Ninja Gaiden Hurricane Pack Vol. II Hands-On

The second free downloadable expansion to the Xbox's outstanding ninja action game is now available. Find out just how painful--and how good--it is.

This afternoon, Tecmo and Ninja Gaiden developer Team Ninja released Hurricane Pack Volume II for free download via Xbox Live. Like the previous Hurricane Pack, this content pack adds plenty of new challenges to a game that was renowned for its high level of difficulty to begin with. However, unlike the first Hurricane Pack, this one isn't just a remixed version of the Ninja Gaiden story mode--it's an even more action-oriented affair, involving fight after grueling fight in a more traditional arcade-style level-to-level structure. Having recently honed our skills from the first Hurricane Pack, we were eager to dive into Volume II, and we learned the hard and fast way that the action here is no joke. Actually, it's amazingly intense stuff.

These lovely ladies are no doubt waiting to show you a good time somewhere toward the end of Hurricane Pack Vol. II...great.

Hurricane Pack Volume II is a free and fast update (it takes just a couple of minutes to download), so if you've got Ninja Gaiden and Xbox Live, and you're up for the challenge, then you might as well just get it and start hacking your way through. Still, if you want some early reconnaissance, we're here to help. We quickly took note of some of Volume II's key differences over the original Ninja Gaiden campaign as well as the changes in Volume I. For one thing, this time Ryu Hayabusa starts off his adventure with a variety of weapons: his trusty Dragon Sword, the nunchaku-style Vigoorian Flail, the Lunar staff introduced in Volume I, and the gigantic Dabilahro sword. You'll actually begin Volume II with upgraded versions of some of these weapons. For example, Ryu can execute his incredibly powerful Izuna Drop (a spinning pile driver grapple) right from the beginning, which feels very liberating after it took so long to earn that attack in Hurricane Pack Volume I.

Another advantage is that Ryu has unlimited ammo for all of his ranged weapons. Early on, you get the incendiary shurikens and the strongbow--powerful tools made even stronger since you don't have to worry about running out of shots. For good measure, Muramasa's Shop (which can be reached in the first 10 minutes or so, if you live that long) stocks all the various armlets from the game at a low fee. We eagerly snatched up the armlet that causes Ryu's health to gradually recharge. Weapon upgrades are already readily available, if you have the cash, which we didn't.

The good news is, Ryu starts off with most of his moves in Hurricane Pack Vol. II. The bad news is, the bad guys can now counter a whole bunch of them.

The structure of the Volume II is similar to the late-game Ninja Gaiden stages, in which you're climbing up the Vigoorian Emperor's evil tower and fighting enemies along the way. Once you reach the top, you begin fighting through wave after wave of bad guys.

Some of the new bad guys are introduced in a brief cutscene at the beginning, in which the buxom fiend hunter Rachel has a bad run-in with a couple of demonic assailants resembling Alma. We haven't actually reached these foes ourselves yet, but we certainly have experienced some of the new types of dangers to be found in Volume II.

For example, there's a powerful new type of ninja, armed with a windmill shuriken, that makes for an even deadlier opponent than the Black Spider Clan ninjas from Hurricane Pack Volume I. If you let down your guard for even a moment, these guys can quickly drain most of your health--fortunately, a good Izuna Drop can dispatch them. We also braved wave after wave of enemy commandos armed with machine guns and bazookas. These guys are tougher than the commandos of the original Ninja Gaiden story mode (some of them were able to reverse our attacks, which we caught onto after getting our faces planted into the turf several times).

Sometimes we ended up fighting so many of these guys that the gameplay experienced significant amounts of slowdown--something that the original version of Ninja Gaiden carefully avoids by limiting the number of foes you fight at one time--but here, all bets are off. The slowdown somehow seems gratifying in a way--there's just so much madness happening onscreen that the system can't handle it any more than you can.

This second Hurricane Pack seems to be immensely tough and incredibly satisfying at the same time.

Prior to that, we also fought against a pair of horsemen in a bout similar to the second-level boss battle from the core game. This was interesting given the relatively cramped corridors in which we needed to fight. Only after we vanquished these foes did the game's first save point appear. So the good news is that it's possible to save your progress, though the bad news is, save points are spread out pretty far apart, with lots of nonstop action in between.

We frankly haven't made it very far into Hurricane Pack Volume II--we were taken out by the big, bulky laser-wielding airship boss, who now must be faced along with a small brigade of bodyguards--so there's no telling how long this will go on for or how difficult it will get. But we presume from the early going that the update is going to pack in even more challenge and intensity than the first Hurricane Pack--and as such, it seems to be even better. Though there are no new weapons here, and the whole thing inherently doesn't seem quite as surprising as the first Hurricane Pack, make no mistake--this appears to be great stuff, and it somehow makes an already outstanding game even better. And there's definitely new content here, even from the get-go, including new graphics and even some new music.

Take a look at our new movies for a sample of some of the relatively "easy" early going in Hurricane Pack Volume II.

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