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Critical Reception: Tecmo/Team Ninja's Ninja Gaiden II

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ninja Gaiden II, Tecmo's flagship franchise sequel that "isn't better than before, but [is] still unmatched in its challenge and speed," according to critics - multiple perspecti

Danny Cowan

June 4, 2008

6 Min Read

This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Ninja Gaiden II, Tecmo's flagship franchise sequel that "isn't better than before, but [is] still unmatched in its challenge and speed," according to critics. Known for its refined gameplay and punishing difficulty, Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden series has resulted in many thrown controllers since its 1989 debut on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. The series saw a revival in 2004 on the Xbox, where both Ninja Gaiden and its upgrade Ninja Gaiden Black met with some of the platform's highest aggregate review scores. Ninja Gaiden II debuts worldwide this week on the Xbox 360 to a Metacritic-averaged score of 82 out of 100. Giancarlo Varanini makes early mention of Ninja Gaiden II's difficulty level in his review at GameTap, scored at 9 out of 10. "Twenty-two. That’s the approximate number of times I said, 'You have got to be kidding me' while playing through the path of the warrior mode, the harder of two difficulty settings available at the outset of Team Ninja’s follow-up," he begins. "And every time those words came out of my mouth, I contemplated putting the controller down, turning the system off, and running outside to scream obscenities." "It just seemed that the task presented [...] was practically insurmountable and that it’d be a better idea to just give up or go to the easier path of the acolyte difficulty setting," Varanini continues. However, Varanini finds that this difficulty, when surmounted, provides a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. "The whole point of playing a game like Ninja Gaiden II is also realizing that no matter how difficult the situation, it can be overcome by simply becoming a better player," he explains. "Ultimately, you have to be willing to put in the time to learn the individual facets of the game, but once you have, you’ll find that there’s a flow to the action that’s even more enjoyable than that of the original Ninja Gaiden." Varanini elaborates on the differences between Ninja Gaiden II and its predecessor: "The original Ninja Gaiden feels stiff compared to the action in Ninja Gaiden II, which might be due to the fact that Ryu simply has more animations, more attacks, and more combinations that tie seamlessly into each other." "Maybe it’s due to the fact that there’s greater variety and visual creativity to the levels in Ninja Gaiden II that compliment all of Ryu’s abilities," he concludes. "To put it simply, everything that is good about the original Ninja Gaiden is in Ninja Gaiden II, but there’s just more of it and it’s usually bigger and better." GameSpot's Kevin VanOrd rates Ninja Gaiden II at 8 out of 10. "Ninja Gaiden II is a great game and a maddening one," he admits. "In some respects, it improves upon the core Ninja Gaiden gameplay to exhilarating effect. It's flashier and it's bloodier, and when those enhancements are in full force, the game offers the best action available on the platform." VanOrd notes several areas in which Ninja Gaiden II improves upon its established gameplay formula. "Team Ninja also went back and fixed a few of the frustrating issues from the previous entry," he writes. "For example, should you lose a boss battle (and you'll do it frequently), you can restart most of them at the beginning of the encounter, rather than having to revisit 10 minutes of lead-in gameplay. There are more save points, which also replenish your health, and your health will replenish on its own after action sequences." "But for every step forward, the game takes an infuriating step back," VanOrd counters. "It isn't as slickly paced as its precursors, and it isn't the visual leap forward that Ninja Gaiden was." VanOrd describes new frustrations resulting from a faulty camera. "Most noticeably, the camera has taken a turn for the worse, seemingly more interested in flaunting the game's flamboyant flurries of steel and black spandex than in being functional," he says. "Ninja Gaiden was hard, but it was rarely cheap; when you died, you knew it was because you needed to perform better," VanOrd continues. "In Ninja Gaiden II, the badly implemented camera and other factors can lead to trial-and-error repetition that relies more on dumb luck than on your controller-wielding prowess." VanOrd notes that Ninja Gaiden II's visuals are striking and its action is well executed, though he warns that bouts of cheapness often interrupt gameplay flow. "The game strays all too often from its roots and meanders into the abyss of cheapness that Ninja Gaiden only rarely peered into. There are some hints of this early on, but the first third of the game and the final third are incredibly satisfying," he notes. "Sure, this sequel is a fantastic game, but it isn't as good as the game that reintroduced the franchise." Nick Suttner at 1UP.com gives Ninja Gaiden II a grade of B-, warning that its focus on action results in shortcomings elsewhere. "The deep combat is as rhythmic and precise as ever, and it's visually reinvigorated with fountains of blood and endless amputations," he praises. However: "It's never been more evident that Ninja Gaiden is a purebred fighting series, shoehorned awkwardly into an action-adventure presentation." "Team Ninja again chose to focus squarely on the combat, even more so than before," Suttner explains. "The frantic battles indulge a satisfying intimacy, and they often lend more of a feeling of dueling true enemies than simply cutting down mindless swaths of foes. Taken on its own, the combat is again the reason to play -- it isn't better than before, but it's still unmatched in its challenge and speed." Suttner finds that Ninja Gaiden II suffers when its focus shifts away from action segments, however. "It may be a game about combat, but it has more than its fair share of simple platforming and exploring," he writes. "Both of those elements are done horribly, as hero Ryu Hayabusa is regularly at odds with his surroundings." "It may be more focused structurally, but NG2 is the most linear action game I've played in recent memory," Suttner continues. "Invisible walls around every area maintain an awkward couple of feet between Ryu and physical interaction with the backgrounds, which -- while generally pretty -- feel artificially desolate until the bad guys appear out of nowhere. Even walking near ledges feels weird, as more invisible barriers hold you back until you jump through them." VanOrd also expresses complaints with Ninja Gaiden II's awkward camera, though he feels that hardcore series fans will enjoy the experience despite its shortcomings. "This is a game for Ninja Gaiden fans, who will play it on the toughest difficulties and upload their best playthrough videos online," he concludes. "For those purposes, it excels; for less devoted action-adventure fans, it's more of a violent curiosity than something to get invested in." Critics mostly agree that Ninja Gaiden II's narrow gameplay focus results in intense and satisfying combat sequences, and many feel that its difficulty level features a reasonable curve in comparison to previous entries in the series. Its weak adventure elements and troublesome platforming may result in frustration, however, and an unstable camera is cited as one of the title's biggest problems. Reviewers otherwise describe Ninja Gaiden II as a worthy sequel that should meet with a warm reception among series fans.

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan

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Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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