TGS 07: Ninja Gaiden II Hands-On

September 20, 2007

Tecmo sure hasn’t wasted any time. Barely a week after finally announcing the true successor to the Xbox original, numerous screenshots have made their way to the Internet. And now at TGS 2007, Snackbar Games has been given a chance to see the actual game in action.

The demonstration took place within what appeared to be an old-style Japanese temple/cave set in the Microsoft booth. Shoes had to be removed to sit in the rocky seating area, which had a mat and several sitting pillows for spectators.

The mood set (developers sure love setting the mood this year), we were treated to a dark opening cinematic. The camera panned slowly over a wasted battlefield, swords and bodies dotting the landscape. Finally, it settled on a buff-looking Ryu, who was sporting a blade strapped to his arm as well as a peculiar sword that looked quite different from his trademark Dragon Sword.

After the quick cinematic faded to a splash screen, the presenter took a moment to explain the controls in Japanese as well as point out a few of the available levels. Ryu wasn’t exactly a homebody in the original game, but it looks he’ll really be globetrotting in the sequel, even taking time to sightsee in Nifleheim, the cold land that is home to dishonored warriors in Norse mythology. Why exactly he is going to Nifleheim remains to be seen (it may just be a name), but knowing Ryu it’ll probably have to do with ass-kicking demonic swords. Other available levels include a watery Venice like level, and an image that resembles the Statue of Liberty.

The approximately ten minutes of gameplay that came afterward were not so different from what we’ve come to expect from Ninja Gaiden in the past few years, but still had a fair share of surprises. Three new weapons were shown as Ryu rampaged through Aqua City (the Venice-like level), each of them nice additions to the ninja’s arsenal, and very cool in their own right.

The first was a deadly scythe that Ryu appears to take apart and keep on his back. When attacked, the weapon is assembled in a blink of an eye and slices through the air in a nasty arc that typically cuts the enemy in two. Ninja soldiers (yes, they sported katanas and bazookas) and demonic creatures alike were deftly sliced in half by the powerful new weapon, and it appeared that Ryu could even cleave an enemy in two by tossing the blade while hanging from the wall.

The second weapon was not one, but two katanas. Apparently not content to be surpassed by Master Chief, Ryu has taken his example and is now dual-wielding himself. Pretty much everything you would normally expect from double katanas is there, with the overall effect being generally quite cool. Finally, Team Ninja has borrowed yet another classic weapon and given Ryu long, Wolverine-like claws. These were demonstrated toward the end of the demo, with the demonstrator impaling several demonic attackers and staining them green with their blood. The overall effect is quite cool, and it’s made even cooler when Ryu clangs them together to shake off the blood when he’s finished.

At the end of the demo, Ryu is accosted by a large, man-spider creature that wouldn’t look out of place in a Resident Evil game, and the screen fades to black. No doubt this will be an excellent, well-designed game, though I have to echo a recent comment from another Internet news site and cry Ninja Gaiden fatigue. The graphics are crisp and smooth (though they didn’t quite match Ninja Gaiden Sigma’s eye candy in my mind), and the new weapons were definitely cool, but the sequel doesn’t look to be terribly different from the original.

No doubt fans will be appeased, particularly with the original’s fearsome difficulty level appearing to have made an encore in the sequel, but lesser fans among us may be ready for something new (Ninja Gaiden DS?) Despite the caveats, it’s hard to fault Team Ninja for bringing back a winning formula, particularly when it entails ninjas staining their claws with neon demon blood. Ryu Hayabusa will strike again in 2008.