Game preview: Ninja Gaiden II

What feisty young lad or lass doesn't go through a ninja phase, eh? If you've ever fancied yourself as a magic-wielding shuriken-throwing Japanese warrior and are now grown up enough to stomach a bit of bloody violence, now's the time to indulge those fantasies - perhaps not in real life, but if you've got an Xbox 360 there's no reason why you can't look forward to decapitating a few fiends with a ninja sword this summer.

This week SFX had the opportunity to steal a sneak peak at the latest fantasy slash-'em-up title in the Ninja Gaiden series, which will be coming to your living room console in June. Here's all the info and pics you need…

What is it?
The official sequel to 2004’s Ninja Gaiden, itself a next-generation re-boot of the classic NES series which began in the 1980s. It's a third person perspective action adventure with wave after wave of computer-controlled enemies falling to your sword as you battle through numerous 3D locations. It's set in the same universe as Dead or Alive (hero Ryu Hayabusa was also a character in that series).

Does it have a good SF plot?
You play Ryu Hayabusa and your mission is to avenge your clan and ultimately prevent the destruction of the human race. You’ll find yourself in places such as New York and Tokyo but if you're worried all this talk of ninjas and real-world locations will mean there's no fantasy element, think again: you’ll also visit the netherworld and you’ll learn ninpo magic as you progress, enabling you to cast spells on your opponents, who'll include dragons and humanoid fiends.

What does it look like?
A bit dark, perhaps, given several night-time locations we saw; but the Xbox 360's next generation graphics means it looks much more detailed than its forerunner. Of course, as you'd expect from a Ninja Gaiden game, the visual effects during fight scenes are bloody and there are animations for characters being dismembered.

How does it play?
The control system has been streamlined over previous incarnations. You run around the landscape hacking through the hordes of villains who appear, and the joypad control system is not overcomplicated. You're searching for the exit to the next level. At key points there are various boss monsters to destroy, including one who mutates into a huge spider beast. There's a button for swift attack, a button for heavy attack, and a button for flinging shuriken or arrows: simple! At first... There are combination moves you can learn and perform, plus magic spells to cast, for which you'll need to collect "essence", the colourful miasma left by trashed opponents. Blue essence will also help you regenerate health.

Any other distinguishing features?
At any point - limited only by your hard drive - you'll be able to start recording the action for later playback. Known as Ninja Cinema, you will be able to share your videos over Xbox LIVE as well as on the console with your friends. Play back your coolest moments or show clueless friends how it should be done - blow-by-blow replays from your gaming session will be only a button press away.

Why might it be a success?
It's all the things that are great about the swords-and-shuriken genre in one stylish package, and visually it's very promising. Ninja Gaiden has established itself over the last 20 years as a brand name, and the most recent incarnation comes from the stables of Dead or Alive crew Team Ninja who know a thing or two about creating a slick, enjoyable fighting title. The control system feels very intuitive so newcomers won't be totally bewildered, and the Ninja Cinema recording device is a nice touch.

Why might it fail?
Although it's been pitched as inclusively as possible, in the hope that it will appeal to those who aren't already familiar with the series, the punishing battles - and gore-filled confrontations - could mean that only hardcore hack-and-slash fans will get the most from it. Also, in these days of free-roaming games like Grand Theft Auto IV, do people still want a classic fight-your-way-to-the-exit adventure, no matter how good the graphics? And there's no interactive online element…

When and where can I play it?
Watch out for it in stores at the end of June. It will have a BBFC rating of 18, and set you back £44.99. It will only be available for the Xbox 360.

Got any top trivia to share?
It will probably take you 10 to 20 hours to complete, depending on how proficient you are. Elements like the auto-healing system and streamlined controls are designed to suit newcomers to the genre as well as established gamers.

How can I find out more?
Visit the official site at www.xbox.com/ng2 .