Ninja Gaiden 2 is the first game all over again, only faster and with a fancy new combat feature where you can hack off enemy limbs and execute elaborate finishing moves that differ from weapon to weapon. It’s every bit as hard as its predecessor and then some with two unlockable difficulty levels in addition to the two defaults. The only problem is that Ninja Gaiden 2 looks just like Ninja Gaiden Sigma on the PS3 with barely any improvement in graphics and no Rachel segments to switch things up. The gameplay is still ridiculously hard, take it or leave it (and most of us will leave it) and Ryu Hayabusa is still the baddest of badass ninjas out there. But something about Ninja Gaiden 2 just feels stale; and combined with some technical flaws, the game doesn’t really feel fun, even after you’ve mastered the combat system and resigned yourself to losing boss fights over and over again.
Like Xbox’s Ninja Gaiden (and its upgraded forms, Black and Sigma), Ninja Gaiden 2’s plot takes a backseat to the action. Some S&M chick named Elizebet is after an artifact that awakens/pisses off the Four Greater Fiends from the Underworld. The nefarious Spider Clan attacks the Hayabusa clan, who just so happens to guard said artifact. Combat ensues, stuff gets burned to the ground, and our main man super-ninja Ryu Hayabusa is once again out to destroy anyone dumb enough to get in his way as he goes after Elizebet and the stolen artifact. Oh, and there’s this busty chick named Sonia who looks like Rachel, but with a bad haircut - she rides a motorcycle and gets captured a lot.
The combat is the star of Ninja Gaiden 2 once you get the hang of it. All the old weapons and combos from the original are back in full force. Thanks to improvements in enemy behavior and physics, it’s so much more satisfying to splatter a guy’s skull all over the ceiling as you execute a flying attack that decapitates enemies. You can also sever limbs with the strong attacks and liberate pints of blood from torsos with the quick attacks. Wounded enemies will still keep coming, even after you’ve divorced them from half of their extremities - dragging themselves towards you a la Monty Python’s The Black Knight and sometimes flinging their (or their comrades’) body parts at you when they can’t reach.
The splatters of gore stick to the walls in most levels, rendering maps extraneous as you can tell where you’ve already been based on the blood. Even better, there’s a sub-menu from which you can select weapons, items or ninpo (ninja magic) using the D-pad instead of having to press start and then mash A over and over again. This new feature keeps combat from feeling interrupted as you frantically try and heal yourself during a savage onslaught of attacks.
Button mashing doesn’t pay off the way you might wish (especially when mobbed by 20 six-legged enemies in an enclosed space), but chances are a lot of hardcore gamers would be insulted if it did. In an effort to reach out to gamers alienated by the difficulty of the first game, Ninja Gaiden 2 features an “easier” difficulty setting called Path of the Acolyte. But, really, if you hated the cheap-ass bosses and staggeringly tough mob mechanics the last time around, it hasn’t gotten any better this time. If anything, it’s actually gotten worse.