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Red Ninja End of Honour

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Given what you may already know about Red Ninja - the flashing of thighs, the slashing of throats - it may seem perverse that it has a heart as affectingly warm as its savagery is cold.

It's still remarkably savage: surprise is usually mortal, thunderous arterial spray in place of exclamation marks, and that sinuous Tetsugen wire so shockingly swift that a sentry's decapitated body takes an eternity to follow his head in a grisly twirl to the turf.

But where much of the stealth genre is cloaked in distant greys and matte wash, Red Ninja is suffused with autumnal colour, feeling alive instead of an immaculately presented still-life.

Levels tell stories of distance and time, using their sectioned construction to constantly (and confidently) introduce new elements - weaving in and out of structures and environments on their own wiretrail, while peach and salmon sunrises deepen to the heavy blues of a building storm and the inevitable downpour.

And even with her murderous calling and the impropriety of a kimono that could win a Dead or Alive pageant, Kurenai is a vital, expressive lead.

She's framed expertly in the subtly directed in-game cut-scenes, if a little less so by the game camera's continued struggles to keep up with her at full pelt.

Some areas sensibly pull back to a fixed angle for easier navigation, but in tight indoor confines the standard camera cramps Kurenai's style - seldom fatally, but enough to disconnect both you and her from that astonishing supernatural agility.

At almost every step there's a new talent to add to her impressive repertoire: swap the Tetsugen's blade for a weighted attachment and enemies can be tied to posts, strung from beams (though it's a little awkward to line up jumps to rafters at the best of times, never mind in combat).

Or they can be dragged to their deaths safely out of earshot. That proves vital, for if it seems that the wire is in danger of pulling the whole game off balance, the foil for its power is the overwhelming numbers that respond to a shouted alarm.

As many as a dozen men-at-arms can join the hunt, with swordsmen encircling Kurenai on the ground or toppling her from ledges with thrown knives, while archers scan the rooftops from the back ranks.

They're capable of putting up a determined sprint in pursuit, too, or alternately a flailing, desperate rout should you turn the tide in Kurenai's favour - the Tetsugen can cut through morale as ably as it does bodies.

The delay from Red Ninja's original late-2004 release seems to be providing it, crucially, with the fine details to paint over all the ideas the developer had previously only sketched for it.

The two hesitations in the confidence of its genre bending are the responsiveness of control and camera: if those continue to improve to the level of its other storytelling aspects, it will have been more than worth the wait.

Red Ninja End of Honour is out for PS2 and Xbox on 1 April

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