I’ve played halfway through the campaign of NGS2 yesterday evening, with mixed emotions. It’s very obvious that the director of this game has a very different vision of Ninja Gaiden then Itagaki. Sometimes for the better, but most of the times I would not call the changes actual improvements. It’s surprising how many gameplay elements which worked well have been removed. I hope that some of the shortcomings will be fixed in the higher difficulty levels (I’m currently playing on Warrior difficulty).

The Good:
  • Graphics have improved dramatically! The game generally looks a lot crisper (I guess that NG2 was upscaled, and NS2S is native 720p), textures seems to be higher resolution, normal mapping and specular highlight effects have been tuned, it’s really a difference like night and day (in some cases literally, when returning to the Ninja village in chapter 2 it is now broad daylight, not night time). This is what the original NG2 should have looked like.
  • New minions: There are a couple of new enemies in the game, some variations of NG2 minions, and some variations of original Ninja Gaiden monsters.
  • New and tweaked bosses: There are a couple of new boss fights in the game which are variations of the final boss in the original NG2. The Genshi fights are more interesting (you can now do an Izuna Drop on Genshi for instance).
  • Excessive rocket spam removed: that’s about the only good gameplay change, almost all of the “unfair” rocket spam has been removed.
  • Mission Mode now included in the game, plus Coop: Since the original NG2 wasn’t released in Germany, there’s also no downloadable content on the Xbox Live marketplace (damn you Microsoft). NG2S includes a mission mode, and adds 2-player-coop to those missions.

The Bad:

  • Much fewer enemies on screen: this is most painful change. The oh-shit-moments of NG2 when 15 blood-thirsty spider-clan-ninjas where rushing down a hallway, running into Ryu which is starting an Ultimate Technique, turning the whole screen into a mess of flying body parts, and then cleaning up the survivors with a series of Obliteration moves. That’s no longer happening in NG2S. Typically, there are no more then 3 or 4 enemies on screen. Generally, combat encounters are much shorter and easier then in NG2.
  • Slowdown, tearing and in-level loading still there: The dreaded slowdown from NG2 still happens, it’s not happening so often as in NG2, but only because the number of enemies on screen and rocket spam has been reduced. When the slowdown happens it even kicks in sooner, with less on-screen action, then in the original NG2. This is a big let-down. There are places with screen-tearing even when there are no enemies on screen, and the game still pauses mid-game to load data. It’s not game-breaking but disappointing considering that the team had over a year to tweak and optimize.
  • Empty hallways: A lot of combat encounters have been removed from the game, locations which were packed with enemies in the original are desolate in NGS2. I really hope this is just a difficulty level thing, and that there are more encounters in the higher difficulty levels.
  • Fewer choices: some of the design decisions are downright stupid:
    • Weapon upgrades are now limited to a few shops, and the first time any weapon can be upgraded to level 3 is very late in the game (at the start of the Moscow chapter). Weapon upgrades don’t cost any money now however, sounds good at first, but money and shops in general quite useless now (at least in Warrior difficulty).
    • Life Of The Thousand Gods is now immediately activated when picked up, and no longer refills the life bar. This removes a very nice tactical elements from the game (should I use the immediate benefit of having a longer life bar, or should I use it as an additional health potion during the next boss fight)?
    • Same with the Life Of The Gods items, it’s no longer possible to manually activate them when needed, instead they auto-activate when picked up.
The Rest:
  • I actually like the new blood-effect-replacement and toned down violence, it makes the game more arcady and more enjoyable (IMHO).
  • One really starts to appreciate how good the 360’s controller is after 5 or 6 hours of playing with the PS3 controller. My left hand literally hurt after the session.
  • The additional campaign chapters with the new playable characters are disappointing. It’s too little to feel comfortable with the new characters and their moves, they’re limited to a single weapon, and the levels are mostly reused from the original game.
  • They actually tried to fix the story LOL. There’s a “prelude comic” during installation and a few fixes to the cut-scenes during the game to make the story more comprehensible and give it more of a background… as if anybody gives a shit about the story in a Ninja Gaiden game. The result is a complete mess. I can imagine a game featuring ninjas where story actually plays an important part, but not in the Ninja Gaiden universe. It’s really too late for that hehe. The only thing that’s really missing in Ninja Gaiden are pirates, oh … and zombies of course.

If NGS2 is an indication of what the future of Ninja Gaiden looks like without Itagaki then I’m out. The game looks shiny, but the changes to the core game-play are all aiming into the wrong direction for my taste. I was hoping that NGS2 becomes what Ninja Gaiden Black was to the original, a real improvement to an already great game, and if there’s any game which really needs a good polish, it is the original NG2. But NGS2 adds only very few improvements, and abandons too many good ideas from its predecessor. It’s just different, not better then NG2.