I had just slaughtered a church full of big-boobed skeletal snake demons and was on my way to slay some kind of four-armed werewolf king when Ninja Gaiden II locked up on me. Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident, nor was it just a symptom of Microsoft’s oft-fitful hardware. After reproducing the exact same results with multiple copies of the game on multiple consoles, I had resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be finishing Ninja Gaiden II. I’m certainly not comfortable writing a review for a game that I’ve only played halfway through, but I’ve still got a few things to say about Ninja Gaiden II.
I know this may seem like the most “no kidding” thing you could say, but Ninja Gaiden II is a video game. The reason this bears stating is that, while other games might try and create some stirring emotional tableau or subvert genre expectations, Ninja Gaiden II is a celebration of video-game convention and contrivance. The opening line of this article ought to tell you a lot about where Ninja Gaiden II is coming from. Both on paper and in practice, Ninja Gaiden II seems like a list of everything a 13-year-old boy would consider awesome. It’s all high-flying ninjas, snarling demons, bloody dismemberment, and big bouncy boobs. The game hops from futuristic Tokyo skyscrapers to an ancient Japanese village under siege to a demon-infested New York City with the only common thematic thread being that they all have the crisp, shiny appearance of a 3D fighting game background. Had Itagaki not parted ways with Tecmo, I would’ve fully expected to see this stuff recycled in Dead or Alive 5.
Some might consider this approach to game design to be a weakness, but Ninja Gaiden II executes its adolescent power fantasies with such skill that it’s not a huge liability. There’s something to be said for a slick, big-budget video game that’s only interested in delivering the same kinds of simple thrills that were the keystone of video games during the arcade heyday. But simple’s not the same as easy, and even on the easier of the two difficulty levels you start off with, Ninja Gaiden II can deliver a pretty consistent ass-whipping.
It’s not that there’s a fighting-game level of complexity to the action–simply mashing on the X and Y buttons can almost always produce a tornado of gore, or “gorenado”–but Ninja Gaiden II is more than happy to throw wave after wave of quick, bloodthirsty, and increasingly intelligent monsters at you, and every level features at least a couple of massive, screen-filling, life-draining bosses. It’s not as immediately sadistic as Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox, a game I gave up on after repeated pummelings at the hands of the first boss. It can still be a damn frustrating game, although most of my cursing came from struggling with the game’s camera, which simply is not well-suited for narrow corridors.
While it might not live up to Itagaki’s hyperbolic braggadocio, I enjoyed much of my time with Ninja Gaiden II. In a way, Ninja Gaiden II is like comfort food–you may know what to expect, but if it’s done well, you’ll still come away satisfied. Though I guess if I follow that analogy through, the meal I got was half-cooked.