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Ninja Gaiden II (Xbox 360) artwork

Ninja Gaiden II (Xbox 360) review

"Just for the record: Ninja Gaiden has the worst camera system in the entire history of 3D gaming, presenting the one-two punch of perpetually dangling at the most uncomfortable level imaginable and leaving the player with virtually no control whatsoever. It was way too low and way too close, and all we could do was center it behind main character Ryu, giving us a great shot of his ass (in shiny black ninja tights) and little else. I

Just for the record: Ninja Gaiden has the worst camera system in the entire history of 3D gaming, presenting the one-two punch of perpetually dangling at the most uncomfortable level imaginable and leaving the player with virtually no control whatsoever. It was way too low and way too close, and all we could do was center it behind main character Ryu, giving us a great shot of his ass (in shiny black ninja tights) and little else. I coined the term “asscam” to describe this monstrosity. It was a shame, because there was a deep and genuinely challenging action game buried beneath this one massive hurdle, and I once suggested that handing camera control over to the right analog stick would fix all of Ninja Gaiden’s problems.

Whoops! I stand corrected, because Ninja Gaiden II does precisely that, and it’s still nearly as awful as its predecessor was. This camera jerks, lurches and tumbles like it’s caught in a washing machine, and the fact that I can now rotate it around Ryu does remarkably little to improve the situation. It’s asscam 360, or pelviscam, if that works. But hey! Team Ninja does deserve kudos for finally catching on and grasping the fundamentals of how 3D camera control is supposed to work (that is, if a pat on the back can be issued for fixing something that shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place). I guess they aren’t idiots after all – they’re merely incompetent.

What never occurred to me was that Ninja Gaiden is an action series – a damn tough one – and as such, I can’t be bothered to fumble around with the right analog stick when my thumb is preoccupied slamming on the controller’s face buttons. Ninja Gaiden II puts its camera on a leash, which is a step in the right direction, but it still needs to be able to handle itself, which it cannot. For example, the angle is still uncomfortably low. For practicality’s sake, I’d like to be able to see over Ryu’s head. I can now crane the camera up, but as soon as my thumb leaves the right analog stick, it auto-centers and we’re back to where we started. It’s impossible to attack and adjust the camera at the same time, so in the heat of battle (which, I’ll remind you, is precisely when seeing things is most important), you’re at the camera’s mercy, and boy is that ever a bad position to be in.

I’ll remind you that this series is known for being extremely difficult, and I’m cool with that. I love that Ninja Gaiden II’s enemies are incredibly aggressive, and that the game punishes you for thinking you can get through by simply blocking excessively. The game’s challenge level is enticing, but any unfair handicaps placed upon the player only make the experience frustrating rather than rewarding, and not being able to see my enemies half of the time is most certainly a handicap. Opposing ninjas swarm around you and strike incessantly, and reading your enemies – knowing when to block, when to dodge and when to strike back – is key to victory. Far too often I felt like I was fumbling in the dark, blindly swinging at enemies I wasn’t sure were even there, hoping to make some progress and avoid taking damage in the process. A reasonably difficult game is made unreasonably difficult by playing like hell.

In addition to the awful angle at which the camera hangs, there’s also the issue that it’s too close, which you can’t do anything about. Maybe this is all part of Team Ninja’s plan to make me feel vulnerable amidst considerable odds, but plenty of games have remained challenging without obscuring the player’s vision like this. What’s worse, when you’re not actually controlling the camera, it fidgets and shakes and spazzes with the intensity of a grade schooler on caffeine, clipping through environmental objects and abruptly re-positioning itself without warning. It really is an absolute mess; I have no idea how so many people can play these games and not be bothered by it.

So, Team Ninja, here’s my advice if you decide to make a Ninja Gaiden III: Pull the camera back, raise it up a bit, and KEEP IT STILL. This isn’t complicated. 3D gaming has been commonplace for three whole generations now. It’s time to get this right.

If you’re waiting to hear anything else about Ninja Gaiden II, don’t hold your breath. I stand by what I said about the original: If the camera renders the game a hassle to play, nothing else matters. I don’t have an agenda, because I really want to like these games. I enjoyed the recent DS outing, and some of Team Ninja’s renovations to the combat in the sequel are a marked improvement; the brilliant regenerating/shrinking health bar is forgiving but punishes players for being consistently reckless, and I love the finisher system, which lets players delivering devastating, cinematic final blows to dismembered enemies. And you know what? The boss battles are actually a lot of fun, if only because they mark the only instances when the camera is a non-factor. There’s intense, visceral stuff buried here, and it’s frustrating that such a seemingly minor problem has kept this series from greatness for this long.

Ninja Gaiden II is at least playable, which is more than I can say about its predecessor. But as intimidating as some of Ninja Gaiden II’s foes are, the real enemy is the camera, and it’s the one enemy you’ll never overcome. I wouldn’t have a problem with Tomonobu Itagaki’s obnoxious attitude if his games didn’t handle this poorly, but as it stands, his studio should stick to making DS titles, as that seems to be the only thing they can handle.

Oh Christ. I just remembered they’re making the new Metroid game. God help us all.

Rating: 3/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (February 14, 2010)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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aschultz posted February 24, 2010:

I enjoyed this review and feel it is the lesser of the two you wrote for this week--primarily because it focuses on one aspect of the game. I think you knew this, and I think it's effective as that sort of writing. I'd really like to see more people write this sort of review to get stuff off their chests, because it's often more interesting than they think, and it often makes other people say "wait, I can do that with game X, well sort of."

This review has the ranting going pretty well as well as a decent way to try and, you know, fix stuff. My standard slight discomfiture with conversational style is probably my own problem, but I don't think it seriously dents this review. Cool ending too.
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Suskie posted February 24, 2010:

Thanks, Schultz, and I like that you're going out of your way to write feedback threads for reviews you've read for RotW. Yeah, the whole point of this review (and the other one I wrote, frankly) was that if you screw up on something as important as the camera system, nothing else matters. I stand by the assertion that Ninja Gaiden and its sequel would both be excellent games if their cameras were functional and user-friendly.
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aschultz posted February 24, 2010:

Thanks back. It's definitely worth reading. I know that I put effort into my semi throwaways and I suspect other people do too.

Unfortunately things backfired a bit as I didn't get the RotW done & had a bunch of other stuff & managed time badly. I'd planned to straighten things this evening, but you can blame Purdue and Minnesota's men's basketbal teams for disrupting things. I'm good for a couple more hours. Let's see what happens.

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