Monday, September 08, 2008

Ninja Gaiden 2: Itagaki's Action Masterpiece

There are many, many moments where Ninja Gaiden 2 will make you wonder---"Wow, how could Itagaki possibly top that?! This....this is probably the best that this game has to offer. It's over, it's the end, it's...."

And then the game loads the next chapter and presents you with imagery that's even more mind-boggling than the last.

There's definitely some superb inspiration and creative imagination going on in Ninja Gaiden 2 (NG2). Each level leaves me constantly dazzled and impressed by the game's art style, its wickedness, and its utter brutality. It's a violent game, but at the same time there's a lot of beauty and elegance to the game's overall design. This game is an absolute masterpiece on the Xbox 360; the best representative of the action gaming genre for the current generation of consoles, and sets the bar for future action games to aspire for.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is the new standard for action gaming. Period.

On the easiest setting it offers the most manageable level of challenge for new players. Consider me a new Ninja Gaiden player; I did have Ninja Gaiden 1 (NG1) for the original Xbox, but due to an unfortunate incident (too lengthy to explain in this review) I was unable to play through that game completely. So I went into Ninja Gaiden 2 with just a one expectation:

I knew the game was going to be hard.

From the few levels I was able to play on NG1, I was constantly surprised by the intelligence of the AI. The AI had decent sets of combinations and attacks and at times felt at par with my own set of attacks.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is no different. The enemies have some great attacks and constantly present a threat to the player. They're smart on figuring out when and how to strike you, they'll even dodge and block your own attacks. You have to play against them like you would a human opponent; find openings and take advantage of patterns and weaknesses to win.

When you're being assaulted from all sides by several types of enemies, the challenge increases ten fold. Enemies will attack you at the same time (as much as possible) and in some ways they seem to be working together to take you down.

This AI behavior is apparent even on the EASIEST setting.

For me, I never found the difficulty of the AI (on the easiest setting) frustrating at all; in fact, it made the game feel like a fresh experience, completely different from the most recent action (third person melee /weapon fighting) game I've played on the Xbox 360: Devil May Cry 4. The constant challenge presented by the AI introduced a sense of danger that you rarely get these days with most games. It also makes most fights very exciting; even regular battles with henchmen or lower-ranked monsters feel like they could be your last.

Or, at the very least, you want to make it through each encounter so that you don't have to go through it again.
The game also has other features like leaderboards to make you aspire to become a better ninja warrior. One look at the friends list is all it takes to make you go at it again. Of course you want to be the best ninja there is [among your friends, at least :) ]

I also love that feeling the game gave me on my first run-through....that feeling that the scale of the game just keeps on building, and building and building....just when you think you've fought the hardest, most epic battle in the history of action gaming, the game presents you with yet another setting and situation which will put you at the edge of your seat.

The boss fights in the game are superb; they're incredible challenges that will really test your skills. At the same time, you'll feel your ability to play NG2 improve after each difficult boss encounter. I've read a complaint in other reviews that some boss fights repeat in NG2. I beg to differ in considering this a point against the game; unlike Devil May Cry 4 where the second, third, fourth....encounter with the same boss is exactly the same experience, in NG2 the game usually adds a new element to a reintroduced boss that makes it an altogether new challenge. So, there's never that sense that the game simply recycles boss characters. And there's enough variety in the styles of fighting of the boss characters to make each final fight memorable in their own right.

The game's length is just perfect, by the way. Not too long, and not too short. Individual levels are also paced right and they never get repetitive or boring.

I wonder what inspired Tomonobu Itagaki to come up with the imagery and design throughout Ninja Gaiden 2? The man is clearly a gaming prodigy, and Ninja Gaiden 2 clearly qualifies as his best masterpiece amongst all of his other games. Sadly, though, it may also be his swan song....with the recent news of the internal problems of Tecmo, and Itagaki's resignation.


Towards the end of the game, I kept on thinking....what a waste for Tecmo to lose their talent at a time like this. Their best internal development team (Team Ninja) starts falling apart the moment they deliver one of the best action games ever made. It's unbelievable, honestly.

But maybe that's the way it's meant to be...A game like Ninja Gaiden 2 will never be made again. Perhaps that just makes the experience I've had with the game much more memorable.

I don't believe in scoring games because associating a number with a review just introduces unfair standards and unfair comparisons.

For Ninja Gaiden 2, I'll make an exception.

This game is a 10/10. For this generation of consoles, no other action game comes close.

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