Genre : Action
Release Date: March 29, 2005
You know, I’m starting to get the feeling that the Japanese really don’t like Nobunaga Oda.
In Red Ninja: End of Honor, the freshman effort from Tranji, you play as Kurenai, a ninja in the service of the warlord Shingen Takeda. In the imperial wars of 15th century Edo Japan, Takeda is one of the few things standing between Nobunaga Oda and unrivaled rulership of the country.
Kurenai’s father was an engineer working for Nobunaga. Years ago, he unveiled his latest weapon on the battlefield: a gatling gun. After seeing what it could do, Takeda ordered the gun’s destruction. The Black Lizard Clan, ninjas in Nobunaga’s service, promptly stole the weapon’s plans, killed Kurenai’s father, and left her to die, strung up by a length of wire.
She was found there, barely alive, by the ninjas serving Shingen Takeda. Years later, she’s become a ninja herself, and is out for revenge against Nobunaga and the Black Lizard Clan.
None of this really matters to 90% of Red Ninja’s potential audience, because Red Ninja is fated to be the game with the panties. Kurenai has set out on her mission of righteous vengeance without trousers, resulting in a thrilling glimpse of ass cleavage every time she jumps, dashes along or up a wall, falls down, sneaks into a crawlspace, swings her dagger, or breaks into a run. If the action ever flags, you can position the camera directly underneath Kurenai and amuse yourself that way.
It’s kind of a shame, because Red Ninja doesn’t quite deserve to be so marginalized. It wants to be – Kurenai isn’t half naked by accident, and the ads make her look like she was backshot by twin cruise missiles – but it doesn’t quite deserve to be.
For one thing, Red Ninja’s story was written by Shunsuke Sato, the director and writer of the obscure, excellent action film Shura yukihime (Princess Blade) and one of the scenario designers for the last two Tekken games (if the IMDB can be believed). This is one of the better stories I’ve ever found in a video game, with a voice cast that’s more than capable of lending it the emotional resonance it demands. Red Ninja would make a good feature-length anime, and that’s saying something.
The game itself… well, here’s the thing. I want to like it, and it occasionally makes it easy. Red Ninja is a stealth-based action platformer, but unusually, it’s focused on the latter. Kurenai is armed with a dagger and a length of steel wire called a Tetsugen. If a luckless guard finds you, it’s the last mistake he’ll ever make; you can easily wrap the wire around him, dismembering him or slicing bits off. If you get the chance, you can also opt for stealth kills, slitting soldiers’ throats or using the Tetsugen to take their heads off from across the room.
Another of your options is to try to seduce guards away from their posts. By pressing a button while Kurenai’s standing against a wall, you’ll make her emerge from her hiding place with a come-hither look. A nearby guard may be tempted into coming to chase the pretty lady, which is your chance to jam a knife into his neck. However, the guard may also opt to attack you.
(Honestly, Red Ninja’s T&A factor’s wildly misplaced. Kurenai’s a stone killer with a penchant for casual decapitation, fighting for vengeance on the wrong side of a historic struggle between ancient and modern Japan. Imagine Ninja Gaiden if Ryu Hayabusa was wearing jean shorts and a No Fat Chicks T-shirt, and you’ll get an idea of how misdesigned Kurenai is.)
Kurenai’s ninja arsenal also includes kunai, smoke bombs, a blowgun for silent kills, improvised explosives, and a grappling hook for the Tetsugen, so you can swing across chasms or descend towards an unwary enemy from above.
If avoiding confrontation’s more your style, Kurenai can run along walls or suspend herself from the ceiling to get out of guards’ line of sight. You can drop down and shimmy hand-over-hand along ledges, use the grappling hook to reach distant platforms, or take advantage of Kurenai’s ridiculous footspeed to simply outrun anyone who might want to stop her.
Your challenges in Red Ninja take Kurenai throughout Japan, where you assist Takeda’s war effort via infiltration of assassination. Red Ninja can be played quietly, as you skulk through the shadows and evade all contact with the enemy, or like an action movie, where Kurenai bulldozes through dozens of armed soldiers on her way to her mission. The game’s a bit biased towards the former approach, as you’ll be rewarded with items for each successful stealth kill, but you can play it however you want.
I’d be lying if I said Red Ninja didn’t have its share of problems, though. The camera frequently zooms around to useless angles, the guards are often half-blind and rock stupid, Kurenai’s seduction move often misfires for no visible reason, and the collision detection on platforms seems a bit off. It can be an addictive game in its own right, but various flaws make it more frustrating than it should’ve been.
It’s still a promising original effort from a new developer, so Red Ninja succeeds on that point. With another few coats of polish, it or a sequel could be something really good. It’ll be out at the end of the month, so you can make your own mind up on it then.
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