‘Ninja Gaiden 2’ XBox 360 Review

May 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

Ninja Gaiden 2 is ridiculous, absurd and damn good fun. Its best quality is that when everything is working, when the camera isn’t screwing up, and when the game isn’t being obnoxiously difficult, it makes you feel like an absolute badass. Its worst quality is that, at times, the game can become an infuriating little bitch.

The story is, basically, that you are Ryu Hayabusa, Dragon Ninja; some bad guys are going to release an overwhelming evil upon the world in the form of the Archfiend; you have to stop them. Along the way you will encounter evil ninjas, bats, giant worms, ninja dogs (yes, that’s right, ninja-fucking-dogs), dragons, gargoyles, more ninjas, flying ghost fish, a woman bathing naked in a pool of blood, werewolves, lava turtles and a CIA agent with the most humongous, uncontrollable set of tits I’ve ever seen, barely concealed under a latex outfit.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is unrepentantly sexist, immature and silly. For some reason (although, it isn’t hard to search for one), all the female characters in the game have insanely large breasts which seem defy the very laws of gravity. Next to this, the amount of gore, severed limbs, decapitations, gallons of blood being sprayed everywhere, reinforces the sense that the game was programmed by a 13-year old boy with leanings toward erotic fan-fiction. You can either take it in one of two ways: as an insultingly sexist, nauseating experience; or as something so over-the-top and ludicrous that it actually serves — unknowingly — to parody itself. As with God of War, I tend towards the latter option. It’s hard to get mad at a game so preposterous and stupid that it itself becomes the joke.

As such, when taking the game in tongue-in-cheek fashion, it becomes a great source of entertainment. Tearing through dozens of ninjas with a giant sickle, swinging it about madly like the Grim Reaper on a coke bender, never realy gets old. There are about nine melee weapons in the game, most of which are of immense fun to use. The controls work excellently in allowing even a novice to string together several combos and finishing moves, and its to the game’s credit that the combat system allows a greater depth of play as well as being accessible to the layman. Unfortunately, what stops the game becoming an exercise in total skill and finesse is the unresponsive camera, which seems to have a massive grudge against Ryu-san. At the worst possible moments, the camera would rather show you a fleck of dust on a bare rock-face rather than the two enemies who are about to wedge a sword up your arse. It’s completely maddening. And while you can re-centre the camera with the right trigger and rotate around with right stick, the rotation speed is too slow to cope with the speed of the enemies and the right trigger is just a band-aid for a bad camera system.

Further adding to the frustration are some rather irregular spikes in the game’s difficulty, often arising from certain design decisions. One of the worst examples of this is where you fight a boss which then explodes after defeating it. If you don’t press the ‘guard’ button at the right time you will die and be forced to fight the boss over again. It doesn’t matter where you are situated in relation to the boss or what level your health is at; you will die, regardless, unless you guard against the explosion. This is a terrible design decision for two reasons: the player is given no warning as to the explosion being an insta-kill; and the solution is illogical. Throughout the game the player is taught through experience that explosive attacks cannot be blocked; here, the rule is completely abandoned. The solution is counter-intuitive, and so the only way the player is likely to figure it out is through trial and error. That, simply, is not on.

The graphics have a strange gloss and sheen to them, making everything look a little plasticky and Barbie-like; the textures can also be a little smudgy and under-detailed, and the levels themselves are quite linear. The effect of all this is that everything looks and feels highly artificial, and it does work for and against immersion in the game, depending on the circumstances. Take ‘The Aqua Capital’ for example: it’s a level set in a Venice-like city, with small narrow streets and roads separated with bridges and canals. Cities are large, sprawling works of civil engineering; Ninja Gaiden 2 can’t do massive, large-scale environments, so, instead, it does its best impression of a city — and it’s crap. There are so many invisible or artificial barriers that the level feels extremely contrived, and it’s just not very persuasive. Other levels, like the later ‘Underworld’ stages, are far better looking and more exciting to play through. They are released from the burden of having to convince the player with their poor facsimile of a real environment. With these levels there is no basis for comparison and, as a result, their phantasmic nature doesn’t stick out as much. Ironically, the levels which stay within the realm of myth feel more real than those that don’t.

Playing through Ninja Gaiden 2 is an experience of highs and lows. Just at the point when I lose my temper, accusing the latest boss to block my path of being ‘a dick’, I suck it up and try again. The game has pissed me off so many times I have lost count, but I’ve always come back. Why? Because when you do beat that boss or complete that section there is a sense of satisfaction to it. It’s a fun game tarnished by a few fundamental flaws, and it’s a shame because without them the game would be close to being great. At the moment it’s just ‘good’, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself while playing it. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, revelling in the game’s politically incorrect stance towards women and mowing down endless streams of enemies, reducing them to numerous piles of vital organs; these moments outweigh the times the camera pulls a fast one or the AI decides to play dirty. And considering there are few games to rival it, I am compelled to recommend Ninja Gaiden 2, in spite of what it has done to my nerves, my patience and my sanity.

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