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    Ninja Gaiden II

    This one is for my Ninjas...

    Ok I love a challenge in my games and who doesn't? Is there a point where a game goes from challenging to just downright impossible to play? If there is one game walks that line it's Ninja Gaiden.

    If you're a casual gamer then you should never even pick up the case for this game much less read this review. In every game you come to that difficult part where you just want to cut it off and never play it again. In Ninja Gaiden its about every 5 minutes where you reach that point you may want to buy a new controller or 2 to have as a backup around the second boss.

    Everything that was great about the other games is back and is in full force and then amped up to the next level. More blood, more dismembering of enemies, more pure visceral action that, despite how frustrating the game is, you keep wanting more of.

    Our buddies at Team Ninja went and tweaked one of the more frustrating things about the Ninja Gaiden franchise (also this was fixed in NG for the DS) but you remember all those times you loose a boss battle, the first 5 times you fight that boss don't lie. Well now you don't have to go back and play the whole level again before the boss. That would be enough of a fix for me but they did a few other things to the game to ensure the lasting appeal of Ninja Gaiden. There are more health replenishing save points that are like light houses in a storm. Also should you not be annihilated by your enemies you get a small portion of your health back after battle (also present in the DS incarnation) You also get a few nice additions to your arsenal, my favorite being the Scythe, sure you cant catch those little ones that jump around all the time but it sure makes a lot of blood come gushing from the big guys!

    As with all progress there is always a step back, ideally it shouldn't happen but we all know that it does. The camera in the game, something that after all the success of the previous games the developers would have known not to mess with, well they messed with it. Its been brought in tighter so you can see more of the action and get blood and gunk on the camera and all over the still present invisible walls. I mean this is 2008 I thought we were past invisible walls in our games. Sure some tricks are needed to get a game to work but invisible walls? Shame.

    The core action is both familiar and remarkably intense. As returning hero Ryu Hyabusa, you hack, slash, and decapitate your way through hordes of nasty-looking foes, many of which are returning enemies from the Xbox original. What makes it so satisfying is how fast and fierce these encounters are. Using just two attack buttons and a jump button, and pulling a trigger to block, you can execute a flurry of slashes, ground-pounds, and high-flying feats with ease. And it looks fantastic in motion. The particle-heavy, blood-spattering special effects and silky animations will make your jaw drop, thanks to the exciting spectacle they create. Each battle keeps you focused and engaged.

    In fact, the standard combat is even better than before, thanks to a few violent touches that take the series to new levels of adrenaline-pumping ferocity. Limbs flying free at the mercy of your blade is a common sight, but rather than collapsing in a pool of spurting blood, they just get angrier. Amazingly, a werewolf with one arm is more dangerous than one with both limbs intact, but this fact is nicely offset by the possibility of a finishing move. If you get close to a de-limbed demon and hit Y, the camera will move in close and showcase a fantastically over-the-top fatality, complete with flying viscera and the ghastly sounds of spurting blood and squashed tissue.

    Make no mistake: All of this is really hard, and the second half of the game in particular is certainly just as hard as the original game. You'll face a number of enemies at a time, but they aren't content to lounge around like Dynasty Warriors refugees. They jump around quickly, may tackle you and execute an overpowering assault, and are often remarkably in tune to the actions you're trying to pull off, ready to counter with their own violent reply. The insane level of difficulty may not seem apparent in the first few chapters, which franchise fans may notice are hard but not as hard as Ninja Gaiden's. However, the challenge ramps up considerably as the game progresses, and you'll eventually be repeating certain sequences multiple times until you find a way to dispose of the brawny baddies. Much of the time, death brings with it the realization that you simply need to be a better ninja. When Ninja Gaiden II relies on its formula, it's not unfair; it's tough, certainly, but not punishing.

    Unfortunately the game leaves its tried and true formula too often and takes a dive into the land of cheesiness. There are some hints of this early on, but the first third of the game and the final third are incredibly satisfying. Nevertheless, the center portion relies on tricks that simply don't cut it.

    Since when do Ninjas have rockets?

    I have never seen a freakin horde of ninjas use rockets to annoy the crap out of you and make you do the same section again over and over until you turn the console off and scream so that the neighbors the next block over thinks someone got murdered.

    Then, after the infuriating middle section comes to a close, Ninja Gaiden II jumps an impressive hurdle. During its final third, everything clicks into place, and brilliantly so. The enemies become more interesting, unfair difficulty is replaced by breathless challenges that reward your skill, and the level designs take advantage of the platform's visual strengths. In the best of these levels, you fend off flying fiends while fighting ground foes across bridges and on ledges, as lava cascades down the cliffsides.

    Unfortunately the game takes another step back when you catch your breath and look around the environment, especially those weird green caves. I mean the Textures look like something you'd see in a N64 game not what you should EVER see on the Xbox360 or PS3.

    The cutscenes are great as well, if a bit cheesy, and they give some flair to Ninja Gaiden II's forgettable story. Not that it's bad, but the tale's just an excuse to pit you against a series of baddies, and to introduce you to the game's femme fatale, Sonia. She's exactly what a Ninja Gaiden fan would expect: blond, beautiful, and busty. In fact, she's so well endowed that you will constantly marvel at how much breast physics have evolved over the years. Ryu's archenemy Elizebet is just as curvy, and a scene that features blood dripping from her bare bosom is wild, intense, and disturbing.

    All in all a worthy addition to a legendary series that improves many areas, keeps the core of the game intact. Though some things do take a hit. The core audience will love it, though I cant see it bringing any new fans into the mix.

    The Rough
    Concept: Don't screw up a classic
    Gameplay: Nothing wrong with it, why change it (9)
    Graphics: Very pretty action, annoying camera, and lacking environments (7)
    Replay: Masochistic difficulty levels provide some replay value. (moderate)
    Bonus: Its Ninja Gaiden, nuff said

    Overall: 8/10

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