Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (NES) Review

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Quick Review

~Review by tankMage (August 2020)

Here’s a short breakdown of Ninja Gaiden II’s strengths and weaknesses, scroll down if you wish to read the full review.

Score: A

Pros

-One of the best video game soundtracks ever made.

-Some of the best graphics on the NES.

-Stage design that improves and expands upon that of the first game.

-Tight controls.

-Well delivered story with cutscenes.

Cons

-Lacks some of the nice details of the first game, like enemy attack animations.

-Ninja magic does not always activate when you press Up and B.

-Plot feels like a rehash of the original.

-The movement and attack patterns of two of the bosses are a bit too random, which makes the bosses come off as cheap.

Full Review

 “Ok freaks, come and get it. You’re going to dream your worst nightmare!” -Jungle Rat Rob

By 1990, the NES was already aging, but this year also marks the point where some of the console’s best games were released. While often overshadowed by more iconic franchises, Ninja Gaiden certainly deserves a place of honor in the NES hall of fame and Ninja Gaiden II is easily the trilogy’s finest moment. While NES sequels were often experimental and somewhat controversial among fans, Team Ninja managed to innovate without straying very far from the original recipe. Ryu returns in this title with new powers (namely his ninja clone ability) and new threats to battle. Players are also treated to cutscenes between stages and the story features a proactive villain that’s more interesting than that of the original.

Even though Ninja Gaiden II improved upon the first game, it also suffers from some of its eccentricities. Players will have to constantly contend with respawning enemies and a difficulty curve that can be a rollercoaster ride at times. The plot is also a bit trite, despite the fact that it has some rather entertaining occurrences that move it along and some of the visual details that made the first game so impressive were eschewed for some reason.

Story 

About a year after the events of the first game, Ryu’s girlfriend goes missing and our hero sets out to find her. He soon learns that an army from some sort of shadow dimension is quietly invading our world…of course this means it’s up to Ryu to stop the bad guys and save his girl. Yeah, we’ve heard it all before…but Team Ninja did a good job of framing this otherwise played out story. The game opens with the villain, Ashtar, standing on the ramparts of a foreboding castle watching lightning flash in the distance. In the background an awesome piece of 8-Bit music plays and Ashtar goes on a maniacal rant about covering the world in darkness. My description of this cutscene probably doesn’t do it justice, so trust me, it’s one of the best on the NES. 

No.

Ninja Gaiden II’s story is interesting in a lot of ways, partly due to the fact that it seems to purposely mirror scenes from the first game and, because it is shockingly violent at times as far as console games from the late eighties/early nineties go. At the same time, it’s pretty easy to guess where things are going and even the plot’s surprises aren’t all that engaging. Luckily, the villain, Ashtar picks up a lot of the slack, especially in light of the fact that Irene and Ryu have the personalities of wet mops. There’s also a rather intriguing character named Robert, but he ends up being something of an exposition mouthpiece near the middle of the game, which kind of steals his thunder.

Even with its flaws, the story moves the game along and it’s entertaining enough the first time you see it. Despite issues with its cast and the aforementioned exposition dump near the middle of the adventure, Tecmo did a good job of throwing in some memorable moments. Team Ninja also set up its cliff-hangers rather masterfully, making this game one of the best NES titles in terms of story.

Graphics 

Team Ninja decided to really push the NES to its limits with this game. As a result, it’s a great example of what the console could do even though it was a dinosaur by 1990, but it also means you’re going to get a lot of slow-down with this game. Slow-down is a perennial issue with the NES, so it’s not a big deal if you’re used to the console’s quirks. Anyway, this game looks good and has all sorts of nice effects. The stages all have their own unique designs, there are weather effects like snow and lightning, and the cutscenes look far better than those of the first game.

Even the third game had difficulty outdoing this one thanks to imagery like this.

