The third instalment in this long-standing epic is about to be unleashed on the games buying public. Our hero is set to return to Tibet to face his arch enemy, the high priest who turned evil and made life a tad difficult for the friendly neighbourhood ninja.
Well, actually this is sort of the fourth installment but only the third that System 3 are happy to endorse. When they were with Activision they did Last Ninja I, and very successful it was too, but halfway through Last Ninja 2 they split from Activision, and signed the unfinished title over to them for Activision's in-house team to finish.
The game was then released and was acclaimed by all and sundry - the world, his wife and some of his more astute relatives - as being a bit of a dog. Now, System 3 were understandably a bit miffed about this, especially as their logo was plastered all over the packaging in a rather obtrusive manner.
So to redress the imbalance they got on with doing Last Ninja Remix, or This Is How Last Ninja 2 Should Have Been And We've Got Our Names As Developers To Think About. This version received the now standard rave reviews and everyone was happy.
Then having recovered in a typically bullish in a typically bullish manner. System 3 set about work on the third and final installment in the series, imaginatively entitled Last Ninja 3. Back to the story...
Like very good ninja, our hero has finally come to that ultimate battle. He has reached the pinnacle of his physical and spiritual condition, he is at one with himself and everything around him, piece flows like nectar through his body, nothing can disrupt his state of mind.
After meditating for what could have been an eternity, but was more likely to have been during the ads in Coronation Street, he has become aware of the task that lies before him. The evil aura that emanates from the Tibetan monastery where his nemesis awaits has reached him, and he knows that he is the only man on the planet who can even begin to think about taking this guy on.
Does this make him the stupidest man on the planet? Entirely possible - it also makes him one big chuffing hero for the world, but no one will ever know of his epic struggle. Well, apart from you.
The monastery is divided into five levels of consciousness where, following the impressive opening animation that shows matey boy sneaking over the wall, our hero must fight through hordes of soldiers and solve numerous puzzles before coming face to face with his arch foe, a demi-god slightly smaller than the Sphinx.
The five levels represent the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water, the fifth being void, a non-element that gives us the chance to see Ninja in space, sort of.
Each level, while graduated according to difficulty of the foes, presents the player with different puzzles that must be solved if the level is to be completed. These puzzles generally involve finding a scroll that gives the key to the next level and it may well be clearly visible but it's never easily accessible.
For example, the first level puts the scroll over a hole in a ledge. It's impossible to get to, but above the hole on another ledge is a rock. The idea is to collect the items you need to make the rock fall - not too difficult, but a bit of deduction is required to suss out exactly what is required. The fighting logic has been improved as well. Last Ninja Remix suffered slightly because the fight controls were very complex, especially if you wanted to make your character turn around.
These new controls are extremely straightforward: you just push your joystick the way you want to face in the time-
Fighting a bigger opponent gives you the chance to build up your Bushido Power. This is represented by a dragon at the bottom of the screen, when it is completely green you are at your maximum, making it easier to fight. The problem is that if you avoid fights or just blast away with the old shurikens, your Bushido is going to grow about as fast as a cactus. You have to fight a lot but you also need to become familiar with weapons so that if you come across a nunchuka-
But why worry? Well, the thing is, if your Bushido is not nigh enough it will be nearly impossible to defeat the end-of-level guardian, and all this puzzle solving and scroll finding would be in vain.
The game keeps the same 3D isometric viewpoint as in previous incarnations and the sprite location has been improved so that the number of pillars or trees that the characters can walk, fight and pee behind has been increased, with no drop in quality.
Another big improvement is the sprite detection. Previously, when you felt the need to pick something up you had to be in a pixel-
Graphically it looks pretty slick but it couldn't be called ground-
Among this is the fighting of droves and droves of martial arts experts who are more than willing to bend your knee backwards and call you Susan.
Sound is nothing special and you may find that the tune will soon annoy anyone in the area who isn't playing, but some bone-
But this game is more about gameplay than mind-