Game Review

Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Dave Letcavage

Go Ninja, Go Ninja GO!

Chances are that even if you don’t know much about Ninja Gaiden, you’re at the very least aware that it’s a series synonymous with high difficulty. When the original hit the NES back in 1989, we have to imagine it lead to the demise of many controllers – we vividly recall rage-quitting on at least an occasion or two – and the sequel, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, would prove no less challenging when it released a year later. Now that it has made its way to the 3DS Virtual Console, should you put your expensive portable console at risk to maniacally slash through this nin-venture, or are you best off losing Ninja Gaiden II to the shadows?

The story begins with beautiful cut-scenes that feature fantastically detailed artwork; especially considering the era when the game was released. To get things in motion, Ryu Hayabusa is informed that love interest Irene has been captured and he must head to the Tower of Lahja to save her. The presence of a story in this impressive capacity gives you that extra motivation to push through the hardest of levels; it’s truly a reward of sorts, even in today’s world of cinematic-heavy fare. Pleasant visuals become a trend once the game commences, as anyone who has played the original Ninja Gaiden should immediately take notice to how much smoother and more refined the graphics are this time around.

One of the minor complaints regarding controls from the series’ first instalment has been fixed, and even built upon a bit. Instead of the restrictions while wall-jumping, you can now not only cling to walls like before, but also climb them upwards and downwards, alleviating many often unfair complications. This mechanic isn’t as smooth as it could have been, but it’s more satisfying and generous this time around. Basic movements such as jumping and sword attacks are still here and solid, and pressing up and the attack button will allow you to use special weapons that become very helpful for those seemingly out-of-reach or dangerously-placed enemies. It’s still surprising after all these years how you really do feel swift as a ninja as you traverse the intricacies of the terrain while laying your foes to rest.

However, one thing that we feel is a tad bothersome is not being able to change direction once in the air, which can lead to a handful of heart-crushing situations. Take level 2-2 for example; here you’re introduced to a new gameplay dynamic in the form of shifting winds that affect the movement of Ryu. Instead of platforming around at a brisk speed, you’re forced to slow down and time your next jump – or any movement – with the pattern of the wind. Initially, this is a nice shake-up, but once respawning enemies, projectiles, narrow pathways and swift combat come into play, it can quickly become a maddening affair. Take one wrong hit — which propels you backwards with momentum and occasionally right off the edge of a cliff – and you’re surely going to apply pressure to the beautiful chunk of technology nestled between your sweaty mitts.

These frustrations aren’t major, but they’re frustrations nonetheless, and are present in a game that already offers up a mightly steep challenge. Thankfully, like any other Virtual Console release, the restore-points allow you to boot the game down and recover your progression at any point. This feature means so much more in a game of this difficulty, and works in harmony with unlimited lives. So even if you get hung up, there’s no issue with taking a break and resetting your emotions before getting back to it; a luxury that wasn’t possible in the days of the NES. The transition to the 3DS isn’t all good though, as it’s worth mentioning the discomfort of using the systems low-placed D-pad for extended periods of time. We attempted to give the circle pad a shot, but it didn’t offer the same high level of precision the gameplay requires. We know this isn’t hardware review, but for some reason the demand on your thumb, unique to this game, made the experience much more uncomfortable than other games that beckon to be played with the D-pad. We aren't holding this against Ninja Gaiden II — we're merely expressing our concern.

The level design is assuredly well-thought out this time around, featuring a mix of side-scrolling and verticality which injects a nice sense of scale and makes the environments more pleasant to traverse. Memorable moments are sprinkled throughout the journey, keeping things fresh and rewarding, and even the sound is fitting and fun, with tunes that will bounce around your head long after you’ve closed your 3DS and ventured back into the real world. Ninja Gaiden II is a good game that’s almost a bit too ambitious for the limitations of its time, but somehow it prevails through adversity and offers up an exciting adventure. If you’re going to cozy up with this one, make sure you’re ready for the hefty challenge and a few cheap deaths; there’s a ton of fun to be had here as long as you’ve done the necessary mental prep going in.

Conclusion

Ninja Gaiden II sneaks onto the 3DS Virtual Console in an honorable fashion, but considering the nimble reflexes needed to survive its hardships, the placement of the D-pad on the handheld might lead to some serious hand cramping. We aren’t holding this against the game, necessarily; it’s just something that you might want to be aware of before diving in. Everything you remember is here intact, so if you just want more Ninja Gaiden on the go, then you can’t go wrong. Newcomers may want to be wary, though, as there is often a wicked challenge on show that will demand patience, practice and perseverance. Don't expect this Ninja to hold your hand...it's tough love all round.

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User Comments (26)

XCWarrior

#1

XCWarrior said:

"However, one thing that we feel is a tad bothersome is not being able to change direction once in the air, which can lead to a handful of heart-crushing situations."

I want you to go outside and jump forward in the air. Let me know if midair you can change directions. This is not a complaint so much as growing used to today's game which are way to lenient.

Besides that comment, good review. I have never tried this version of Ninja Gaiden, I think I will be picking this up though. I love a good challenge.

Shiryu

#2

Shiryu said:

I still can't choose a single game from the trilogy as my favourite. I quite enjoy the ability to have ninja clones on this entry. Here, have some music:

sleepinglion

#3

sleepinglion said:

Nice review! I used to love playing these on cart when I was a kid, though I think the only reason I was able to beat them rhymes with Name Henie.

DamoAdmin

#4

Damo said:

@XCWarrior Plenty of games allow mid-air direction changes, so I'm not sure why you have to bring reality into it?

