Two words: Ninja butterflies. That should give you a good idea of where this review is going. In Red Ninja: End of Honor, the new third-person action game from Vivendi Universal, you play as a young ninja seeking vengeance for her father’s death. Nothing says vengeance like ninja butterflies. Yes, there are ninja butterflies in abundance in this game. That can’t bode well.

You play as Kurenai – the above-mentioned ninja seeking vengeance. The main feature of this game is her weapon, the Tetsugen. For those of us who are not ninjas, this weapon is basically a long wire with a small sharp weapon attached to one end. Kurenai can impale enemies on it, wrap them up, tie them to trees, or even use it to slice them in half. You can find a total of three different attachments for the end of the weapon. The sharp blade you start with, a hook that lets you climb to higher areas, and a blunt attachment that can knock enemies unconscious. Of the three, the blade emerges as the better option; you can throw it from a distance to impale an enemy, or entangle them in it. If entangled – and you give it a good tug – you can actually sever a foe clean through the middle. Another trick is to throw it, impale an enemy, and then use the length of wire between you and your foe as a deadly clothesline that you can use to cut down other nearby enemies. The blade can also be held and used as a melee weapon when you get up close and personal with the baddies you encounter. This weapon could have been pretty cool, and was a neat idea, but when using it you get the feeling that you don’t have full control. It definitely needed some more development work in order to achieve its full potential.

It’s safe to quench your curiosity now in regards to the intriguing ninja butterflies. It’s hard to know exactly where they came from, but there are butterflies in the game that are referred to as “ninja butterflies”. When you start out, if you see one, you can get gameplay tips from them. That makes sense…a tutorial is always helpful. Later, though, you hook up with a fellow ninja who actually has her own ninja butterflies that do her bidding. Why couldn’t it be ninja serpents, or scorpions? Why butterflies? It’s a ninja game revolving around bloody vengeance, aren’t butterflies a little?tranquil?

The gameplay is not that great. Camera controls can be a pain to control at times and, after your initial twenty minutes of gameplay fun, the wire blade’s uniqueness starts to wear off. After that, the combat becomes somewhat repetitive. Your character can perform a number of ninja skills, like running on walls and stealthy sneaking. She can also seduce in-game enemies, luring them close enough for the kill. Ninja seduction? That’s a first. Butterflies and seduction? This is a ninja version of Mean Girls! The actual gameplay is satisfactory, but with the screwy camera and the repetitive combat, it loses its luster rather quickly.

The game graphics are fairly decent. The characters are all well rendered, nothing astonishingly awesome, but they are definitely above average. The opening cut scene is quite impressive, but it only leads to disappointment when you realize the rest of the game is not portrayed in the same style. The opening scene is all rendered CG, while the in-game cut scenes are realized using the game’s graphics engine – not quite as eye catching. The levels are all fairly impressive but, again, nothing mind-blowing. They emerge as mostly compounds or villages that you have to maneuver through, either avoiding or killing the guards along the way.

The vocal tracks in the game are pretty good, and the music is a fitting mellow classical Asian medley but, aside from this, there is nothing that really grabs attention. It’s nothing bad, but you don’t really notice the audio unless a character begins talking. That is one particularly good aspect of the audio, though. The voice actors do succeed in breathing some deserved life into these characters. The game is all the better for it, although having competent voice actors doesn’t really improve the overall gameplay.

The complete experience, ninja butterflies and all, is nothing to write home about. The gameplay isn’t extraordinary by any means. The graphics, while solid, are not memorable, and the audio falls into a similar category. The voice acting does hold up as pretty good, but doesn’t save the rest of the audio’s mediocrity. The developers had themselves a great concept with the Tetsugen wire weapon, but it falls short of its true potential. Perhaps coding ninjas from a competing game developer sabotaged Red Ninja: End of Honor before it was even out of the gate. Either way, it’s hard to recommend this one. If you’re a ninja-game fundamentalist then rent it if you must – but don’t say you weren’t warned.

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