For those unfamiliar, you are Ryu Hayabusa, a descendant of the Dragon Lineage. Your quest, to save you from any spoilers, is essentially to seek out the Fiend Doku and recover the Dark Dragon Blade. On your journey, you'll run into some colorful characters, among them is your other playable character Rachel. She's a Fiend Hunter. You get a few main story missions as her, but most of her action takes place in the unlockable "Mission Mode". That's really it. The game's all action and, like Devil May Cry, the story is really just a part of the game to rub your aching thumbs.
Obviously, the first thing you notice when starting the game (like the demo) are the gorgeous graphics. The box assures us that the game supports 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p, so for that one person who keeps commenting on the fact his/her TV doesn't support 720p but has 1080i, don't worry -- Team Ninja's got your back. Anyway, the graphics are fantastically detailed and there's generally nothing to complain about unless you're really, really critical. Sometimes blood will not splatter across a pillar, rather extend out into the air and stay there. If you run around a lamp, your shadow won't exactly react appropriately, but seriously, who cares about that? It doesn't affect gameplay at all.
Fighting is intense and half of the time, you won't be sure how you're pulling off some of the combos, especially if you haphazardly mash the square and triangle buttons in no particular order. This doesn't work for long and eventually you'll discover what moves work best in what situations. The amount of weapons Ryu can possess are impressive and each has their own learning curve. You can master one weapon, sure, but it'd be a crying shame if you never watched the Lunar or Nunchuku in action. Personally, the new double katana weapon is my favorite, probably because I loved Leonardo from Ninja Turtles. Using Ninpo is an interesting use of the Sixaxis -- shaking it during casting makes the spell stronger. I didn't use Ninpo much at all, but it did seem like it would have been useful ... next time. The enemies you face are varied and each have different approaches you should use. Fighting against another ninja who enjoy dodging and counterattacking? Lob a smoke bomb, roll to their side and slash the hell out of them. Fighting a weird military dude with a shield? Jump attacks or wall attacks break that defense pretty easily. Everyone has a pattern, everything has a strategy. I love that kind of crap. Figuring out a boss pattern, enemy attack patters and formulating appropriate strategies ... that's my kind of shit.
There is one hiccup in battles, though. It's not the difficulty, nor the fault of the developers. You can get so worked up and excited in your battling that Ryu will probably be jumping all around the screen, sometimes too fast for the camera. This is where you can tell the game is a remake of something older -- the camera is a little stiff, especially in tight arenas. Large areas, tight corridors, it's fine. But those arenas can really upset you, forcing you to hit R1 to recenter the camera when you should be defending against that motorcycle ninja playing chicken with you. Don't worry -- that's really all we have to say against this game.
Once you've mastered the gameplay and plugged away at the game for a good 30 hours (it's hard to gauge since you play each mission multiple times due to deaths and such), you'll find yourself at the satisfying end. Or do you? There are numerous unlockables and greater difficulties to test your mettle against. If you want cooler Ryu costumes or Rachel hairstyles, your gaming has just begun. While not the greatest of unlockables, they're still nice. The Mission Mode is a lot of fun, not unlike the Challenge of the Gods mode in God of War. Online functionality is limited, but you can compare your score with the Ninja Masters across the globe. It's daunting, really.
Now we come to our conclusion. Is this game a must have for PlayStation fanboys (those who've never touched the older editions of the game)? Absolutely, without a doubt. You can say "this isn't my type of game" but if you can get over the difficulty and persevere, it's so rewarding. Besides, who could possibly think playing as a ninja is dumb? Unless you're a pirate or maybe a lumberjack, you've no excuse. If you've played the prior games, it's a hit-or-miss issue. As you have read, I absolutely loved the different style of play the Rachel missions offered, but that may not warrant the $60 price tag if you've played the game once or twice. We'd recommend grabbing it at least as a rental, but if you've got the cash to spare, might as well beef up that PS3 library! This game is an amazing must-have and will probably compete for supreme awesomeness even against the holiday lineup. Go thee out and buy this game.
PS3 Fanboy Score: 9.0