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Ninja Gaiden III

Hayabusted open.

The logic is sound. For decades gamers have been called upon to rescue the American president, be it indirectly in staving off threat of invasion to US soil in Modern Warfare or directly, in thwarting kidnap attempts in Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja.

One way or another, we've saved the President more times than Princess Peach. So no wonder Team Ninja has turned to the British Prime Minister in search of an alternate international figure to assume the role of hostage in need of rescue. Variety is the spice of life. Even for a cold, emotionless ninja like Ryu Hayabusa.

Nevertheless, as compelling premises go, Ninja Gaiden III's opening political gambit is lost a little in translation. David Cameron is about as unappealing a damsel in distress as it's possible to imagine (try it now: that reflection-in-the-back-of-a-spoon visage, framed by a flowing blonde wig, fluttering fake eyelashes at you as you carry him in your arms down the winding staircases of Big Ben).

Besides, Cameron always has his sleeves so precisely rolled-up in public in order to show the nation that he's perpetually primed for action. Let him fight off the bogie men. A few flesh wounds might inspire him to hang on to the NHS a little longer. At the very least get a Brit to carry out the rescue attempt. Perhaps we could get Lara Croft back from raiding those foreign tombs (or better still, a man!). Those Japanese ninjas, coming over here, stealing our jobs.

While satire might be some way down the list of Team Ninja's aims and objectives in this, the first Ninja Gaiden to be developed away from the steering hand of series producer Tomonobu Itagaki, lazy stereotyping appears to be top priority.

The 20-odd minute E3 demo features a parade of English clichés, from the Dick Van Dyke cockney accents of the Prime Minister's kidnappers you slice and dice around Downing Street ("Looks like we've got another Jack The Ripper on our hands" remarks one soldier upon finding his chopped up comrade, with biting 19th Century relevance), to the heavy fog that swirls around.

But beneath the stereotypes, Ninja Gaiden III enjoys many of the characteristics that, before Bayonetta at least, had made this Japan's premier hack and slash export. You've two primary sword attacks: one light, one heavy. Stringing these adjectives together in different combinations will create a variety of brutal offensive sentences.

Combos can be maintained and swelled by throwing pitter-patter shuriken between attacks, and occasionally a QTE-style button press will pop-up on screen in the middle of a sequence, a trigger for a more spectacular set-piece finishing move. Likewise, after a sufficient number of successive hits, Hayabusa's fist will glow red, a signal that you can insert an earth-shaking special move which will see the ninja automatically flit from enemy to enemy in the immediate vicinity, killing each in a flurry of lethal cuts.

As yet there is no combo counter on the HUD, so there seems to be less emphasis on high-score multipliers than in genre cousins Devil May Cry and Bayonetta here. Nevertheless, there's a steady stream of enemies thrown in your direction as you fight in streets with upturned Routemaster buses in the light of a silvery, Peter Pan moon. In the moment-by-moment interactions the game dazzles, with quick, responsive attacks that pack a visceral punch, showing the team's pedigree, even in the absence of its sensei.

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Ninja Gaiden 3

PS3, Xbox 360

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Simon Parkin


Simon Parkin is an award-winning writer and journalist from England, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The Guardian and a variety of other publications.