The only bad thing I can say about Ninja Gaiden II is that it lacks some of the nice touches the original game had. For example, powerups were hidden in things like lanterns and candles that fit the theme of each stage in Ninja Gaiden. In Ninja Gaiden II, powerups are concealed in unsightly red balls scattered around every stage. Secondly, almost every enemy in the first game had an attack animation. Bad guys would throw knives at Ryu, slash him with swords, or just punch him in the kisser. There’s very little of that in the second game and it’s rather disappointing considering the overall superiority of its graphics.

Gameplay 

The NES is a treasure trove of platformers and Ninja Gaiden II is one of its brightest jewels. Players control the young ninja named Ryu as he leaps and slashes his way through seven acts. Just like in the first game, Ryu can use his sword to slay enemies, blow opponents away with powerful ninja magic, and grab onto walls. He can also climb walls now and summon ninja phantoms to assist him, which makes it feel like Ryu has grown as a ninja.

As far as the gameplay goes, Ninja Gaiden II is the best of the trilogy. Tecmo toned down the enemies a bit by removing some of the more ridiculous mobs like the knife throwers from the first game and lowering the damage output of the much hated birds that constantly harass the player in both titles. 

However, Team Ninja found new ways to challenge players by adding hazards to some of the stages. These hazards are often creative and force the player to adapt to new situations. This makes this game feel simultaneously new and familiar to fans of the original who will have to deal with high winds that constantly shift around in the second act, darkness that obscures all sorts of dangers in the third act, and perilous water currents in the fourth act to name just a few of the threats that were added into the mix. Most of the hazards in this game can be managed through good strategy, but I didn’t like the fact that the foreground in act six often concealed enemies and navigating the stage was more a matter of memorization than skill. That said the idea wasn’t bad, they could have just implemented it a bit more carefully.

Of course Ryu still has his ninja powers, which can be acquired from red orbs in every stage, and Team Ninja took some time to rebalance them. For better or worse a certain insanely overpowered ability was not included in this sequel. Instead, it was replaced with the slightly less insanely overpowered ninja clones. Ryu can get up to two clones by collecting certain powerups. These clones mimic his every move and can really heap damage on bosses. It also takes a bit more skill to use them effectively than it did to use the first game’s broken ninja art, which makes NG2 feel slightly more balanced.

This brings us to the bosses, which are for the most part passable. The first four bosses are not all that difficult, but things amp up fairly quickly near the end of the game. While the tougher bosses make for a great finale, two of them were rather annoying thanks to their rather random movement and attack patterns. Fortunately, none of the boss fights are game breakers and players who really know what they are doing will have no trouble at all.

User Interface

The controls for this game are almost perfect, except for the button combo needed to use a ninja art. Pressing Up and B will activate whatever ninja art you have. This is fine aside from the fact that the game is very picky about how you input the command. Ryu will not fire off his magic unless you hit Up and B together at the same moment, which gets annoying. There were many times when I held Up then pushed B out of habit from other games only to find that Ryu merely swung his sword. Maybe this is just a matter of taste, Ninja Gaiden II’s pickyness was a constant irritation until I finally broke my old habit of holding Up then hitting B.

Music and Sound

I stand by my opinion that the NES has some of the best music in video game history and Ninja Gaiden II is one of the reasons I feel this way. If you do not believe me, just give the intro theme and the stage 3-2 song a listen. At any rate, the sound track is top notch, I just wish there were more songs, because some stages reuse music from earlier parts of the game and the cutscene BGM gets repetitive. 

Final Thoughts

I’ll admit that Ninja Gaiden II may be too hard for some players or too easy for others. For me it was somewhere in the middle as NES games go. That said, I played this game to death during my early teen years and it’s hard for me to imagine a world without it. At the same time, it’s easy to take games like this for granted and forget the fact that for every classic there are three or four stinkers that somehow got past Nintendo’s quality control. Then again, maybe we appreciate the good games, because there are bad games… oh whatever, NG2 is awesome, so give it a try.

This review of Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (NES) is property of RetroMaggedon.com, ©2020

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