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Ninja Gaiden II: the Dark Sword of Chaos

It was a strange time in the 8-bit era when it came to release dates.  No one actively kept track, there wasn’t an EB Games aggressively pushing you to preorder a game or you’d miss out; as far as most kids were concerned games simply showed up in stores when they were ready.  If you weren’t actively reading Nintendo Power or EGM you would have no idea what games were about to release.  In this case I had no idea Ninja Gaiden 2 even existed until a buddy showed up with it one day.

Ninja Gaiden II: the Dark Sword of Chaos was released in the US in 1990 and not until 1994 in Europe.  God they were so screwed when it came to releases.  Taking place 1 year after the defeat of the Jaquio Ryu has avenged his father and saved the world but all is not well.  A new threat named Ashtar has appeared, the man behind the Jaquio’s appearance.  He has designs on ruling the world by using the Sword of Chaos to open the Gate of Darkness.  Ryu is recruited by US Special Forces agent Robert Sturgeon to stop him with the added incentive to save Irene Lew as well.

Ninja Gaiden II improved on its predecessor in every way with far better graphics, sound, and slightly less frustrating gameplay.  Tecmo rightly saw that they had stumbled onto a winning formula and were keen to capitalize on it.  By fixing the glaring flaws present in the first game Ninja Gaiden II is simpler a better game overall.

Gameplay is identical to the first game with many improvements.  Your move set has been expanded as you can now scale walls freely, a drastic quality of life improvement.  Most of the weapons have returned with the overpowered Spin Slash the sole exception.  New to the series are the Fire Dragon Ball, a downward fireball that can be used when stuck to a surface and the biggest addition: Shadow Clones.  Ryu can have two Shadow Clones that follow him and mimic all of his actions, even using Ninja Magic.  They are tricky to take advantage of as they stop when you do, even leaving them suspended in midair.  At times you’ll place them by accident and see them kill enemies completely by coincidence but soon you can set them up to trivialize many boss encounters, to the point where you won’t even have to lift a finger.

The strangest change is a limit to your Ninja Magic which can only be increased by finding carefully hidden scrolls in the levels.  My guess is this was designed to limit how much you can spam Ninja magic with two clones doing the same which would be overkill the more I think about it.  Regardless of the reason Ninja Gaiden II will still pose quite a challenge.

The level designs have received a major overhaul and have become more adventurous.  Environmental hazards dot some of the levels affecting your controls, adding another element to consider before you make that jump.   Constantly changing wind and rain can affect your jumping height and distance and you’ll need to take advantage of it to proceed.  The coolest effect would be the lightning on stage 3-1 that temporarily illuminates the environment to reveal the platforms concealed in darkness.  There are fewer instances of hawks and birds waiting to knock you into bottomless pits this time around although they still occur.  The bosses are far more difficult than the first game unless you exploit your shadow clones although some of them are recycled from the original game.

Maybe it was my experience replaying the original Ninja Gaiden for countless hours but the game overall seemed less challenging.  The difficulty curve is more gradual, only reaching the ridiculous heights of the first game in the latter portions.  That isn’t to say you’ll breeze through the game, far from it, but it’s less trying overall.  I think the criticisms of the first game’s end scenario were taken to heart and the game is better for it.

This s a true sequel in every sense of the word in terms of correcting the original’s faults while pushing the gameplay forward.  The graphics are exceptional, the cut scenes better, and the difficulty less annoying.  If you’ve played Ninja Gaiden you know what you are getting into.   This is definitely not to be missed.

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