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The Player 

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Ninja Gaiden Sigma

Rated Mature; PlayStation 3 & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n the most recent PlayStation 3 game, I dash across the surface of a pond, tippy-toe in my tabi socks like a lightning-fast Christ. The feat is accomplished not so much with skill as with faith. Instead of pressing buttons to start my feet fluttering across the ripples, I simply rush forward onto the water. As long as I keep moving, I can patter along the surface.

All of the tricks of a ninja are built automatically into Ninja Gaiden Sigma, which is "the real reason you bought a PS3," according to a quote from PlayStation Magazine blasted across the back of the game box. Even though PSM drew their conclusion back in April, before the game was actually finished, I agree with them. I plunked down half-a-G for a PlayStation 3 expecting to at least be able to walk on water.

I wasn't expecting an updated black ninja suit with fetishistic stomach straps, and thighs as round and bright as polished car bumpers. But the game's designers probably needed some way to show off Ninja Gaiden Sigma's impressive graphics engine, and a bulging black suit certainly catches the light.

It's not an unobtrusive costume, but the ninjistics in Ninja Gaiden Sigma are far from secretive. If there's a hallway, I'm going to have to dash down it, possibly by running sideways along the wall. If there's a large open room, I'm going to have to run through its center, and I may be required to jump several stories straight up into the air partway through. Staying silent and invisible is not a priority. In Ninja Gaiden Sigma, I have all of the powers of a ninja and none of the paranoia.

Even if I wanted to be sneaky, I can't crouch down -- no covert ducking or crawling. It's much easier for me to jump forward in a pale blue lightning bolt and slice my katana neatly through the neck of an enemy ninja, sending his head lolling into a corner of the room. The blood splotches he leaves behind on the ground are identical to one another, and can hang off the edges of steps as though suspended on panes of glass.

THE GOOD: Running on water is easy. Throwing stars fling themselves out of my hands in the proper direction. I never need to be quiet. Perhaps because Ninja Gaiden Sigma performs many of the tricks of the ninja trade automatically for me, the game's designers have occasionally amplified the difficulty to extreme levels. Enemies range from mystic ninjas to flak-suited shock troops armed with guns and other modern weapons, relentless and ingenious in their aggression.

THE BAD: The game's 60 frames of animation per second are not used for finessing the combat to the degree of the PS3's fight-redefining Virtua Fighter 5. The attacks in Ninja Gaiden Sigma are smoothly animated and the button-combinations required to execute them are supremely simple. I can attack from a standing position, or from a jumping one -- it's even more primitive than the Nintendo's early digital watch game Boxing.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a frenetic button-mashing action game splashed with blood spatter after identical blood spatter.

4/5 Stars

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