ang on a second. Surely there's some kind of mistake here. Ninjas are supposed to be swathed all in black to help them creep about unnoticed into the shadows aren't they? Not hanging out of the flimsiest red dress this side of a Girls Aloud dance routine. After all, it's hardly the most fitting attire for the ancient Japanese art of assassination.
Still, it's handy for ease of movement we guess, and at least the thong Red Ninja heroine Kurenai wears is black. Then again, you'd be pretty hard pressed to miss that little fact. So regularly and with so much enthusiasm does Red Ninja seem to thrust its camera up Kurenai's skirt that this could well be the most voyeuristic game Xbox has ever seen - and that's without even starting to mention all the head-removing, torso-slicing violence that goes on.
Not that we mind a little bit of graphic bloodshed and titillation now and again, of course. A steady stream of decapitations and bottom shots we can take, but not when the only purpose they serve is to try to distract you from the shambles of a game beneath - and more fool you, Red Ninja, for thinking we wouldn't notice.
It's a bit of a shame really, as things start on a promising note. Much like Activision's Tenchu: Return From Darkness (Issue 28, 8.4), you play a lone ninja who must creep and mutilate your way through large, open-plan levels with the ultimate aim of assassinating a specific character
at the end. And from a story point of view, it's all very well done, an elegant plot of deceit and treachery in feudal Japan giving way to some superbly realised cutscenes.
The weapons and combat moves in Red Ninja are pretty special as well, dishing up a very lethal twist on the standard ninja sword and shuriken fare. Take Kurenai's Tetsugen for instance: a ten-metre long length of razor sharp steel wire that not only helps when it comes to swinging across pits and caverns, but can also be thrown at enemies before being used as an over-sized cheese wire to sever any protruding limbs that happen to get in the way. Painful, but not half as painful looking as Kurenai's thigh-flashing attract move that draws horny guards away from their patrol routes into darkened alleys full of throat-slashing finishing moves.
But, oh dear, what happened to the execution? It's shocking! Red Ninja suffers the most uncooperative camera ever. You actually have to physically WRESTLE with the Right thumbstick just to see what's going on around you, an unforgivable fault for a stealth game. And it's even less help when it comes to navigating the increasingly complex platform sections that Red Ninja insists on blighting you with. To be honest, it's murder.
And it gets worse. Twitchy controls, stupid enemy AI, cheap boss characters, torturous jumping marathons and hair-tearing moments of sheer frustration just because it's not obvious where you have to go next. If Ninja Gaiden is heaven, this makes hell look like a four-week holiday in Majorca.
Maybe if Japanese development team Tranji had spent less time trying to show off Kurenai's posterior and more time tweaking the basic mechanics Red Ninja could have been a half decent alternative to Tenchu. As it is, much like Kurenai herself, this is one game that may look nice from a distance but turns into a right horror show when viewed up close. End of Honour? End of entertainment more like.
Nice ideas and an interesting plot, but Red Ninja's flaws are way too frequent and prominent to make it worth recommending.