by Chuck Aliaga
The latest in a recent trend of martial arts-based video games, Red Ninja: End of Honor features gameplay that is all over the place, with shoddy, confusing camera work. The game can be fun, sexy, and very gory at times, but it is far too easy, and features an unengaging story line.
Vivendi Universal's latest addition to the current onslaught of Sony Playstation 2 video game software is the action-adventure, Red Ninja: End of Honor. Sporting one of the coolest covers of the year (the image of blood flying after the heroine of the game has just finished slashing someone is an instant eye-grabber), I was psyched to give this promising blood-spurter (it's rated M for Mature) a whirl.
Unfortunately, Red Ninja: End of Honor turned out to be a sub-par knock off of far-superior semi-free-roaming martial arts games like Ninja Gaiden and Tenchu. There's nothing really unique at all to give this new arrival its own place in the ever-expanding ninja genre.
We meet our busty Japanese cover girl, Kurenai, as she is discussing war strategy with her father, an important Japanese engineer. When a clan of ninjas comes after the plans for a weapon that her father has been working on, her father soon becomes a casualty and Kurenai finds herself hanging from a tree by a thin wire called "tetsugen." A woman from the Shingen Takeda clan (one of the warring clans; the other is the Nobunaga Oda) rescues Kurenai and trains her to be a ninja herself.
After such a compelling back story brought to us by a nice sequence of animation, the game's story becomes a let-down during the very first stage. Throughout the game, numerous random characters are introduced and then disappear, wrecking any momentum the story has.
The gameplay isn't very compelling either, as there is a targeting system in place to aid with using the tetsugen. Once it latches onto a target, pulling back on it can sever an enemy in half, which is a nice, gory touch the first couple of times, but gamers will soon realize that this tactic makes the game very simple to get through. The sword and knives can also be used to carve bad guys up, but the power that the tetsugen has over them is far too much for skilled gamers who demand a bit more longevity from their experiences. The sad thing is that the game is easy enough for teenagers who are honing their overall videogaming skills, but far too violent and sexually oriented for this demographic to even come near, let alone play for hours.
Another of Kurenai's combat tactics is her tendency to utilize her sexiness and skimpy attire to lure the evil ninjas into an easy attack. In employing this technique, Kurenai rests against a wall and performs a variety of sexy maneuvers, including showing the ninjas some leg. Most of the ninjas are dumb enough to fall prey to her charms, making the kill far too easy for Kurenai. The ones that aren't enamored with her come right at her, but are still just as easy to kill as they are when the tetsugen is in play.
It is nice that one is able to maneuver Kurenai freely among the levels, but you do eventually have to complete a given level's assigned tasks, so the free roaming is far from being as expansive as games like GTA: San Andreas or Spider-Man 2. Plus, the camera movement becomes excruciatingly annoying the more Kurenai is jumping around and scaling walls. It's so easy to completely lose your bearings with every movement that the poor camera movement almost single-handedly brings the game crashing to its knees.
Everything looks very good, though, with none of the annoying slowdown that many games like this suffer from, and the aforementioned animated clips are quite entertaining and crisp. The sound quality is above average as well, making liberal use of the surround speakers during most of the game.
Hopefully Red Ninja: End of Honor is just a small bump in the road for Vivendi Universal, as I'm sure they'll come back swinging with their next video game effort.