Games: Nioh on PS4
LOOKING like a samurai-stained take on the uber-hard Dark Souls games, Team Ninja's latest has been on the back burner for so long it was originally a PS3 game.
Beginning life in 2004 as an unfinished Kurosawa script, Team Ninja have spent years fine-tuning their samurai epic to include the best elements of the Souls and Onimusha games for the most punishingly difficult game in recent memory.
A major influence was James Clavell's 1975 rice-potboiler, Shogun, based on the first Western samurai, William Adams.
Tweaking history, Team Ninja have decided to sex-up history a bit by making Billy boy, erm, Irish. While a boy, William loses both parents in the war with England and meets his Guardian Spirit, Saoirse.
The game kicks off with William imprisoned at Her Majesty's pleasure in the Tower of London (the Long Kesh of the day) and soon globetrots to Japan in high style as players fend off demons and loot-dropping warriors.
A game where you must earn your jollies and death is inevitable, players will be constantly riding the pine during Nioh's deadly 50-hour grind.
Using Dark Souls' punishing design language, even the most inconsequential grunt can sing you a lullaby, while the labyrinthine levels and checkpoints will feel eerily familiar to fans of FromSoftware's rock-hard epics.
Spamming buttons won't get you anywhere here while screen-filling bosses require brutal pattern memorization to vanquish.
Nioh, however, does its own thang with combat, where players can change William's fighting stance to focus on defence or attack and switch between four weapons on the fly.
For those who found Dark Souls 3 a bit tired, it's a breath of fresh air.
William heads into battle with all manner of swords, spears, axes and hammers and can pick off enemies from distance with arrows and firearms while, as in Souls, you'll use the essence of defeated foes to upgrade William's skillset.
Keep at least one eye on your Ki meter, though, which is sapped from weapon swings but kept in check with timed button taps, adding a dash of dance game strategy to battles.
It ain't for the lily-livered, but Nioh proves Team Ninja are back, having gone from creating solid gold like the earlier Ninja Gaiden games to unrefined arse like, well, the later Ninja Gaiden games.
For masochists, this is Game of the Year-grade stuff.