We always hear from developers that they've upped the scale, scope and all-round epic nature of their game for the sequel. So and so game has twice as many levels, another has bigger bosses, another includes some new moves. With Ninja Gaiden 2 Tomonobu Itagaki and his Team Ninja staff have managed to produce a game that has more variety than you could ever imagine, a storyline that spans the globe, enemies so diverse you expect something new around every corner, combat so brutal you'll be wincing until the closing credits and a style that is so effortlessly cool it could only have come from one man. To use a phrase from Gears of War designer Cliff Bleszinski, Ninja Gaiden 2 is more bad ass than its predecessor in every conceivable way.
If you haven't been following the Ninja Gaiden series over the past few years you probably aren't prepared for how difficult Ninja Gaiden 2 is. Although the easiest difficulty setting (available from the start) isn't as hard as the Xbox game's default level, it's still punishing to all but the most experienced action gamers. It's on a completely different level to current genre favourite God of War. To put Ninja Gaiden 2 into perspective, I was able to beat God of War and its sequel fairly comfortably on the default difficulty - on the easiest difficulty Ninja Gaiden 2 almost made me gnaw my fingers off. It's almost never unfair, but unless you're 100 per cent focussed don't expect to make it very far.
Although lead character Ryu Hayabusa gains quite a selection of weaponry as you move through the game, it's his block and dodge moves that are key to survival. You might be able to button mash your way through one or two enemies, but soon enough you'll be using health elixirs like no tomorrow and seeing the Game Over screen enough to have it burnt onto your retinas. Learn to use your block and when to counter attack and you'll be on your way.
Joining your melee weapons are a number of projectile weapons, ranging from your default shuriken to a gatling gun-style spear gun for use underwater. Most of these have a limited supply of ammo, with more available from fallen warriors you find on your adventure and at shops scattered around each level. Handily, Ryu automatically targets enemies when using a projectile weapon, although weapons like the bow and gun can be manually aimed if you want to hit a certain location on an enemy. One of the keys to the game is working out which weapons work best against each enemy type, so thankfully the d-pad offers a quick weapon-change, eliminating the need to go into the pause menu.
Your third means of attack comes from magic, or Ninpo as it's called in the game. Fire-filled icons below your health bar show how many Ninpo strikes you have at your disposal. Holding Y and B down initiates a monster slaying Ninpo attack and you have a few seconds to aim using the left analogue stick. As with your weapons, these powers can be upgraded, allowing you to dish out more damage. To begin with you're limited to a fire attack, but soon enough this will be joined by wind and fire bird attacks. Unless you're a true expert these special magic abilities will be essential during boss battles, so it's wise to stock up on replenishing items.