Red Ninja: End of Honor Impressions

We take a look at VU Games' upcoming stealth action game at GDC 2004.

VU Games brought its upcoming stealth action game Red Ninja: End of Honor along for the ride at Game Developers Conference 2004. The game will let you play as Kurenai, a "kunoichi" (Japanese term for female ninja) in 16th century Japan. Kurenai is apparently seeking revenge for the murder of her father at the hands of an evil ninja clan, which also ambushed her and left her for dead by hanging her with a "tetsugen" (a traditional ninja weapon that consists of a long, thin wire with a blade at one end). Kurenai manages to recover the tetsugen and claims it as her own, henceforth using it as the primary weapon for exacting her revenge.

Red Ninja takes place across eight main levels, though these levels consist of huge environments that are broken up into "sublevels." Each sublevel has a different look and feel. We saw, among others, a deserted village in the late afternoon on a dusty hillside, a stony fortress lined with huge pillars, and a mountain range with tenuous handholds and footholds. While the game's environments won't always be easy to navigate, Kurenai is a tremendously skilled ninja, so she can not only leap great distances but can also briefly run across walls and use her tetsugen as a grappling hook. Some of the game's tougher jumping puzzles will require you to use these two abilities in tandem by running across a sheer cliff face and latching onto a ledge that's just out of reach. Then you must swing the rest of the way across. Many of the game's levels will also let you take multiple approaches to completing them. In many cases, you'll be able to complete a level either through stealth or by fighting your way through it.

Red Ninja's combat system affords Kurenai a surprising number of options while seemingly remaining easy to use. While she runs by default, Kurenai can also walk, which causes her to automatically sneak. Additionally, she can flatten herself against a wall to peer around corners. While sneaking, Kurenai can perform a "stealth kill," and you'll know that an enemy guard is vulnerable because a Japanese "kanji" character will appear above his head. When Kurenai successfully performs a stealth kill, the camera will change slightly, and the game will show a brief cinematic sequence during which Kurenai slits her enemy's throat or disposes of him in some other grisly fashion. (It's not as if Kurenai's standard combat tactics are especially humane either.)

Kurenai's main weapon is her tetsugen, which she can hurl at a specific enemy after locking on. Hurling the cord causes the blade at the end to embed itself into her opponent (the weapon starts off with a small blade by default, though you'll be able to pick up additional weapon add-ons later in the game--and these will be revealed at a later date). Kurenai can then jerk the cord toward her, thus tearing out the blade and severely injuring her rival. She can also run with the cord extended to use it to chop up any other enemies who happen to be chasing her, and the chopping comes complete with appropriately visceral sound effects. Furthermore, she can aim her tetsugen at specific body parts. By default, locking onto an enemy makes you aim at the torso, though quickly pressing up on your controller targets the head and pressing down targets the legs. In addition, just after throwing the tetsugen, the targeting reticle will flash white for an instant. If Kurenai retracts her weapon at this exact moment, she'll make a "critical kill" that instantly downs her opponent. Your stealth kills and other exploits will be recorded in a scoring screen that will appear at the end of each of the game's eight main levels. Red Ninja is scheduled to ship later this year for the PS2 and the Xbox.

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