Ninjas Don't Cry
Ninja Gaiden II, the latest installment in Tecmo's classic action series, opens with a cut scene featuring a new character, Sonia, a woman with a shaggy mop of white-blonde hair, a prominent Greek nose, clear blue eyes and tight leather clothes. She's at a little shop in Tokyo, asking after Ryu Hayabusa, hero of the Ninja Gaiden games, when somebody busts through the door: a ninja of the Black Spider Clan, ancient enemies of Ryu's Dragon Lineage.
Sonia draws two .45 automatics and plugs the unfortunate Spider ninja in the belly. She steps outside and shoots another one right in the face mask. A third ninja knocks the guns out of her hands. The pistols fall to the wooden deck, and the camera zooms in on them. One lies in shadow, the other in light.
The Spider ninjas wrap Sonia up in chains and loom over her, waggling their big, menacing, claw-like weapons. Then shurikens whirl through the Tokyo night, neatly dispatching the bad guys. The last one standing doesn't notice as Ryu himself approaches behind him. Ryu cleaves his foe in two at the shoulder, stands over the helpless Sonia and flicks the gore off his blade. She looks up at him plaintively.
Imposed over these images of Ryu and Sonia meeting for the first time are the following words: "Directed by Tomonobu Itagaki."
What's on display here is the bad blood between two game series, Ninja Gaiden and Capcom's Devil May Cry. Sonia is a mockery of Dante, hero of Devil May Cry, a white-blonde, blue-eyed guy with a prominent Greek nose and a propensity for leather. He wields a pair of .45 autos called Ebony and Ivory. The placement of Itagaki's name on the shot of Ryu standing over a helpless parody of Dante sends a message: Ninja Gaiden, not Devil May Cry, stands at the crest of Hardcore Hill.
But who gets that joke? Who cares about such archaic, macho grandstanding? Who is Itagaki's message really for?
The answer is: the worst possible videogame customer.
The Hardcore Suicide Pact
Developers of games like Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry cater to hardcore players, but who is this kind of player and why is he such a bad customer? What does the term "hardcore" really mean?
"Striving to be the best at the game," says Robert "Sneh" Caron, one of the top posters at iberiansngrealm.com, a site devoted to high-level Ninja Gaiden play. I first visited it for its videos, which showcase the immense gaming possibilities of Ninja Gaiden. Sneh has put up some of the best vids for Mission Mode, an unlockable game that places Ryu in a series of increasingly difficult arena challenges.