Red Ninja End of Honour review

Seduction, swinging and a sexy pair of knickers. Blood not quite so attractive. Xbox World is on the case...

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When a game insists on titillating us with a cute heroine and knicker flashes three times a second from the start, we generally get out the Crap-O-Meter and give the thing time to warm up.

As ever, the readings shot off the scale, but with Nellis busy playing Miami Vice nearby ("I love it, but I'll never know why!") and Pete and Hoody locked in an intense game of Ludo, we had to give the game more of a fighting chance.

And, wouldn't you know, it was worth it.

The first level, you see, is about as enjoyable as having your head smacked about a bit with a blunt meat cleaver.

Oversensitive movement juxtaposed with offensively slow stealth/crouch walking does not make for a welcoming entry to a game, nor does a control set which makes the mistake of varying from genre standards - criminally making it harder for the gamer to accustom themselves, and - worse - suggesting improbable levels of arrogance from a developer who thinks they know best.

Making the jump button and the drop-off-ledge button both A, or putting both the long range and short range attacks on one contextual button, which, in a pitiful attempt to be accessible to today's disposable gaming audience, merely results in you hacking thin air when you meant to lob a long attack.

Frustrating? Not half. Maybe ignorance rather than arrogance, then.

So what are we left with? Well, suffer the controls, the tear-inducing, atrocious camerawork (no lateral invert - a shocking oversight) and some markedly bland level design, and surprisingly, you'll find a slab of likable hack-n'-slash action to get stuck into.

How a slutty, nubile, attractive, innocent (you get the picture) female ninja became such a lethal killing machine is explained somewhere in the half-inched-from-The-Last-Samurai plot, but it never fails to raise an eyebrow watching this petite, naive-looking young lady gutting and cleaving her way through entire armies.

Not that the decapitations are particularly shocking - it's remarkably tame due to cop-out PS2 graphics and cartoon levels of animation. So no, it's not the desperately tacked on buckets o' blood that make the combat entertaining fare, but Kurenai's tasty arsenal of weaponry.

Tenchu aside, you've never seen anything quite like the Tetsugen - a length of wire with a choice of attachments to hook on to the end.

With the former you can bury a small anchor in the enemy and give it a vicious yank to easily confiscate troublesome bodily extremities.

Alternatively, the second attachment affixes a hook that lets you drag enemies around, tying them up around a handy pillar or just hanging them cheekily off the nearest rafter, hacking helplessly at you below.

Add to this Kurenai's acrobatic capabilities that let her run up walls and indulge in a little Prince of Persia-style rope swinging, platforming action and you'll soon find yourself flipping around the battlegrounds, happily slashing at enemies up close before bounding away with torsos aplenty in your wake.

It's extraordinarily fun, despite an unnecessary and tedious lock-on system that slows the action down, to its extreme detriment.

Furthermore there's an interesting stealth bent that works relatively well when Kurenai isn't being her usual clumsy self.

Sneaking across rooftops to nail targets is just as satisfying as open combat, and stealth is encouraged by virtue of enemies seemingly going literally to pieces more easily when you catch them unawares.

What's refreshing is that the game doesn't have to be played this way, you can use Kurenai's other abilities (ninja staples like poison blow pipe darts and, uh, a black widow-like seduction move that can lure many a lowly footsoldier to his demise).

Or simply go at it hammer and tongs - by killing the highest-ranking officer in an area the rest will stampede around like headless, armour clad chickens.

All in all, there's a welcome degree of personal choice in how each situation can be overcome.

Sadly, there are too many little flaws and little ambition beyond the one-trick pony Tetsugen to make this recommended gaming to anyone but the Ninja hardcore - though it's worth it if you've cleaned out all other titles.

For the record though, XBW reckons that, despite the amusing amputations et al, when a guard cries "I think I saw someone" in the middle of an intense five-on-one battle, eyebrows do have to be raised, and wallets should probably be lowered.

Like so much else in life, it really all depends on your love of all things ninja and how desperate you are to see some knicker flash.

Red Ninja End of Honour is out for Xbox and PS2 now

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