The good old light gun game has enjoyed something of resurgence this year with the likes of Vampire Night, End Game and Dino Stalker all helping to keep the RSI count high among twitch gamers everywhere.
And the prospect of another mindless blaster from Namco - the kings of the genre - was quite an appealing prospect given its heritage and track record over the years, and any excuse to plug in the G-Con 2 is always eagerly accepted, if only to prove that our arcade skills haven't deserted us.
A gun wielding Ninja?
Ninjas and guns, though, don't sound like a particularly likely combination, do they? But suspend your disbelief for a moment, because you've been assigned the task of rescuing Princess Kuto from the clutches of 'evil warlord' Sikai-oh, who wants to get his grubby hands on the mythical Mach Gun, which - eek - has the power to enslave the world.
In true Namco style, there are not one, but two bodyguards, Gurun and Gunjo (handy for two player action, eh readers?), who have to save the Princess with their 'sharp shooting' ability (as opposed to something more logical, like their deadly Ninja skills).
So, spurious storyline aside, Ninja Assault is a straight up shooter that arcade gamers might be familiar with, seeing as it's a port of the game of the same name from a couple of years back. And again, in true Namco style, the PS2 version has been lavished with exclusive extras to tempt the punters, including new modes (Story and Jujistsu), a new female character to play as, multiple endings, and other hidden extras.
The game itself features the usual plethora of diabolical cut scenes and stilted Japlish voiceovers interspersing the actions, although somehow Namco has managed to excel itself this time around with truly some of the hammiest acting ever seen in a modern videogame.
Kill kill kill, death, kill
Game wise, you hardly need to be reminded what is on the agenda here: shoot the bad guys before they shoot/stab/maim you. And, as usual you're given a massive number of enemies to shoot, and very little time to actually dispose of them, which inevitably means firing like a complete lunatic, waving around your gun as if your life depends upon it.
Ninja Assault sticks pretty much directly to the tried and tested formula: pop a cap in a few enemies, try and get the secret items, camera moves you onto the next area, more baddies, maybe a mini cut scene, and the inevitable end of level boss encounter.
Sadly, it's abundantly clear from the off that the game has been rather too faithfully ported from the arcade. The graphics, being of 2000 vintage, are woefully short of the standard that next gen console owners demand these days, with some of the worst examples of blurry texturing and old school character models we've seen on the PS2. At times it's so bad that you're left wondering if in fact this was a PSone title that had a last minute scrub up; how does seams, jaggies, and awful scenery grab you?
Another fairly unacceptable facet of Ninja Assault is the fact that on default settings (i.e. Normal difficulty, eight continues) that we managed to clear the Gurun story mode on our first go. Admittedly the continues were used (who doesn't?), but once you've played it through once, there's very little compulsion to see what terrible voice acting there is on the other two episodes. Unless you're feeling really masochistic.
Mini game in more ways than one
But fortunately that's not all there is to Ninja Assault. The Jujitsu mini game mode is excellent fun, with a series of fast paced challenges against the clock testing your reflexes to the limit. Although again, you'll have most probably polished them off in no time, leaving just the two player mode as the only long term fun offered. For Ł40, there really isn't enough gameplay to warrant this level of expenditure.
And to compound the misery, the age old issue of Wide Screen TV incompatibility rears its ugly head once again. It would be nice if one day we could play a gun game on a wide screen TV, or is that just wishful thinking? But hey, at least Namco has bothered including a 60Hz mode in the PAL conversion, which is one crumb of comfort. Maybe Namco could consider porting its arcade titles a little quicker too, as the technical leaps made since this originally appeared are all too apparent.
For real die hard fans of the genre, you might want to give it a try, as it's still a competent example of what this fast, furious genre can offer, but for the rest of us, it's perhaps better to consider renting it when you fancy a few hours of intense blasting.