"Wrestle with darkness, dancing flames and an airborne android in the mysterious Tower of Lahja before beginning the fourth leg of the journey, where waters flow eternally and Naga Sotuva lives on, a blasphemous embodiment of dinosaurs out of time. Defeat him, and face permeating cold and ice and spikes, the unwelcome mat to the seemingly premature placement for the final confrontation with Ashtar. But indeed this is the evil place where he quietly, hermetically awaits your company, as if birthed from his dark womb that crackles with deathly energy. "
The only thing that would convince me that the subtly flawed Ninja Gaiden was not absolutely as brilliant as they come, would be the pristine chapter of side-scrolling hacking and slashing that would follow it. Both involving tales (hard to believe this is an action game) feature atmospheric tunes, and currently crude - but once cutting edge - cinemas, challenging play, and young Ryu, Master of the Dragon Sword.
Ryu Hayabusa has had a hard life. He has not aged gracefully, as one might expect of a man who wasted away his adolescence climbing walls with his bare hands and enveloping his body with flames like ether of his own volition. Tales of his exploits, though, blossom still. Ryu entered the gaming world in spectacular fashion; an exuberant rookie with raw, unbridled energy who excelled despite being so difficult. His second season, as it were, manifested a refined warrior with syrup-smooth, exceptional lines and litheness. Ryu had become perfect. It was all downhill from there unfortunately - he was involved in an atypical third adventure, as well as a forgettable SNES compilation of all three NES games. Now, our once proud warrior sits on his crumbling porch, twitching almost imperceptibly on a splintering rocking chair watching the sun set, just as it has on his killing career.
But before that, before the fall, there was Ninja Gaiden II.
Ninja Gaiden introduced us to the Windmill Shuriken, which returns to you once thrown, like a boomerang. Leap over a returning Shuriken and have it pass under your legs, doing damage behind you. The Art of the Fire Wheel allowed Ninja Ryu to toss fire as casually from his palms, as a child might toss snowballs on a cold white day. In part II, the scope of Ryu's magic has widened considerably. Should Ryu obtain a particular power up, Matrix-like silhouettes of orange-red will appear to echo his every move. They will throw flames and cut foes and will not die. Only the solid embodiment of Ryu can take damage, and perish, those shadows vanishing into the void with him. His skill allows him to create two such shadows to exist simultaneously, and positioning them properly is vital to his success in later areas.
As before, Ryu must climb and jump with superhuman agility. The frantic pace and difficult nature of the jumps is what makes the series so challenging. There is also the infamous 'bounce' factor, where colliding with any enemy or projectile sends you backward a considerable distance. Compounding that consequence are the regenerating enemies. You might be trying to leap a pit and mistime your jump. The enemy on the platform you are trying to reach may turn and guard his ground, and thus your simple error in timing results in Ryu bouncing off even the weakest of enemies backward and downward to his death.
All told, Ninja Gaiden gameplay is not easy. It takes lots of practice to learn the timing necessary to have any success jumping from wall to wall, enemies at sword's reach; or backflipping, diver-style, over a precipice, with faith and your stubborn fingers alone allowing you to catch the very rock and concrete walls to stay alive.
Ryu, fresh and very much alive after a high-stakes encounter with the most evil, the Jaquio, finds himself swept up in the dastardly plot of a new force by the name of Ashtar who strives to bring our world into the Realm of Darkness. Ashtar isn't just any villain; he wields the mighty Sword of Chaos, the dark counterpart to Ryu's own Dragon Sword.
The impossible mission/mystery begins in the city. Always the city. See your way through, slashing so adeptly and precisely that your sword strokes resemble stabs more than swings. Fight and cling to the sheer faces of buildings, descending, descending. The Dragon Sword will seem to shrug as it passes through the paltry foes you will find here. Slay the demon beast Dando beneath the cold metal fence in the blue dusk, and Robert Sturgeon, the shadowy CIA operative, will appear out of thick air to offer up nebulous clues. He is never without his dark glasses as if he were truly a blind man, but the shifty government man is anything but sightless.
And what of Ryu's former female companion Irene? What place does she have in this adventure? Do not mistake her for the CIA rookie who cowered, full of fear in the original chapter. Irene Lew has come of age.
With that question lingering in his mind, Ryu is whisked from the tough streets where subway trains undoubtedly move about beneath the surface, to the top of a hurtling train of another sort, covered with enemies. Then he sets out on foot again into the face of the cliff locationís seemingly sentient guardian - a wind that can (and will) move Ryu with resolute force. Do you fancy you can withstand the relentless gale and ascend to a victorious battle with Baron Spider and his crawling contingent?
Wrestle with darkness, dancing flames and an airborne android in the mysterious Tower of Lahja before beginning the fourth leg of the journey, where waters flow eternally and Naga Sotuva lives on, a blasphemous embodiment of dinosaurs out of time. Defeat him, and face permeating cold and ice and spikes, the unwelcome mat to the seemingly premature placement for the final confrontation with Ashtar. But indeed this is the evil place where he quietly, hermetically awaits your company, as if birthed from his dark womb that crackles with deathly energy.
Beyond Ashtar is a certain pair of unearthly royal guard dogs named the Kelbeross. Can their master be far from here? Jaquio was to have died at the conclusion of Ninja Gaiden, and Ryu surely saw the end of his terrible triumvirate! And yet, he must live to steer Ryu's destiny once more, and once more, he must pass into oblivion more than once.
In this way, as in all others, Ninja Gaiden II gives us what we want. We wanted a new evil - no, we needed it, and we received it in Ashtar. But Jaquio is too great an adversary to have perished so easily. He reminds us of Star Wars' Lord Vader; for all the Darth Mauls and their ostensible impressiveness, they are only butlers in a house of malevolence that only Vaders and Jaquios truly seem at home in. The final, dramatic area is called The Almighty Evil, and the name might make a serious gamer (oxymoron alert!) cringe at its hyperbole, but to play the game, and witness all the drama take itself seriously, makes you take it seriously. And there is nothing quite so engaging as melting willingly into the safe, comforting palm of the unbelievable for enjoyment's sake.
Even now, watching the simply, cleanly illustrated slideshow cinemas tell the tale in between levels feels urgent and compelling, augmented well with emotional tunes that both darkly arrest, and colourfully champion, as you nervously execute.
Intensity is as boastful and unyielding in its hold over Ninja Gaiden II as it was in the predecessor. But Ryuís climbing is smoother, his animations generally cleaner, the sounds accompanying his song of steel, sweeter.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 07, 2004)
There was a bio here once. It's gone now.
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