You go outside and perform a Hadoken fireball - doesn't mean Street Fighter shouldn't include it! :P

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#5

Philip_J_Reed said:

This is not a complaint so much as growing used to today's game which are way to lenient.

...you're aware that control over direction while jumping is not anywhere near a recent innovation, right? :D

Ryno

#6

Ryno said:

Great game, couldn't imagine playing this on the 3DS though.

Ryno

#7

Ryno said:

@XCWarrior: Nowadays it's a requirement in every retro review to point out the lack of ability to change direction in midair. Back in the day we were able to adjust on the fly but gamers these days have a difficult time when it comes to thinking about their jumps.

DarkCoolEdge

#8

DarkCoolEdge said:

What would you recommend, Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden? I have Mega Man 2 & 9 and Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (great and underrated game btw).

Thanks.

KnightRider666

#9

KnightRider666 said:

@XCWarrior: "I want you to go outside and jump forward in the air. Let me know if midair you can change directions."

LOL! That's friggin' hilarious! If you can pull that off, you should be starring in your own games! Anyway, this game is awesome. The game as a whole is so much more refined than the original. I can't wait for the 3rd one to grace the 3DS VC!

theoldman

#10

theoldman said:

What is everyone complaining about with this jumping nonsense? All Dave pointed out is that you couldn't adjust in mid-air and it can lead to deaths. In the NES era, there were some games where you could, and others where you couldn't. All he's trying to say is that it's as frustrating today, as it was in 1989 when people played it for the first time. Great Review!

DRLAdmin

#11

DRL said:

@XCWarrior - You actually can change the direction you're facing after jumping into the air. I literally just did it about five times in a row in front of my wife who now thinks I'm crazy. Thanks a lot, man. I bet that was your master plan all along. :P

@Ryno - Dude, I played these games when they were first released for the NES; so it has zero to do with age or experience. The fact is, for the challenge that the game presents, I felt the range of motion given to the player wasn't always quite enough to meet the demand of the situation. I prefer that when I die in a game, I feel that it's my fault, and that wasn't always the case with Ninja Gaiden. That's all.

creepingdeth21

#12

creepingdeth21 said:

@XCWarrior i want you to play the first super mario or megaman game and move forward in the air. see how they move? these games came out around that time. so his complaint is legitimate.

Ryno

#13

Ryno said:

@DRL: When I was talking about gamers these days I was not necessarily referring to you, more so the readers of review's on retro games in general who didn't grow up with the NES like you and I. With NES games I just expect "cheap deaths" that I will quickly learn from and become more skilled otherwise I feel NES game would be too easy without some of them mixed in. Anyway, I am assuming you have beat it and overcame those few parts you had an issue with so that's awesome.

DRLAdmin

#15

DRL said:

@DarkCoolEdge - I would say Mega Man 3 or Ninja Gaiden II would be good options. The modern Ninja Gaiden games are good, too. Well, the first two at least; haven't played the 3rd installment.

SparkOfSpirit

#16

SparkOfSpirit said:

NGII is a great one. I like this one more than the original, which always seems to make best-of lists over this one.

Tasuki

#17

Tasuki said:

@DRL: Great Review.

I also like this installment of the series the best. I may pick this one up for a bit of nostalgia but honestly I get very annoyed with this game very fast due to the high difficulty.

Windy

#18

Windy said:

I know the game is awesome. But I won't be spending until its a 3d classic. Again I bought a PlayStation 2 powered 3d handheld not a NES emulation machine. Very frustrating! I'm sorry but I get very frustrated with VC games. I think we should be getting 3d classics with the option to turn off the 3d. This is bugging me more and more as we get more VC games and see less and less 3d classics. I refuse to buy games that are basically emulated and would like to see 3d changes to the older games. Sorry for beating this like a dead horse. I know this game is great I would like to have the option of classic 3d on my 3d system. I guess its to much to ask. This game would look awesome as a classic 3d title. Great review Dave! Sorry to be a bummer on what is obviously a great game

DRLAdmin

#19

DRL said:

Where are my manners?! Thank you for the nice comments, guys. Greatly appreciated as always. :D

@Windy - No problem, sir. And thanks for the compliment. I do agree with you that there need to be more 3D Classics. It's a nice way to freshen up a familiar experience. :)

DarkCoolEdge

#22

DarkCoolEdge said:

@Windy the worst offender is that it's actually pretty easy to do in side scrollers. I don't think Nintendo is going to release more 3D classics, and a lot of the ones they have are mediocre games.

@DRL thanks. Nice review by the way.

WinterWarm

#23

WinterWarm said:

@Windy

Agreed. Xevious is terrific fun. Is there a petition for this?

@DRL

"Every day I'm shufflin'."

It's up to you now! If anyone on NL EVER reviews a card game, that MUST be their tag line! Be swift young one! If you have to, change direction midair!

Nice review, btw.

WaveyChristmas

#24

WaveyChristmas said:

Even though the clone item makes the game a confusing mess at times, along with the soundtrack which doesn't quite meet the standard of the legendary original's, gaiden II is a gnarly addition to any Ninja Warriors collection. B-)

Jaz007

#25

Jaz007 said:

Good review. I've got the game on VC and I've never beat it. I can clear the first level and then the train part of level two without dying, but then things get frustrating. It's fun, but way too hard and a some of the bosses just feel like mandatory damage. The boss on level level two is just plan stupid. Haven't been able to beat a second time after I restarted the game.

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