tiistai 28. helmikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (1990)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: April 1990
AVAILABLE ON: Amiga, NES, PC, Wii Virtual Console

Behind every good game, there's a potential sequel. Sometimes this sequel, even while praised by critics, just gets bulldozed by bad promotion. Take Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, for example. This sequel to Tecmo's 1988 megahit was released in early 1990 in both Japan and the U.S., but got caught in a limbo for a total of four years, and wasn't released in Europe until the very final days of the Nintendo Entertainment System's lifespan, which means that the game is virtually unknown in this part of the world. So, this review is dedicated to my fellow Europeans. Ladies and gentlemen, Ninja Gaiden II - is it worth the search? Sure, but for more than just to please your curiosity? Depends on how much shit you can handle.

Too damn easy to die dead enough

One year after the defeat of Jaquio at the hands of the Ninja Dragon Ryu Hayabusa, a new evil overlord named Ashtar emerges from the Realm of Darkness with a plan for world domination. A member of the U.S. Army Special Intelligence Unit seeks out Ryu and tells him to travel to the Tower of Lahja, where Ashtar resides and is keeping Irene hostage.

Go back to bother Link.
First of all, I'm finding myself in my least favourite situation: having to correct my own mistakes. That's "having", it's not a choice. My rant on European imports in the previous review got praise from a Swedish reader, who's somewhat of an expert on game imports, but also some corrections, which have already been made to the previous review. I originally said that Ninja Gaiden II was released under its original title in Europe - that's only partly true. In fact, the game was called Shadow Warriors II, to make the connection between the game and its predecessor more clear - BUT that's not the whole truth. In fact, the game was precisely called Shadow Warriors II: Ninja Gaiden II. That puts a whole new spin of stupid into the whole mess. Thanks to A. for pointing out an even more crazy and retarded case of European publishing than I thought it was.

Since I pretty much voiced out my opinion on changing the title and the cover art of the game the last time around, this time I can purely concentrate on the game, and deliver you a relatively short and sweet (?) review on this curiosity item. I was ecstatic about this game, as I had never played it before and I had just (kinda) finished the first Ninja Gaiden, which I consider one of the finest games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. What I had heard was that Ninja Gaiden II was a really great, obviously overlooked game, and considering my factual knowledge on better gameplay mechanics and all-around smoother output, I was expecting a lot out of this game. Yeah, it's good - but if the old magic's truly there, and if the game's higher-than-life difficulty level smacks the player with anything else besides utter frustration almost half the time, I'm missing something.

The cutscenes are a bit different - somewhat more generic, all the way to Ryu's close-up model that's half blacked out by a shadow; altogether it seems like Tecmo attempted to steer players' attention away from fancy cinematics by toning down on dramatic camera and sound effects. In turn, they focused on level and character design. The enemies function a little less like robots, Ryu moves a bit differently, and there are many level-specific stipulations for one to conquer, for example wind. Let me say at this point that if there's any natural element that annoys me in a platformer almost as bad as ice, it's wind. The second level in this game is perhaps the worst case of it I've ever suffered from. The music is all right, I guess, but in comparison to the first game's best tunes, I must say we're taking a trip well below par here.

This might be the first game to have a moving
train for a level. Certainly not the last one.
The controls are better, at the very least on paper. Although it's still quite damn hard to simply get off a wall after clinging on to it, climbing any type of wall is possible, you can use your secondary weapons, and with a little bit of luck involved, you can even jump away from the wall and cling back to it - or make it to the platform directly above you. The secondary weapons are very different, and more efficient - with the exception of a weird item that multiplies Ryu for the duration of a level. Though it might seem cool to have one or two shadows of yourself following you around and repeating your moves, I haven't found a single good use for them. It seems that whatever they manage to kill multiplies by the second - having them along for the ride gives you comfort one tiny fraction of a second at a time.

You see, the worst thing about Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos is that it has such a high difficulty level it's simply not fun in this basic format anymore. The game doesn't give you more than one single level to train the basics - the first act is perhaps too easy, and pretty much a more multi-layered version of the first level in the first game, at that. Even the boss and the cutscenes pay tribute to the first game, as you will see. The second act's latter part and everything there on out is hell on God's pixelated green Earth. There's shit flying towards you from all directions, from balls of flame to those birds that were put into the first game as some sort of a misplaced joke - they're far from funny this time around. Narrow ways filled with things that will hurt you, and the hazard of getting stuck onto a wall as easy prey for everything, as well as the prominent hazard of the level itself, be it constantly flicking lights or wind. Extremely fast movement by bastards on the ground, or a firing rate that makes at least one out of three bullets impossible to dodge. You have to be on the move, constantly, or you won't last much more than ten minutes in the world of Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos.

How do you make the game look less like
Castlevania? Well, certainly not by putting in
a level that's got Castlevania written all over it.
Those types of players that have made it their lifelong mission to conquer every single highly difficult - as in FEARED - 8-bit game there ever was, will probably enjoy Ninja Gaiden II. The first Ninja Gaiden game was difficult, but it was a game with ways you could learn; kind of like the ways of a ninja. The rate at which enemies respawn in this game and level-specific elements make Ninja Gaiden II a very unpredictable game. That sounds better than it plays out, since it also means that luck is way much more of an important factor to your success than it should be. For example, you need not make a worse mistake than one badly timed, small jump in the end of the second act to get swept away by the wind, straight into a chasm, even if you've aced all the hazards brought on by direct attacks from enemies. It's an example of a disheartening moment in this game, the kind of which eventually will make you want to quit playing. There was no "quit" in the first Ninja Gaiden. You kept fighting, like a man, as there was always a small glimpse of hope - perhaps not all of that hope is gone here, but a lot of it. Thankfully Tecmo held on to the unlimited continues, and all of the other lifelines that came with it, such as checkpoints. Without them, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos might be a game I'd never even try again.

The game's got kind of a hollow, subpar plot in comparison to the first game's elaborate story, the cinematics are not as good and although the gameplay mechanics are admittedly better, the game gives anti-compensation in the form of some really frustrating sequences, even whole acts, from the very beginning. Still, I can't help but to recommend this game to everyone who loves the first Ninja Gaiden as much as I do; if for not much else, it's good for broadening your horizons and general knowledge. 

+ Improved basic mechanics
+ Improved level and character design
+ Retains the first game's benefits of unlimited continues and relatively fair checkpoints
+ The game's English is even better 

- Downgrading the cinematics is easily comparable to Koji Igarashi deliberately downgrading the quality of the soundtrack in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance; it eats away on some of the most important magic in the franchise, the magic that originally made it stand out perhaps more than anything else
- Although there are musical moments worthy of hearing, the soundtrack in general is disappointing and stale
- Simply crazy environments for which this improvement in mechanics is not nearly enough
- The game gets ultra-difficult way too fast for its own or the player's good
- Luck > skill, times ten

< 7.6 >

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