If by a man's work shall ye know him, Tomonobu Itagaki is a smashed Xbox 360 control pad. In fact, he's a special kind of smashed Xbox 360 control pad. He's the kind that was desecrated in a frenzied tantrum of bile and frustration, its destruction soundtracked by a stream of vitriolic swearwords so extreme any senior citizens within earshot would spontaneously combust.
2011 is set to be the year Team Ninja emerges from the shadow cast by the departure of Tomonobu Itagaki with new games in the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden franchises. Dimensions, the first DOA fighting game in over five years, is a launch window title for the 3DS, and Ninja Gaiden 3, still without announced platforms, has been described as a reboot. Exciting times.
When everyone else appears obsessed with making games more 'accessible' (boo!) and 'family friendly' (hiss!), what a pleasure it is to welcome back to the gaming fold Tomonobu Itagaki's unapologetically hardcore take on the veteran Ninja Gaiden series.
The 2004 Xbox-exclusive revival of the action-adventure boasted a complex but brutally unforgiving combat system which caused many a gamer's resolve to collapse in the face of the massive challenge. But for the brave of heart (and vast of patience) who persevered and mastered its intracacies, it became one of the defining action titles of the last generation.
It seems apt, then, that the much-hyped sequel should once again appear exclusively on an Xbox console - a system that cannot shake its hardcore reputation, try as Microsoft's marketing ninjas might. But it's a tag that developer Team Ninja sports with pride - and celebrates with a sea of crimson carrying forth the fleshy remains of a thousand severed limbs.
Ninja Gaiden is the franchise that never was, a famous videogame brand that has clocked up over ten titles without ever adhering to any consistent continuity. These are games that play almost identically, yet often have little in common beyond the name of the lead character and a propensity for fiendish difficulty levels. But still they endure, most recently revived and resuscitated by the mercurial talents of Tomonobu Itagaki and Team Ninja. Today gamers fidget in anticipation to see what the outspoken development wizard has come up with. Two decades ago, however, Ninja Gaiden was just getting started, launching in the arcades and on the NES in a peculiar criss-cross release pattern.
Team Ninja main man Tomonobu Itagaki reckons Ninja Gaiden II will be "the world's premier action game", and as hyperbolic as that sounds, there's a good chance it will be. The brand's certainly built on firm foundations - back in March 2004, Tom reckoned the Xbox original was "one of the finest action games ever made". But that was then, and plenty of challengers have come along since that have been even more spectacular - not to mention far more accessible. Ninja Gaiden could give most hardcore gamers a bloody nose at ten paces.
"Can I have some I.D, sir?"