It's easy to be disgusted by a game like Ninja Gaiden 2. Team Ninja's (now former) director, Tomonobu Itagaki, makes no pretense for a fair display of gender differences. The game makes no attempt to convey an intelligent and thought-provoking story through its occasional and concise cut scenes. And the game makes no attempt to further the integrity of video gaming as a medium. Within the first five minutes of the game a player is treated to pints of blood being splattered across the entirety of a given level and inhumanly large and buoyant breasts are barely stuffed behind a skimpy leather top attached to a CIA agent in an equally revealing miniskirt.
Unlike Grasshopper Manufacture's No More Heroes, no aspect of Ninja Gaiden 2 is designed to subvert and exploit the expectations of the medium or the desires of young teenage males. Ninja Gaiden 2 is what it is and, really, not much more. It is, through and through, an action-focused video game.
And as an action game, Ninja Gaiden 2 is the absolute best in its class for one primary reason: the game places the entirety of Ryu Hayabusa's behavior into the hands of the player. There are no quick-time events, there are no platforming segments where a player solely has to keep the joystick pressed forward to successfully progress, and at no point is there an AI-controlled ally character who exists to help the player along. The closest the game comes to taking away direct control from the player is when Ryu is "obliterating" an enemy foe who is in a state of near-death and operating in like a kamikaze fighter. During these segments a five-to-ten second animation players where Ryu will absolutely decimate an enemy's body, thus preventing this enemy from ever troubling the player again throughout a combat encounter. These segments, as automated as they are, serve as the only moments of respite in combat and, on harder difficulties, are used as a strategic period of invulnerability against, say, a group of enemies volleying rockets into the air through their rapid-fire launchers.
The endless combat encounters are the lifeblood of Ninja Gaiden 2 and are composed with a caliber of depth more like a fighting game than a third-person action romp -- no surprise given Team Ninja's work on the Dead or Alive games. Combat is fast and relentless, requiring a player to make snap decisions about whether to guard, counter, evade, attack, obliterate, switch weapons, use magic, or run away to a safer location (long-range rapid-fire rocket launching ninjas are frequent, especially on the hardest difficulty modes) in order to continue fighting. What's more, there is a great deal of complexity attached to the functionality of every single one of the game's nine melee weapons. As expected, each weapon has its own "move list" that is unlocked as a player's upgrades a given weapon as he/she progresses through the game. What's remarkable is how profoundly different combat becomes when switching from weapon to weapon. With the Dragon Blade (Ryu Hayabusa's initial weapon, a single sword) combat is fast and frantic with a variety of employable strategies from short to long range to an entire arsenal of in-air maneuvers. A set of boots/claws will make combat even more fast-paced as a player is required to engage solely in close-range and execute combos quickly, evading, and then targeting another opponent. And so on.
It's on the harder difficulties, the ones where a player is required to beat the game on the hardest-available difficulty before unlocking, that Ninja Gaiden 2 becomes an effort in tightly-controlled action. The button-mashing, lucky counters, and accidental evasions will no longer suffice on these unlocked difficulties. Nor, really, can a player simply choose his favorite weapon and eventually overcome all foes. On these difficulty levels, Ninja Gaiden 2 becomes the kind of success-through-repetition/mastery/memorization that Bizarre Creation's The Club was attempting to achieve: a racing game-like dedication to figuring out enemy patterns and the kinds of actions which don't work in certain enemy group configurations. And it's Ninja Gaiden 2's decision to make this type of gameplay strategy a requirement for the unlockable difficulty modes which allows it to work well.
Ninja Gaiden 2 wasn't released to the same kind of critical fanfare that its predecessor was which strikes me as unfortunate. It doesn't take any radical chances as a sequel but, rather, it simply fixes some of the game-ruining issues and adds in more of "what worked." The level design is streamlined to both prevent confusion over how to progress and to limit the number of times a player is forced to backtrack and explore, both of which were ill-fitting aspects of the original game which ruined its pacing. Ninja Gaiden 2 also focuses far more on humanoid enemies and uses the "fiends" sparingly and befitting in-game situations.
Most of all, Ninja Gaiden 2 embraces its status as a video game, and a linear one at that. It eschews the common trends of the medium in a year where "games as art" is a popular topic and grit and seriousness are the preferred tone. Instead, Ninja Gaiden 2 goes the route of the lone ninja of gaming's past killing thousands of other ninjas and mutants in the most absurd ways possible. And, sometimes, that's all a great action-focused game needs to be.
But, seriously, stop with absurd breasts and the inane physics calculations being applied to them.