Guest Author - James Shea
The successor to the Ninja Gaiden game for the Xbox, Ninja Gaiden 2 is one of those rare sequels that seems to improve on everything done by the first game while adding worthwhile new features, enemies, and levels.
The basic gameplay is the same as the first Ninja Gaiden game, featuring fast-and-frantic swordplay and various ninja abilities to supplement it. You play as Ryu Hayabusa, last ninja of the Dragon Clan lineage, and your mission is to seal the ancient Arch-Fiends away before they destroy the world. The action is almost non-stop in NG2; Ryu has a wide array of acrobatic actions at his disposal to aid in his swordplay. There are fast and slow attacks that can be linked as a combo for different effects, and there's a lot of leaping and diving to throw into the mix as well. In addition to melee weapons like a sword, a staff, claws, and a scythe, Ryu also has a few ranged weapons as well - shurikens (regular and exploding) and a bow. Finally, Ryu has certain magical abilities like fireballs and cutting winds to attack his enemies with, though their use is limited. His enemies range from ninjas - armed with equipment similar to Ryu's - to demons, large and small.
The gameplay is smooth, but fast and unforgiving. Your enemies attack ferociously and without mercy - no fair-play "one on one" duels here, your enemies will be doing their absolute utmost to make Ryu die. Human enemies (the ninja) have a wide variety of "abilities", for lack of a better word, that differentiate them from other random grunts in other games. The ninjas in Ninja Gaiden can lose limbs (arms or legs) and keep fighting - and this will happen a lot, be assured. Heavily injured enemies will try to grab on to Ryu and detonate their bomb as a last-ditch suicide attempt. Ninja types range from melee combatants with swords and claws to ranged types with bows and magic spells. Even without these skills, it's hard to keep up with their attacks, which require dodging, guarding, evading, and counterattacking to deal with - you can't just wade in and mash the attack buttons and expect to survive. The demons are even harder, being less predictable, depending on their type. Some are small, bat-like creatures that swarm Ryu faster than he can swing his sword, while others are hulking colossi that can grab Ryu and squeeze the life out of his body. There are bosses on every level as well - these enemies are generally much larger than any regular enemy, and their strength makes guarding useless, forcing Ryu to jump and dive for his life. Furthermore, they're not fazed by your attacks, requiring you to time your attacks so that you'll have time to escape before they counterattack. Overall, Ninja Gaiden is a relatively simple game in that it keeps the same basic premise for combat; there aren't really any segments that deviate from the established gameplay.
As a whole, the controls are good and also notably responsive. In some other games, you have to adjust your timing to the game and pause between pressing buttons so that the moves you've inputted can be executed. In NG2, the game moves roughly about as fast as you push buttons - if you're smashing the buttons really quickly, then the moves will get executed really quickly. To give an example, Ryu has the ability to walljump between two adjacent parallel walls. At first I thought I had to adjust my timing to wait for when he landed; I quickly realized that I could just mash the A button and ascend as quickly as I tapped. The game really rewards you for having good reflexes, and tries not to hinder you as best it can. The only really annoying parts about the controls are the camera (which is kind of unresponsive at times) and sensitivity with regards to hanging on pipes and running on walls, both of which have to do with the camera (since running on a wall is "running forward", if the camera changes it can mess you up mid-run).
The graphics in the game are really good looking, though "realistic" isn't quite the word that I'd use to describe them. They're clearly fake, but it's on purpose, so even though the characters have flawless, one-tone skin with no wrinkles or anything, it looks good and like it was done on purpose. The in-game graphics are really good, too. Combat is quick and highly cinematic without distracting or detracting from the gameplay experience. The most notable detail is the bodies, which are persistent - kill a bunch of ninjas, and their bodies don't fade (not while onscreen, at least). Furthermore, I never thought I'd think of blood and severed limbs as being "artistic", but this game really has the prettiest blood sprays and dead bodies that I can think of. Blood splatters on walls depending on the angle that you cut, and you really get the feeling with this game that you're an absolute ninja murder-machine. One of the more impressive details is the blood that accumulates on your blade - when a fight is over and Ryu stands idle for a few seconds, he whips the blood off the blade (throwing an extra splatter onto the floor) and re-sheathes it.
The sound in the game isn't particularly notable, except that the sounds of combat are really well shown - the clangs and screams, in addition with the music, create a mood-setting level of background noises that keep you in the action. The music in general doesn't have any tracks that are particularly good, though.
As a whole, Ninja Gaiden 2 is a really fun game to play - one of the first games in a while that really feels like a game and not just an interactive story. Flimsy demon-based story aside, Ninja Gaiden 2 is really just an excuse to kill a bunch of ninjas and demons with fancy moves and look really awesome while doing it. The only real problem is that the game is so hard that it might be intimidating to casual players, but for players with good reflexes and a strong will Ninja Gaiden 2 offers nothing but good, fun gameplay.