of what made the game so engaging. In contrast Ninja Gaiden 2 has no story. The narrative propels Ryu across the globe in what has to be one of the most nonsensical stories ever conceived. Somewhere amid the nonexistent story a new rally of fiends emerges and no army in the known universe can stop it… But Ryu Hayabusa can and so you hopscotch your way from Tokyo to New York, Venice to Russia. It’s almost as if the developers went on holiday, each bringing back a postcard, which formed the bases for the lethargic list of locations. Nevertheless each locale has a different infesting greater fiend and it’s the player’s obligation to see to it each menace’s last glimpse of the world is the glimmering claw of a scythe en route to throat. It’s a testimony to the strength of the gameplay that this only gently mars the experience.
It’s [possibly] worth mentioning the relatively few characters besides Ryu Hayabusa, all with the married depth of a paddling pool. Replacing busty blonde femme fatale Rachel is busty blonde femme fatale Sonya. Everyone’s favorite, and only, shopkeeper Muaramassa hasn’t succumbed to age and is back with flair. Sadly there’s no twist haunting the end of the game and the evildoers here never really instill any sense of malevolence. The character department may fail in creating rich characters but they do fashion some fantastic, often colossal, enemies for the player to fight. The fiends are particularly superb and separating head from torso is tenfold more entertaining when your foe is a giant werewolf.
It seems an ever-inflating mushroom cloud of tradition has erupted within the gaming industry. As with a flurry of other recently released sequels, if you’ve played Ninja Gaiden, the follow-up isn’t going to be lacing the menu with a side order of innovation, opting instead to reincarnate an aging formula for success, Margarita tactics. But who said innovation was important? Ninja Gaiden 2 rekindles its former glory for another escapade into the nonsensical with amplified violence and awesomeness, sans a narrative. Just keep in mind; if you’re accustomed to a romantic candle-lit dinner before a rigorous fucking, Ninja Gaiden 2 may not be your token date.