Tuesday, March 30, 2010

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a PS2: March

Okay, so my favorite local second hand, MUST HAVE MUSIC AND MORE, has a slew of Playstation 2 games and recently I discovered that a great number of them are being sold for the low, low price of $4.95.  For those of you who have been following along at home, this is how I came across Pryzm , Chapter One: The Last Unicorn, that little gem that I alone made famous last year!  As I was browsing through the stacks the other day I saw a good number of these $5 games that looked at the very least interesting, if not potential diamonds in the rough.  After thinking it over I came to a conclusion:  The PS2 has a vast library and very few catch the attention of the popular culture, but lots and lots of games get released. Somewhere in those stacks of discarded, unloved games must be some really great games just looking for someone to play them and at the risk of five dollars a go, I think it’s worth finding just what is out there.  The result is this on-going experiment, a journey that you and I are going to take through the unwanted library of the PS2.  So strap in, kiddies, we’ve got twelve months, sixty dollars, and a Playstation2 and we’re about to discover what we’ve been missing!


Red Ninja: End of Honor
Vivendi Universal

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am going to tell you right away that we have a winner!  Red Ninja is great and soon I’ll tell you why, but first an admission: this game was not priced at $5.  But fear not, our sacred bond remains unbroken, despite the sub-title of this month’s game, I retain my honor.  You see, I was browsing the stacks at MUST HAVE MUSIC AND MORE, and I commented on this game as I inspected its jacket art (and the buxom young Japanese lady spilling out all over it), “too bad this isn’t $5,” I remarked and put the game back on the shelf.  After about ten minutes of hemming and hawing, really more hawing than anything not big on the hemming, I selected Corvette: 50th Anniversary and headed to the counter.  “Looks like this month it’s going to be Corvette,” I said to my guy behind the counter.  “I can’t let you do that,” says he.  “That game is miserable.  Don’t do it.  What was that game you put back that wasn’t five dollars?”  “Red Ninja, it was $6.95.” “I’ll let you have it for five, you do a lot of business here, I don’t mind giving you a break if it saves you from Corvette.”  And so you see, my friends, because of the good nature of my guy at the second hand, I was able to bring you the following review of a game that can be found for $5, even if you have to work a deal every now and then.  I’ll probably still go get that Corvette game at some point; you people don’t get off that easy…
But before you think this column is some kind of “Day in the Life of Stan” soap opera, let’s talk about killing people with stealth and lots and lots of blood!  
As I said before, Red Ninja is a sure winner and I have no idea why this game isn’t a heralded classic alongside its contemporaries like God of War.  If you are not familiar with this title, imagine Lara Croft as a petite, badass Japanese girl who can, and will, kill with a whisper.  Yeah, I know.  Red Ninja is a platforming game that requires an inordinate amount of stealth and cunning as well as problem solving and fighting prowess.  As a matter of fact, if you conduct yourself properly you won’t do much fighting at all.  This game is all about using your vast ninja skills to infiltrate the deadly Black Lizard Clan and seek out those who left you for dead.  During the course of your missions, you’ll encounter deadly assassins, savage betrayals and a mystery that runs as deep as the blood you’re going to spill.

The game play is phenomenal.  Levels are complex and require a variety of tasks to reach completion.  There are small puzzles to solve, enemies to evade or dispatch, and tricky jumps and maneuvers that all work together to create an interesting and engaging game.  Each level is capped off by a boss fight that is generally a blend of ninja strategy and carefully executing fighting.  The boss fight at the end of level two is an amazing blend of cunning tactics and straightforward blood-letting.   To succeed in your mission, you will have to execute a series of serious ninja moves.  From ripping bad guys in half with your line, to dangling upside down from trees to slit the throat of unsuspecting passers-by, to running up the side of buildings, and even using your feminine wiles to seduce horn-dog guards, you will run the gamut of very cool ninja skills during your quest.
Graphically, Red Ninja is gorgeous.  Lush backgrounds and highly interactive environments frame this epic adventure.  The cast of characters are nicely rendered with fine detail and minimal polygonal dithering.  Not to reveal my supreme dorkiness, but this game is about an extremely hot Japanese girl in very little clothing.  You do the math. But be warned, there is a lot of blood.  The game is aptly named, not just for the kimono that Kuranei, your character, wears, but for the copious amounts of blood that is spilled in combat.  Sometimes this game makes Mortal Kombat look like a Disney title
If Red Ninja has one flaw, it lies in the inconsistent camera angles.  Most of the time the camera is fine and when it is not, you can readjust, but occasionally the camera will get stuck in a bad position and there isn’t much you can do about.  Couple that with the fact that, depending on where you are standing, you sometimes have an incredibly limited view of your surroundings, even if it would seem logical that you should be capable of a better view, and frustration can quickly mount.  Another minor quibble comes from the difficulty of executing some of the more advanced ninja skills.  In level 3 you gain the ability to tie enemies up with the Fundo.  Part of this ability enables you to string bad guys up and literally hang them noose-style or by their feet for a good throat slashing.  Sounds like fun, huh?  Well, despite hours of practice I have been unable to successfully execute this maneuver (pun unavoidable).  I have no doubt it can be done, but some of the moves are not as intuitive as they could be.

Despite those minor criticisms, I have to say that Red Ninja is easily one of the coolest PS2 games I have played and certainly one of the best action-platformers I have played for a modern system.  Being a big fan of Tomb Raider, this game certainly strikes a chord with me, but I think there is something here for anyone who likes this genre.  The gruesome nature of this game may give it an adult rating, but the game play is straight up fun and the graphic nature is incidental not gratuitous, well, not entirely…
Anyway, if you can find a copy of Red Ninja, I highly advise you add it to your collection!  Next month, I have my eyes on a game that cannot be very good, but who knows what I’ll find when I wander into the shop…

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