Violent, Demeaning Good Time Looking for Horny, 13-18 Year Old Boys

(Updated 1/28/2019: If you’re an avid reader of RRC you may notice some changes to this post. Times change and I was trying a little too hard to be edgy in some of these older pieces, so I’m giving them a 2019 makeover. Thanks for reading!)

I couldn’t really tell you what happened in the first Ninja Gaiden on Xbox. Events transpired that let us in on the kinks of (soon to be former) Team Ninja leader and pock-marked pretend rock star Tomonobu Itagaki. As if the shameless Dead or Alive series didn’t say enough about his stance on women, Ninja Gaiden showcased its leather-clad heroine, Rachel, by spitting her out of a giant vagina with tentacles.

Ninja Gaiden II begins in similar fashion, with a new female character in peril, Sonia. Again dressed in bondage garb, she one-ups Rachel with the biggest, most absurdly bouncy breasts outside of hentai games. In every moment she graces the screen, her boobs jiggle around like some kind of perpetual motion machine.

You play as the last descendant of the Hayabusa ninja clan, Ryu Hayabusa, out to save the world from some demons known as Greater Fiends. The storytelling harks back to a time when all game stories were conceived by horny 16-year-old boys who “grew up” to be game designers. Not much has changed, but at least we have Bioshock and Portal to look to with some semblance of maturity. Ninja Gaiden II evokes the aesthetics of a Rob Liefeld comic, or an episode of Power Rangers combined with gallons of blood.

Bad guys, like the giant werewolf king (aptly named Volf — seriously), flex giant muscles and call out for worthy opponents in guttural, poorly-written exclamations. Alexei, the requisite effeminate demon (this is a Japanese game, after all) asserts his manhood by stroking the Statue of Liberty, and later, dressing Sonia in the slave outfit from Return of the Jedi. Unlike Star Wars‘ Princess Leia, a strong female character in an unfortunate situation, Sonia is essentially helpless. Yes, she carries a rocket launcher, flies a bad ass G.I. Joe-style helicopter, and carries her absurd twin melons with aplomb, but she requires constant rescuing and interrupts one of the most intense fights in the game.

While the person responsible for this embarrassing storytelling should be ashamed, it was clear the designers decided to have fun with it. The plot is so ridiculous already, so why not make ten-foot-tall cyclops zombies with pants made of skulls, equipped with a cannonball firing left arm, and a chainsaw for a right arm? Bruce Campbell would be proud. More importantly, the greatest enemy design in the history of gaming is featured: utility belt-wearing ninja dogs who toss exploding knives from their mouths.

The environments follow suit: a futuristic Tokyo features pagodas atop skyscrapers, a deserted Times Square gets all the proportions wrong, a cave troll wrecks the Brooklyn Bridge, and it’s all topped off with a truckload of alternately slimy and fiery demon realms. Ultimately, it’s all just there to look pretty, and it succeeds. There’s little in the way of backtracking, platforming, or puzzles in Ninja Gaiden II. It’s a step up from the previous game, which felt pretentious whenever it threw in a puzzle or had you exploring large cities for clues. In a game like Bioshock, exploring every nook and cranny of the environment is a joy, because the story is well-told and the environments inform the plot. Here, the world serves as little more than a backdrop for your endless decapitations – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Which finally brings us to the essence of Ninja Gaiden II: combat. NGII triumphs above all its absurdity as the ultimate action game. Games like God of War are wonderfully flashy but boil down to little more than swinging some sharp things around, watching blood fly everywhere, and then playing Parappa the Rapper for 10 seconds a cutscene director shows off. Here you are engaged, fighting for your life. Every move you make matters, every inch you gain on an enemy is earned, and the game is hard. The brilliance of it is that you will be punished over and over, yet compelled to come back for more. Rarely is luck or random chance rewarded, nor are enemies cheap if you know how to approach them. Finish this game and then return to even the most frustrating previous encounter and it will most likely be a breeze. That’s good game design in its purest form.

While the circumstances of NGII’s mass eviscerations are forgettable, the framing will ultimately push the audience into the love-it or hate-it camps. The camera can indeed be a pain, just as it was in the Xbox original. It’s made worse here by the sheer size of many of the combat scenarios. While you’re being mobbed by twenty ninjas, magicians, dogs, demons, or giant spiders, the camera seems more intent on showing you with the nearest enemies and little else. All the while, soldiers fire rockets at you from off-screen. I found it to be a bit of a bother, but with time it can be mastered, just as the combat itself can. The sound design, enemy patterns, and the inherent rhythm of attacks all help to provide a clear picture when the camera doesn’t do the best job. Still, some will find the camera to be a deal-breaker, and while I feel they should get over it, try out a demo first if you’re concerned.

For all of it’s goofy moments and childish art direction, Ninja Gaiden II tosses in more than equal portions of intense combat and rewarding challenges. With an M-rating, it’s questionable who exactly the full product is marketed towards. If anything, it nails the “teenage boys whose parents don’t know what they’re playing” demographic perfectly. I’m not really sure I can get behind that, but I can’t really stop playing this game either way.

Written by Joe Donato

I'm an enthusiast and writer for video games and film, interested in criticism and sharing my thoughts & opinions with all of you.

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