You can keep your Tenchu. Stick your Crouching Tiger where the sun don't shine. Forget stealth kills and sneaking around - what ninja games really need are masked men with inflated heads rolling around attached to bowling balls and boxing matches between giant mechs. Honest, they do. Really.
I-Ninja's a curious concoction. Being the product of co-operation between Namco and UK coders Argonaut and published by Sony. The thing is it feels like a Namco game right away - bold, brash and brilliantly crafted - so why they didn't develop it themselves is a mystery. Whatever, it makes no difference to the quality of the game.
Rather than being a stereotypical platforming or action game, it's a huge melting pot of diverse ingredients, all thrown together to make a tasty ninja pie. Each of the game's main areas serves as a hub, through which Ninja (imaginative name, huh?) can access different missions - depending on which belt (yellow, green, red, etc) he's earned. The thing is you never quite know what to expect. Sometimes you'll be wading through enemies with your increasingly-powerful Katana, other times you'll be running the gauntlet through jets of flame while balanced on a barrel of gunpowder. Then you're in a nuclear-powered sub facing off with a massive mechanical fish, before a spot of rail grinding and fending off invading fleets of ships with a mounted gun turret.
This could so easily have gone wrong, but Argonaut have balanced the different elements spot-on and you don't ever feel that you're getting bored of the individual bits. Ninja's range of skills is always entertaining - whether running along walls, swinging around on the end of a chain, chucking shurikens, or running back and forth in half pipes like Sonic The Hedgehog . The hero's one-liners even provide enough comedic relief to break out a wry smile now and again.
Sure, many of I-Ninja's elements have been used before (Prince Of Persia's wall-scurrying springs immediately to mind), but Argonaut have cleverly glued everything together into a package that feels fresh. It mightn't be everyone's idea of ninja cool, but there's already a warm place for it in our affections. Top stuff. Adrian Lawton
I-Ninja is released in March.