'Ninja Gaiden II' Hands-On: What Got This Non-Fan's Attention

Ninja Gaiden II [UPDATE: A spokesperson for the game has addressed a couple of the issues and features mentioned in my post. Read about it here.]

I have tried and failed to get very far in the Xbox and PS3 versions of "Ninja Gaiden."

People whose taste I respect love them. My interviews with people at Tecmo have convinced me that the games were developed with great care.

I just haven't been skilled enough -- or patient enough -- to appreciate them.

About a week ago, however, I had the opportunity to play the first level of the M-rated "Ninja Gaiden II," which will be released exclusively on the Xbox 360 on June 3. I played on the easiest setting, the Path of the Acolyte, fighting as ninja Ryu Hayabusa, in bloody combat against ninjas of the Spider Clan.

Here are some of the elements of the game that intrigued me:

Ninja Gaiden IIFlying Cars: The game begins with a camera fly-through of a futuristic city. I know there was contemporary stuff in previous "Ninja Gaiden" games, but the in-your-face depiction of this new game's futuristic setting is compelling set-up. Nothing else futuristic could be seen in the first level, but I still have high hopes for at least one ninja vs. robot clash. I hope I am not let down.

Limb-Losing Gameplay Additions: I'm skeptical that any extremely violent game enjoys any gameplay benefit from its gore. But the very bloody "Ninja Gaiden II" amply demonstrates ways that lopping limbs can enable interesting new gameplay rules. Usually, when fighting a video game bad guy, a hero's damaging blows don't trigger a significant change in tactics. A solid hit, unless scored on a boss, doesn't typically lead to increased danger. But in "Ninja Gaiden II," chopping a guy's legs off still allow him to scramble toward you for a low attack with the blades in his hands. Chopping arms off of enemies seems to trigger dangerous spontaneous combustion among the severed bad guys. Basically, having Ryu do damage introduces a new set of risks. That's not the usual flow-chart for video game combat. It's a refreshing idea.

Grainy Old Movies: Browsing through "Ninja Gaiden II"'s options menu, I found a "Kurosawa" filter that turns the game's graphics black and white and applies an old film grain. I am seriously considering playing the entire game in this mode, just to experience something incredibly different yet oddly classical. [UPDATE: Filter won't be named Kurosawa in the final build, according to a PR rep for the game.]

Ninja Gaiden IIChunks of Bodies: The level of gore in this game is extreme. I found a weapon called the Lunar Staff that doesn't just cause blood to spray from enemies but knocks divots of flesh loose. That's, uh, different. I could do without it.

Embedded Movies?: In the first level, one bit of fighting occurs on a wooden deck in front of a large movie screen. The movie screen shows a looping a trailer for "Ninja Gaiden II." Given that this new game includes a video capture tool, the so-called Ninja Cinema, I would not be surprised if the Tecmo team allows players to play their own clips on that screen. A similar embedded movie feature was already in the team's "Dead or Alive 4." I've put in a request for more information. If the feature works in the manner I'm guessing, I plan to put a clip on that screen of me fighting in front of that screen, like a mirror reflecting a mirror. Why not?

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My build of the game includes more than the first level. But it is a compliment to Tecmo that "Ninja Gaiden II" intrigued me enough to compel me to now anticipate a polished, finished copy. I had finished "Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword" recently, and the training I got in the game, has indeed made me much more interested in this next chapter of the franchise.