01 Aug 2008
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Ninja Gaiden II – Xbox 360

Apparently Ninja Gaiden II is violent? Indeed, the New Zealand classification actually lists the game as R18 Graphic Violence, the highest level of violence before the dreaded banning. All of which makes a game reviewer wonder. Ninja Gaiden II is a ridiculously violent game. Arms, legs and heads are severed in almost every battle. Blood sprays the walls like a car wash, a never-ending crimson waterfall. Hero Ryu Hayabusa’s legendary weapons are coated in the red stuff, slicing and dicing like 1990s Ginzu knives.

About three hours into Ninja Gaiden II, after beheading a thousand enemy ninjas, gamers may share a moment of clarity that struck me. How can a game that promotes such mindless and satisfying violence pass through the consciousness of the modern media with barely a whimper while Grand Theft Auto IV, a far, far less violent game, be castigated for its violence and even modified because of sexual content?

Well, let’s find out why. Ninja Gaiden II is firstly not a terribly realistic game; almost an anti-Grand Theft Auto IV. It takes place within familiar settings, New York, Tokyo, but settings that have been dramatically re-envisioned by developers Team Ninja into something that is almost dream-like and fantastical.

The enemies are also a lot more mindless and soulless than Grand Theft Auto IV’s AI. They attack in packs and require basically the same battle strategies to defeat, block, attack, block, attack, attack, attack. Repeat. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, a little more variety from enemies would have been quite nice.Another thing that separates the two games is the linear approach within Ninja Gaiden II. Ryu is following a series of what they call in the movies macguffins (devices used so the protagonist has something to go after and thereby drive the plot forward), which takes him from Tokyo, through his Ninja home, onto New York and beyond. It’s a point A to point B approach which offers none of the freedom and sandbox appeal of Grand Theft Auto IV, and while this may suit a game like Metal Gear Solid IV, where the plot is compelling enough by itself; Ninja Gaiden II is simply burdened by it.

That’s not to say that Ninja Gaiden II is a poor or even an average game; it isn’t, it’s just not something that is all that exciting in modern times. Like a throwback to 1980s beat-‘em-ups (oh Streets of Rage, how you are missed…), Ninja Gaiden II is a great example of simple gaming at its most polished.

Although the combo system isn’t quite as good as Capcoms’ Devil May Cry 4; Ninja Gaiden II pulls off a validattempt at balancing offense and defense. The combat system relies on heavy and soft attacks; dodging, blocking and counter-attacking. Combine this with varied weapons: scythes, katanas and bows to name a few and you have a challenging system to sink your teeth into. Each boss character also requires a different strategy to defeat them, although some of the strategies are a little too particular.

The camera can be somewhat of a burden at times. Although it is controllable, the camera does tend to get stuck into some ‘interesting’ places during some of the battles (where controlling the camera is the last thing on a gamer’s mind)

Between previewing the game in last month’s magazine and reviewing it this month a couple of things have happened. Metal Gear Solid 4 came out and showed us all just how damn good gaming is now and this reviewer finished Grand Theft Auto 4. Those two things dramatically changed my opinion of Ninja Gaiden II, which before those two seismic events occurred had been progressing along nicely. Now it’s hard to even think about playing a game in which narrative is basically redundant and in which the world hasn’t evolved. Ninja Gaiden II is mindless fun, violently mindless, but something that will fulfill that primal need inside us all, and sometimes that’s enough… sometimes.

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