The first Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox to me was the definitive reason to own the console. It had unrivaled visuals and a lightning fast combat system that made everything else look like a button masher. Ninja Gaiden II has a lot to live up to.
-The story in NG2 is just as laughably nonsensical as it was in the first, involving demons with names like Volf and Zedonius trying to destroy the earth through some ancient relic. Normally I wouldn't give a shit but both games put so much effort into all the lore that you can't ignore it. There's all these textbooks and journals you find in the game explaining the back story and they sound like they were written by a 6th grade fantasy nerd that just adds GAR or TOR to the end of every characters name. There's even some comic strip intro that plays during the Hard Drive installation about some ancient battle between Vampires and Ninjas. It's ridiculous and not important.
-The combat system is still unrivaled and unforgiving. To me this is the greatest strength of the game. Unlike most button mashing hack and slash games, when you pull off amazing attacks and combos here, you feel like you earned it. There's no cheating your way through these games and mastering the combat system is extremely rewarding.
-The merciless difficulty of Ninja Gaiden returns. It's not too bad on the easiest difficulty but it's still no walk in the park. On the higher difficulties you fight swarms of enemies that rival you in health and abilities where one false move unexpectedly takes off half you health. You pretty much have to have the reflexes of a real ninja to survive. The bosses are just as frustrating as they were before, bombarding you with non-stop attacks that never give you an opening or time to figure out their weaknesses. The most annoying part comes from their grab moves. I understand that when someone leaves an opening in their defense as often as I do, they should be punished but man, the animations they carry out when they grab you last like 5 minutes. Imagine an enemy grabs you, slashes you with their blades 7 times, smashes you into the ground, throws you in the air, piledrives you, pisses on your corpse with acid urine, eats you, craps you out, takes out your fecal remains and disintegrates them with a laser. That's your punishment for standing still for more than a nanosecond.
-Also frustrating is the camera control as it has not been improved from the original game. It's hard enough to fight 4 tactical ninjas armed with machine guns at once, I don't need to fight the camera as well. It constantly circles around to bad angles, gets stuck on the walls, and sometimes locks up completely.
-There are a lot of weapons to toy around with which is always a plus and include Katanas, a scythe, a staff, bladed flails, and tonfas (my favorite new addition). Unfortunately you'll probably just stick to the standard dragon sword through 90% of the game. The mission mode and trophies will be the reason you try out the new weapons. On the downside, the upgrade system is annoying as you can only improve your weapons one at a time and in no way incorporate the essence you absorb (the game's currency). I feel like at this point, it should have just been automatic.
-The new team missions were a great idea. You get to partner up with someone online and take on hordes of enemies and bosses together and when it works, its a very fun and unique multiplayer experience. Unfortunately it's plagued with performance issues as slowdown and lag are constant. It's kind of an embarrassment to see the system is incapable of handling 2 players. It's also embarrassing that when you invite a buddy to join you, it sends them a message that says "Let's Be Ninjas!"
-The graphics are decent but aren't jaw dropping. This is a big disappointment considering how amazing the first game looked. You really don't get a chance to appreciate the visuals though, because you're constantly fighting for you life. The animations are still fast and detailed.
-I really like varied environments. You'll fight across the globe in areas like Japan, New York, and Italy. Some of the environments like Time Square look a little bland but most look great. My favorite area was a boss battle set amidst an amazonian waterfall that made a morbid transformation after the fight. It was creepy and cool.
-When you compare Ninja Gaiden to other games in the genre, I still feel like it is superior to its competition. It doesn't look as sharp as Heavenly Sword but moves much faster and is more varied. God of War's fighting engine is so simplistic in comparison and is no where near as gratifying to play. Devil May Cry is too chaotic and senseless in my opinion. The new Prince of Persia was just plain boring. I'd take Sigma 2 over all of those games.
-Overall, Ninja Gaiden 2 isn't the groundbreaking marvel that Ninja Gaiden 1 was. Many of the problems that plagued the first one (mainly the camera) still exist but so do the superb controls and speed. In the end, it seems like a slightly more polished version of the original which isn't a bad thing but seeing how much Uncharted and Modern Warfare are stepping up for their sequels, Sigma 2 is extremely underwhelming. If you like really technical melee combat and are a glutton for pain, I highly recommend it. If you master this game, or become at least half-decent at it, you'll understand why the punishment pays off. If you just like random button mashing, Simon-says quicktime events, and automated combos, pick up one of those other snoozers.