Ninjas are most notably recognised for two things. One: The ability to jump backwards into trees and, two: Ninja are better off being American
Throughout this sea of Ninja knowledge, at least one member of a respected clan has dropped his guard enough for us to get to know him somewhat personally (a rarity in the world of the Ninja). I am of course talking about Ryu Hayabusa who, since 1988, has been sharing his daring adventures with us in some form or another across a variety of different mediums that include the NES, SNES, Master System, MegaDrive, and Arcades.
Most recently, however, he has pretty much asked we forget the past pre 2004 and focus on his battles of the present told through the Xbox and Xbox 360 platforms, particularly his latest run in with the Black Spider Clan and the notorious Archfiends in what we will come to know is the story of Ninja Gaiden II
For anyone who ingested the 2004 tale of Ryu’s exploits against the Archfiends, Ninja Gaiden II’s telling and subsequent experience should be fairly easy going down. Most of the action and narrative here is familiar territory, if only told in a higher definition, but for anyone who may have missed the previous iteration, things can be a little daunting at first.
Let’s assume you haven’t
sat around the Xbox fire to listen to the story of Ninja Gaiden, and that this is your first time experiencing the gripping adventures of the Hayabasu Clan heir, Ryu. Also, for the sake of narrative I’ll need to express his adventures in a pseudo viewing/playing style of rumination; done so as if you, yourself were experiencing the adventure (it’s just the Ninja story-telling way, who am I to change it...).
Things kick off in the world of Ninja Gaiden II (which is the same world as the Dead or Alive universe, for your information), as they so often do with Ninja God, Tomonobu Itagaki, at the helm beginning with a healthy dose of jiggle-physics infused gaming bewbage (breasts, for those up the back). We’re introduced to blonde leather-clad CIA operative bombshell, Sonia, who is in search of the elusive Ryu Hayabusa. Immediately she finds herself in trouble when she is ambushed by the Black Spider Clan in an attempt to use her as a lure to nab Ryu for themselves.
Genshin, leader of the Black Spider Clan, has had a storied hatred of the Hayabasu Clan and is in search of an ancient statue which can be used to resurrect the Archfiend. He has sent wave after wave of Spider Clan Ninjas after the Hayabasu, while he himself has gone to the Hayabasu village to face off against Ryu’s father, Joe (original, I know). Before this though, Ryu is not giving up without a fight as he falls victim to the Spider Clan lure and chases after them to save Sonia, thankfully, the Spider Clan weren’t counting on Ryu’s determination which wins out in the end as he manages to save Sonia and destroy the Black Spider Clan general, Shadow Ninja Ratsetsu.
The first chapter of Ryu’s new adventure is a doozy, and thankfully, if you’ve never bared witness to his exploits before, there’s a ready tutorial that sets you up.
For the most part, this is a hack and slash affair with a subtle amount of depth that steadily grows in difficulty. Mashers should be able to come in and play through the adventure on the easiest setting, but the Ninja Gaiden stories are well documented for their difficult nature. That said, it’s fairly simple to come in and utilise block and attack sequences against very predictable enemies. The key is to remember to block; things can get really hectic very early, and if you jump into skirmishes without a protective goal, Ryu’s reputation as a world class Ninja is going to dwindle as enemies have a very strong focus on not just attacking in turns (like so many other
fighting tales we know of), but in attacking as often as they can.
Blocking is as easy as holding the left trigger, while attacks are handled in Light
form with X and Y respectively. There are simple and deep combinations of buttons, and you can also use projectile weapons (such as shurikens and bows) and magic called Ninpo.
As Ryu moves in hot pursuit of Sonia and her captors, he’ll come across boxes and dead bodies, each usually containing information on new moves and abilities, as well as reminders of how to use them (even Ninja can forget their training from time to time). Beyond these little treasures, he also periodically comes across a merchant who has wares in the form of health, weapon upgrades and more.
Most of Ryu’s abilities are rekindled across the first and second chapters, but he’ll continually come across new weapons and tools to use, each of which can be upgraded through the aforementioned merchant.
As a Ninja it’s important to stay ahead of weapon and power upgrades as each chapter of Ryu’s tale come replete with an epic boss to trial moves and abilities on. For the most part, despite looking like ex-Power Ranger or Ninja Turtles extras, the bosses Ryu faces can offer a reasonable challenge. Some are relentlessly good at their art, while others no how to use a weapon or two. Whatever the case, figuring out how to beat them through various combinations of attack, defend, range and Ninpo is paramount to success, which is where the differences between mashing through and understanding the art come into play.
As with Ryu’s first Xbox adventure, Ninja Gaiden II is wrought with ill-balanced challenges. Some levels are ridiculously easy with sword fodder literally throwing themselves at you, while others can create streams of frustration. Much of this is equally due to the view in which these skirmishes take place. The level camera recording events often gets caught behind parts of the environment obstructing the view and therefore making it almost impossible to decide how to proceed, action-wise. Moreover, enemy recovery time seems completely and utterly unfair, especially when you consider these guys are usually fighting back sans arms and legs.
Make no mistake listeners, Ryu’s adventures are not for the faint of heart, either. There will be blood, and plenty of it as Ryu dismembers his foes in the most fashionable ways possible. It’s unfortunate the action is so thick though, as it’s often hard to truly appreciate the separation between a shoulder and an arm amidst the chaos that is the life of a Hayabasu clan member, but such it is.
If you fancy yourself a pretty good Ninja, Ninja Gaiden II also offers you a chance to record your feats of prowess and upload them to Xbox Live for the rest of the world to see. Ninja Cinema it is called, but it’s popularity is yet to be proven, however, one cool aspect of this is the ability to turn on “Kurasaw” effects that change your view of the game from colour to black and white complete with traditional film grain and scratches. It’s pretty neat and will no doubt work in favour of the Ninja Cinema option on offer.
There is no option to Ninja it up with friends here, which is a missed opportunity with Ninja Cinema, but it makes sense given the pedigree of the game.
While we all remember Ryu’s first adventure (2004) looking utterly impressive, in the wake of recent stories such as Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War, Ninja Gaiden II looks a little dated. Perhaps it’s all intentional given we’re reliving a moment of Ryu’s life, but then again, perhaps not. Perhaps it’s just our story-tellers have spent too much time working on making the most fat-heavy bosoms the world has ever seen where the only thing governing them is a more robust physics equation than Valve ever came up with.
The adventures of Ryu Hayabusa will always be remembered and revered by fans of his work, but his latest shows many of his actions and presentations are now quite out-of-date. But if you like blood and reasonably simple stories to ingest, there’s plenty to swallow here, just don’t go expecting an Earth-shattering tale of the most epic proportions lest you leave your quarters utterly disappointed.