Platform: Xbox 360
"You are dead. Do you wish to continue."
No. I don't wish to continue. I wish to fly over to Tecmo's office and scream in the face of whoever thought the difficulty level on this game was fair and reasonable. I wish to hurl my joypad at the screen, tear the disc out of my console and jump up and down on it until it's a mass of shattered plastic on the carpet. At the very least, I wish to take the disc out, put it back in the box, scoop up something nasty from the nappy my daughter filled this morning and post the whole, evil-smelling mess back to the people responsible for developing it. No. I do not wish to continue at all.
Difficulty is the defining issue for Ninja Gaiden 2. Despite the introduction of a kinder, gentler acolyte level and the removal of the whole, mildly humiliating Ninja Dog routine - which implied you weren't much of a man if you can't cope with the harsh way of the true ninja - Ninja Gaiden 2 is still a hardcore game. Even the most average section of the game is ripe with opportunities to die; with scores of enemy ninjas who are perfectly capable of ripping a newbie player to shreds in seconds. It's a game of skill, not just basic level button-mashing. If you can't get your head around a fairly complex system of attacks, blocks, evasive manoeuvres and counters, then you won't get past the second level. You might not even make it past the first.
At its best, Ninja Gaiden 2 does close combat as well as - if not better than - any other game you can mention. The weapons, whether the legendary Dragon Sword, the fiendish ninja claws or the brutal Lunar Staff, are terrific, creating sweeping arcs of bloody destruction everywhere you look. The controls are speedy, responsive and remarkably sensitive to timing. The moves are frequently spectacular, and slicing, slashing and bludgeoning through a group of flabby demons or rival ninjas never gets tired. Of all the action games I can think of, only the God of War games and Devil May Cry 3 and 4 can even hope to surpass Ninja Gaiden 2 when it comes to close-up violence, and for sheer pulse-pounding brutality, only Sony's Greek myth epics provide an ample comparison.