On screen, Ninja Gaiden 2 stands as a new benchmark for video-game bloodshed. The red stuff isn't merely hinted at; it's splashed around by the bathload, as torsos and arteries are slashed open, and limbs and heads removed forcibly. If you winced, whooped and hollered your way through the 'House of Blue Leaves' scene in Kill Bill Volume 1, then you'll be glad to see that the guys at Team Ninja have done their best to exceed it. Hysterically, many of your maimed opponents will even limp or crawl their way towards you for more of the same treatment, doing their best to grapple you to the ground and explode in a last-breath gesture of revenge.
When you're not fighting, Ninja Gaiden 2 still goes big on Prince of Persia-style acrobatics. Our ninja hero, Ryu Hayabusa, can still be found racing across walls, wall-jumping his way up elevator shafts and even cheerfully trotting across water. He's still a master of the flagpole swing and the backflip, and he can still employ a range of cool ninja manoeuvres that help him whisk through a crowd of foes whilst in combat.
And this is - without any doubt - a stunning-looking game. Being picky, I'd say that it doesn't have the jaw dropping sense of scale that made God of War 1 and 2 so special. Nor can it match Devil May Cry 4 for its beautiful, baroque background scenery. In fact, at times there's something a little sterile, a bit last-generation about the rather basic environments. However, when you throw in scores of enemies, the beautiful animation, some gorgeous lighting effects and all that spraying claret, Ninja Gaiden 2 looks simply amazing. The levels set in a storm-battered, fiend-infested New York are just an early highlight, as the rain pours down and waves batter the harbour while Ryu scraps with sorcerers and demons in the unnatural glow of neon signs.
This is a wonderful game to behold, and it should be a wonderful game to play. But it isn't. Well, not all of the time, and not always for everyone, anyway. If you're a huge fan of Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden Black or Ninja Gaiden Sigma, then you already know what to expect, and you'll be prepared for it: the long stretches where you'll batter your way through hordes of ninjas only to get felled by a small collection of double-hard bastards with the power to knock you down in seconds; the sections where you'll be under attack by a bewildering number of foes while archers snipe at you from positions high above; those bits where you just about make it through an epic brawl only to have one guy get in with a cheap, high-powered attack at the very last second. Some people take this stuff on the chin, time and time again, and come back saying 'I just wasn't good enough' or 'I failed that time, I won't fail now.' Others start wondering whether there might be something more rewarding we can do with our time. In this way, Ninja Gaiden 2 cuts its potential audience right down the middle. You either take the (appallingly) rough with the (brilliantly) smooth, or you get very, very annoyed and give up.