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Ninja Gaiden
Platform:  X-Box
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Team Ninja
Publisher:  Tecmo
Features:  The Return of Ryu Hayabusa!
Release Date:  March 02, 2003
...They're almost done with it...Next month, you'll all finally be able to pick up a controller and play the final version of Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox. Judging by the brief, but totally impressive demo, the game will be more than well worth the long wait and delays. Team Ninja is known for pushing both the hardware and gameplay envelopes, and like the awesome re-version of RYGAR from 2002, Ryu Hayabusa's makeover is for the better. The game looks amazing, with controls, sound, and music to match the drool-worthy visuals. Although the build wasn't quite perfect (and pre-release builds never are, folks), it shows off what looks to be an early contender for game of the year, hands down.

The demo starts out with Hayabusa at a cliff near a flight of stone steps. a few fast moves later, and he gets the first of a number of gameplay hints literally tossed his way courtesy of a spike with a note attached. No doubt Team Ninja is also approaching the game with a wickedly sly sense of humor, as some of the notes make reference to button commands and analog stick usage without actually going into overly detailed explanations. Ryu soon makes it to a building infested with fast-moving deadly ninjas thet give you little time to breathe during the dynamic combat scenes.

The controls are like butter sliding in a hot pan, and at no time do you feel like the character is not doing something you don't want him to do. Ryu's moves are all here, so even diehard fans of the NES games will have little to gripe about. The new additions to the basic moves are wall-running in 3D, and a nice running jump/shimmy jump combo. Combat is lightning fast, intuitive, and quite bloody as Ryu slices through enemies on all sides. The enemy AI is pretty damn tough on the normal mode, and even more relentless on hard. The demo has 3 different weapons for Hayabusa to use, a powerful katana, a pair of curved cleavers that are chained together and do a great dicing combo job on enemies, and a HUGE 100-pound sword with a blade that's shaped like flames. This weapon may remind some of something out of a Final Fantasy game or Guts' massive swinger from Sword of the Berserk, but thanks to the excellent sound effects, this blade sounds a hell of a lot more convincing. all of the weapons have some great combo attacks, and chaining them together and learning to block is a must, especially when you're swarmed by fast-moving ninjas on all sides.

Graphics are solid and quite incredible with some breakable items scattered about. There are also a few trap doors or hidden panels Ryu needed to pass through in order to find everything and proceed onto a stunning boss battle. The only issue seems to be some occasional camera hiccups is certain corners, but this is certain to be ironed out in the final version, due (at last) this March. Until then, I'll be playing this one every day until I can make it through on Hard without getting hit once...

- Greg Wilcox

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