Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developers:
    • Tecmo (NES)
    • Manley and Associates Inc. (DOS/Amiga)
  • Publishers:
    • Tecmo (NES)
    • GameTek (DOS/Amiga)
  • Released:
    NES
    • JP 04/06/1990
    • US May 1990
    • UK 10/27/1994
    DOS/Amiga
    • US 1991
Score: 85%

This review was published on 02/03/2017.

Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Tecmo for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on April 6, 1990, North America in May 1990, and Europe on October 27, 1994. In Europe, the game is known as Shadow Warriors II: The Dark Sword of Chaos. A company called Manley and Associates Inc. developed ports of the game for Microsoft DOS and the Commodore Amiga, and these ports were both published by GameTek in North America in 1991. As its name implies, this is a direct sequel to the previous Ninja Gaiden on the NES. The first Ninja Gaiden revolutionized gaming by being one of the first console games to have such elaborate cinematic scenes to convey its storyline. This coupled with its intense action resulted in the game's success and critical acclaim, quickly making it one of the most renowned games on the NES. Due to the success of the original Ninja Gaiden, it didn't take long for Tecmo to release a sequel. Ninja Gaiden II is just as good if not slightly better than its predecessor, making it a worthy sequel.

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In the first Ninja Gaiden, a heroic ninja named Ryu Hayabusa saved the world from an evil individual known as the Jaquio. Ninja Gaiden II takes place one year after the events of the first game. Atop a tall and mysterious structure, an evil emperor named Ashtar is informed by one of his servants that the Jaquio has been defeated. Apparently, Ashtar had been controlling Jaquio all along. Now Ashtar plans to take over the world using the eponymous Dark Sword of Chaos, because he's evil and stuff. An agent from the U.S. Army Special Intelligence learns of this sordid detail and decides to enlist the aid of Ryu, who returns from the last game to reprise his role as protagonist. The agent informs Ryu that Ashtar has kidnapped Irene Lew, his love interest from the last game, and is currently holding her at the Tower of Lahja. Once again, it's up to Ryu to rescue Irene and save the world from darkness.

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Just as before, the story is conveyed in various cinematic sequences that usually appear before and after major parts of the game, which are referred to as "Acts." These sequences show characters and scenery much larger than they appear in regular game play, showing tons of close-ups and different camera angles to heighten the dramatic tension of the plot. It's all drawn in an anime art style that looks rather impressive given the NES' limitations. There are usually black borders on the top and bottom of these cut scenes, like a film, and the text for character dialogue appears at the bottom of these two dark spaces. Presentation wise, these scenes have improved considerably from the ones in the previous game, sporting more visual detail and better animations. The story itself is not quite as good as before, but it still has enough interesting twists to keep you invested. In the event that you don't care about the plot, you can still skip these cut scenes with the mere push of a button.

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You again take control of Ryu for the duration of this action packed adventure. As before, Ryu's basic abilities include running, jumping, ducking, and slicing up baddies with his rapid sword swings. No run button is necessary, because you're always traveling at high speeds. The controls are even more responsive than they were in the last game, furthering their ninja-like precision. Jumping also has a tad more airtime to it, giving you greater control over your jumps. It's still possible for Ryu to cling to walls and other wall-like surfaces by jumping towards them. This time, however, he can climb up or down a wall as if it were a ladder, further enhancing his freedom of movement. Ladders are still in this game, but they now function as gateways into other areas, as they're no longer needed for climbing. Additionally, Ryu is now able to attack while clung to a wall, but only with special weapons, not his sword. Speaking of special weapons...

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The Castlevania-like sub-weapon system makes a triumphant return from the first Ninja Gaiden, albeit with some tweaks. Throughout the game, there are floating orbs that you can break with your sword to reveal power-ups, one of which is referred to as Ninja Power. Ninja Power functions as ammunition for special weapons, which are also found within the orbs, and you use them by holding up and pressing the attack button. Most of these special weapons return from the previous game, such as the throwing stars, the boomerang-like Windmill Throwing Star, and the Fire Wheel spell. However, the spinning slash technique has been removed, and in its place is a fireball spell that shoots at a downwards angle. Also, the temporary invincibility power-up from the last game is now a special weapon you can obtain and use at any time. On top of all that, Ryu can now collect hidden scrolls to extend the maximum capacity for his Ninja Power. While the removal of the spinning slash attack is lamentable, the special weapon system in this game is overall better, as you have much more options.

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This game's biggest new feature is Ryu's ability to create clones of himself. After grabbing certain power-ups found via the aforementioned floating orbs, a flashing orange clone of Ryu will be created. You can have up to three of these and they will mimic all of Ryu's movements, but on a slight delay. These phantom doubles don't take damage from enemies, but they certainly can dish it out, as they'll attack with their swords or special weapons whenever Ryu does. This can essentially triple your damage output, usually wrecking most bosses. If Ryu stops moving while any of the phantoms are in midair, they'll remain floating there, which can be used to place them in strategic positions. The amount of depth this adds to the game is immense, but it does so without detracting from the action. In some ways, these phantom doubles are like the Options from Gradius, except this isn't a side-scrolling shooter. Similarly, while you do keep the phantoms between stages, you lose them all if you die just once, which is particularly devastating given how awesome they are.

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Each Act is divided into smaller stages, usually around two or three. Like the first Ninja Gaiden, stages are all strictly linear, but are packed with enemies that'll send you packing. Visually, everything looks a lot better in Ninja Gaiden II, especially the buttery smooth parallax scrolling backgrounds, which the last game lacked. In addition to the typical city setting, stages have more variety now, with trains, windy mountains, dark forests, treacherous towers, fiery caverns, icy caves, and the demon realm itself. Some stages also have gimmicks this time around, like the wind in the mountain stage that pushes you in different directions, and you usually have to jump in the same direction that the wind is blowing to get across the pits. Another stage has you running through a dark landscape that only becomes lit whenever lightning strikes. Then there's a stage with streams of water that push you backwards, even when you're clung to a wall. The game gets infuriatingly difficult later on, but isn't as unfair as the previous Ninja Gaiden. Plus, you've still got unlimited continues.

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As mentioned earlier, the game was ported to DOS and Amiga. Both ports look and play pretty similarly to each other, but they're quite different from the original NES version. Due to the superiority of the hardware, these ports have far more advanced graphics than the NES original, sporting more colors and higher detail. There were some jarring visual changes, however, like Ryu swapping colors with his phantom clones, making him red and them blue. Some parts of the game do look worse despite the superior hardware, though. The music and sound effects also sound pretty goofy. Furthering that mediocre feel are various little problems with the mechanics, like horrible hit detection that causes you to die way before you reach the bottom of a pit. However, the worst thing about these ports is the atrocious frame rate, which makes them almost completely unplayable. Don't let the mildly attractive visuals fool you, because these ports are downright awful. Avoid them like the plague.

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As far as sequels go, this is one of the best ones out there. It improves upon everything the original game introduced without rocking the boat too much. The graphics, controls, stages, and bosses are all better, plus the insane difficulty level has been toned down a bit. The music is also about on par with the original, featuring a good array of tracks that'll get your blood pumping. Refinements to the special weapons also result in more fun game play, and the Ryu clones add a good dose of strategy to the game without hurting the game's pacing. This is a much more polished product than the first game. If you want to know what a good sequel looks like, then look no further than Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos.

Word Count: 1,564

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