"Ninja Gaiden's" action is an exaggerated dance of twirling steel and falling body parts. The amount of blood that sprays from your victims' bodies is ludicrous. Its female characters are as stereotypically well formed as its monsters are deformed. And the game's atmosphere is an almost incongruous mix of Japanese spirituality and sci-fi technology. So obviously, I love it.
If there ever was a game developed for the attention deficient, this is it. "Ninja Gaiden's" action is so fast bullets would have trouble keeping up. But since it's an action game and not a round of golf, this intensity is pretty flippin' awesome.
"Ninja Gaiden II" sharpens what made the original Xbox title so fun. The new health recharge system is really just an excuse to throw enough enemies at you to populate a small country, but the system is balanced well. The game still provides a solid challenge; like a real martial art, it takes practice to master the finer points of Ryu's different weapons, combos, and magic. It's worth the time investment, and it's no small thrill once you've trained your nerve synapses to respond with the haste of a hyperactive Navy SEAL. Checkpoints are much improved, so you no longer have to battle through five ninja-filled rooms before reaching the boss every time you die.
For a game that doesn't offer multiplayer, "Ninja Gaiden's" online offerings are pretty good. The leaderboard system displays your ranking among the world's ninja elite, and the Ninja Cinema - which works a little like "Halo 3's" Theater - lets you share gameplay videos with your friends.
But, like a bottle of moonshine in your grandmother's cabinet, other elements in "Ninja Gaiden's" gameplay have started to lose their potency. Whenever the game isn't focusing on action (which thankfully isn't often), it feels like a game from a forgotten age in gaming. Contextual control issues sometimes arise, making it difficult to do simple things like shimmying along a pipe. The platforming elements, such as running along and climbing walls, can be touchy, and we noticed a few loading issues, too. The game still follows the tired pattern of finding key A to open locked door B. And the story is about as unnecessary as a tomato fruit roll-up.
If you are willing to put up with those few annoyances, "Ninja Gaiden" will show you a great time, but let's hope Team Ninja adds a few new flavors to the mix next time it stirs this pot.