Ninja Gaiden's 2004 Xbox debut whipped up a storm that had hardcore fans taking great pleasure in mastering its difficulty while more casual players climbed the walls in frustration. Oddly though everybody seem to agree that Team Ninja had created a masterpiece, even the ones who found the ultra-fast combat a little too much to deal with.
Series creator and Team Ninja's head man, Tomonobu Itagaki, isn't one to tone things down. For Ninja Gaiden: Black Itagaki left the main game untouched but added an easier Ninja Dog difficulty setting. Everyone was happy. So what changes have been made for the sequel? Would Itagaki cave and deliver a game our parents could pick up and play? Not likely!
What we'd call subtle tweaks to the combat system should open up the game to a wider audience that won't necessarily have to feel humiliated by selecting the Ninja Dog difficulty.
But as Ninja Gaiden II throws a lot more enemies at you than the original, being able to block and dodge while slashing away is as essential as ever. Weapons we've come across so far include the Dragon Sword, Lunar Staff, Falcon's Talons, Dragon's Claw and Tiger's Fang, Kusari-gama. We'd imagine the nunchucks will make an appearance too but we've yet to see them.
A new addition to the combat mechanic is called the Obliteration Technique and it does exactly what it says on the tin. While the charged-up Ultimate Technique from the first game returns, it's now possible to finish off wounded enemies (those missing a limb or two) with a visceral, quick combo just by hitting the Y button when you're near them. Ryu immediately launches a stylish series of moves that will cut off arms, amputate legs and sever heads. All with grizzly yet glorious presentation.
The buckets of blood that spray across the screen from the subtraction of body parts underlines the fact that a ninja is not to be messed with. The Obliteration Technique doesn't just work on smaller human-form enemies (like the Black Spider Clan) either. You can finish off fiends and even some bosses if you time it right. It also helps that you're untouchable when performing this move too.
We could name a few games that use limb amputation as a cosmetic way of making your stomach churn. Soldier of Fortune and Half-Life 2 immediately spring to mind. But this affect has real gameplay implications for Ryu's health bar. Using the lethal Talons, it's easy to lop off a few arms and legs without really thinking about it. But if you don't finish them off you'll be in for a suicide surprise.
Using one arm or leg, fallen enemies will slowly drag and claw themselves towards you (think Resident Evil). This would be the perfect time to bring out the Obliteration Technique and an end to the wounded warrior. But when there are several other foes attacking you at the same time, your mind can wander.
Next thing you know, you're being crawled upon by a suicidal ninja amputee who's going to plunge a dagger into your chest and explode. Watch out for that, eh? The aftermath of every battle leaves behind it a pile of body parts and bloody torsos like no other game. Take on ten enemies and, after you emerge victorious, the floor will be littered with gore.
It might sound, then, that the game's even harder than the first one; suicidal enemies and more of them. But to help you out and keep things in check are new save and health systems. Using the same dragon statues of the original you can save your progress at different points through the level. You could argue that these were too few and far between in the first game. But from what we've seen of the sequel (about six whole chapters) there appears to be more that are evenly spread out.