The second instalment of the Last Ninja trilogy transports Armakuni to New York, where he must confront the evil Shogun Kunitoki once more. Your travels are once again displayed in a flip screen isometric format, as you explore the unfamiliar surroundings of Central Park and downtown Manhattan, whilst progressing towards your final goal.
Gameplay remains much the same as the first instalment – you have to deal with an assortment of bad guys out to stop you, ranging from general thugs to cops and (later on) the Shogun’s henchmen. Fortunately you have weapons to hand, once you’ve found them, which can make short work of your enemies. Combat takes some getting used to, but you soon start to develop little tricks that can help you defeat some opponents almost unscathed. Shurikens are great for taking out someone in one hit, but be careful with your aim – they are too useful to waste!
Occasionally you will have a simple puzzle to solve, but the emphasis is generally on combat or exercising your acrobatic ability and somersaulting over or onto things. The control system certainly feels strange at first, but half an hour into the game and you don’t really notice anymore. Jumping can still be a trial, with water continuing to prove lethal to our hero.
Unlike the first game, many enemies require beating twice in order to be defeated. After they crumple to the ground from your first victory, their energy will slowly recoup (whether you are on or off screen) and they will get up for more. Second time around though, they stay down for good. It is still possible to avoid enemies in a bid to conserve your health, and this is a wise tactic if you want to live to see the later levels.
Some of the improvements on the first game are subtle, but noticeable. The controls feel a bit more responsive when fighting (and even moving), and the already excellent animation is also improved. Enemy health is now displayed in a similar way to yours (a square spiral that reduces in length as you lose health), which makes it easier to decide whether to fight or flee!
Other enhancements are more obvious. The graphics were terrific first time around, but are packed with even more detail and variety than before. Each level has it’s own distinctive look too, whereas previously they were a bit samey. The first instalment’s music was fantastic but, arguably, this time it’s even better. Some of the frustrations present are helped by the fact you are enjoying the music, so don’t mind attempting a section again!
There are six levels, averaging around 20 screens each, but patience and determination is needed if you are to see them all. Mapping the game is a good idea, to save revisiting screens that you might not need to, and thus avoiding a battle you could do without.
Last Ninja 2 is not perfect, but still ranks amongst the finest games to be found on the system. Visually and aurally stunning, with some decent (and challenging) gameplay to boot, this is a thoroughly good game and one that represents great value for your 500 point investment. Bring on the final chapter!