XBOX Games: Ninja Gaiden

During the Age of Ancient Myth a race of beings erased from memory defeated the Evil Deities and took under their watchful eye three important artefacts: Dark Dragon Blade, Dragon Sword and Dragon Eye. That duty has been handed down through the generations and now rests in the hands of Hayabusa Clan, which includes bearer of the Dragon Blade, Ryu. Of these items, the Dark Dragon Blade, carved from the very bones of a black dragon, is the most feared weapon, able to transform its wielder into the devil himself. Now Duku, Lord of the Fiends has taken the sword and it's up to Ryu - you - to take it back and destroy it, sealing the fate of the Evil Deities for ever.

Ninja Gaiden

It's a powerful story and NG goes to great lengths to immerse you in the world of the Ninja. You begin in a traditional Japanese village and the attention to details immediately marks this as a top tier development. Watch the lens flare in the setting sun, the leaves drift down from the trees, the way Ryu's outfit wafts with each movement - you're as good as there.

NG transcends usual beat 'em up barriers, moving the story forward via cut- scenes that defy Xbox capabilities and allowing you the freedom of movement and nimble agility for which the Ninja are held in such awe. Ryu has three main attacks: quick hit, hard hit and projectile (bow and arrows, shuriken, etc.). Most of your early action will take place with a blade, but as you progress you will pick up new weapons such as nunchakus and a war hammer. These weapons and moves can be combined into various combos or tweaked through jumps, counters, grabs or power attacks. The latter is particularly impressive. By absorbing the essence of dead souls into your Dragon Blade you can unleash violent combos so quickly you see only the echo of your sprite as he dashes around the level.

However, the liberty found in the controls hasn't made its way to the level design. Awfully linear and a rampant backtracker, it in many ways suffocates the action's superior clarity.

The cut-scenes are the best the Xbox has seen, while the animations and textures complete the package. Just watch the background blur as your sword parts the air on its way to a sticky end. Unfortunately, the collision detection doesn't fare as well and provides the only downfall to an otherwise unparalleled visual onslaught. There's a wonderful score, sweet sound effects and top hair-metal influenced boss music.

A touch of Onimusha, a twist of Devil May Cry and a dab of Prince of Persia, but very much Ninja Gaiden - the story and action will keep you enthralled to its very end. This is essential gaming.

Score Card

Visuals: Serious eye candy

Audio: Realistic and foreboding

Gameplay: Button-bashing fun

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Microsoft

URL: www.ninjagaidengame.comps2