Ninja Gaiden II Updated Hands-On: Airships, mecha-zombie slaying action, and new costumes

We check out an updated version of Team Ninja's gripping action game.

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Ninja Gaiden II is the latest entry in the action series based on the classic NES franchise, which was jolted back to life with two spectacular titles on the original Xbox. The highly anticipated sequel is again being developed by Tecmo's Team Ninja, although the Xbox 360-exclusive title is being published by Microsoft, not Tecmo. The latest version of the game was on display at Microsoft's press event today and offered a new level to try and the chance to check out the upcoming costume pack.

The playable level in the game--the seventh, for those keeping score at home--was set on board the Daedaelus airship and kicks off with a cutscene showing Ryu Hayabusa performing a flying leap out of a helicopter onto the ship's deck. Your first threat in this punishing level is a series of turrets that need to be taken out with your bow and arrow. Once the turrets are dispatched, you'll have to make your way into the airship and eventually fight a familiar foe, Genshin. The road to Genshin has you facing off against some twisted cyborg enemies that feature torsos strapped into a spiderlike harness, and larger abominations that are fast, deadly, and well armed. The challenge, as always, is to dispatch them by figuring out the best weapon and attack combo.

In addition to the new level and enemies, the playable demo let us have a peek at one of the costume packs that are coming for the game. The handful of costumes that will form the first downloadable content pack for the game was selectable and had a definite fiend feel to them, which ties in to one of the recurring themes in the story. We saw several variations on the creepy, armored costume that mixed some colored bits into its mostly black scheme. In speaking with MS reps, it sounds as though the pack will run 200 points and hit just a bit after Gaiden II's release.

Ninja Gaiden II looks as visceral as ever.
Ninja Gaiden II looks as visceral as ever.

The visuals in the game are sharp and feature plenty of detail. Hayabusa has never looked better and, more importantly, has never moved better. The game's animation is fluid and packs a hefty amount of visceral appeal. The ninja's moves are both brutal and elegant, which makes for some sick but cool visuals. The enemies we faced--both the serious and slightly off-kilter--were highly detailed as well. The new system of reflecting damage (and dismemberment) on enemies looked pretty gross, but cool at the same time.

The airship mixed up your standard corridor fare with some nice twists and turns that kept the level interesting. As far as performance goes, the game burned along at a speedy clip despite the bloody madness and plethora of onscreen effects. There were still some awkward camera moments here and there but, as with the previous games, they're not problematic once you get into the swing of things.

The audio didn't hold many surprises and stayed true to the high standards of the previous games. Although he's a ninja, Ryu makes an awful lot of noise during battles, which helps add some emotion to his stabbing. You can also expect to hear a respectable array of environmental sounds and various weapon effects. Some enemies also chime in on the action with screeches of their own during battle.

Based on what we've seen, Ninja Gaiden II should definitely pop on the Xbox 360. The game appears to be retaining all the appeal of its predecessors in terms of tight gameplay and visceral hacking action. However, it also appears to be benefiting from some subtle touches that make it more accessible to newcomers to the series. If you're longing for some special, ninja-flavored slice-and-dice action, you'd do well to keep an eye out for Ninja Gaiden II. The game is sporting a ton of promise that, given Team Ninja's track record, we're hoping to see pay off in some exciting ways. Look for more on Ninja Gaiden II in the coming weeks, with the game slated to ship the first week of June exclusively for the Xbox 360.

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