To what degree do you have control over your video game self?

In many games, pushing "X" repeatedly will clear out rooms of enemies. Especially in earlier levels, your comparatively-powerful avatar can beat up dozens of baddies, leaving no witnesses. Health drops are usually abundant, and for the most part, you will have defeated a considerable portion of an army without so much as a bruise to show for it.

Well, technically, your avatar will have defeated them - all you did was push "X".

It is when strategy "X" becomes irrelevant that gameplay diverges. You can no longer steamroll through large groups of enemies. This is the point in the game where there is no more hand-holding, and the player is expected to have learned the rules of the game world. A time when strategy becomes a necessity and the boys are separated from the men.

Let me just say that this point occurs about five minutes into Ninja Gaiden Black. There are no apologies. There are no compromises. Heck - there's barely a tutorial. The twenty hours (including re-tries) I spent ankle-deep in blood to finish this game were, for want of a better term, grueling.

Death in Ninja Gaiden is not a punishment - it is a certainty. This game forces you to learn through painful defeat, which is usually followed by another generous helping of painful defeat.

However, failure is the best instructor, and anyone with the dexterity to keep with it will ultimately find a rewarding experience, where every move you make is as intentional as it is stylized, and strategy "X" becomes laughable.

Released in 2005 for Xbox, this game is now an Xbox Live Original title, and can be downloaded for your Xbox 360. Weighing it at over six gigabytes, this will fill up a huge portion of your hard drive, unless you're sporting an "Elite" model console.

These were some of the best visuals the Xbox had to offer, and while they don't hold a candle to modern games, the serviceable graphics don't detract at all from the experience. Ninja Gaiden Sigma, A high resolution version of this game was released for the PS3, but Ninja Gaiden Black is only a fraction of the price as Sigma. Both have the same feature set, but Sigma has current generation graphics.

For the uninitiated, the game follows Ryu Hayabusa on his quest for revenge after his village is massacred in order to retrieve the Dark Dragon Blade, a sword his family is responsible for protecting. Ryu travels across the continent searching for the cursed weapon, eventually leading him to the heart of the Vigoorian empire, home of the demonic Fiends. Needless to say, the plot isn't exactly one of the game's strong suits.

Combat is this game's specialty. The moves you can pull off as Ryu are insane. Though not especially tough, Ryu is fast, agile and accurate. You will commonly have to deal with four or more enemies at once, daisy-chaining attacks until you are the only one left standing. Defeated enemies drop coloured essence, which can be used as currency, health or for Nipo (Ninja Gaiden's version of magic). Ryu can also unleash an ultimate technique, which uses all uncollected essence in the area to fuel a devastating attack. Simply put, this game is a blast to play.

As you progress, you gain new weapons, abilities and move sets for Ryu. In turn, your enemies become more challenging, able to dodge and block attacks, plus unleash some pretty devastating combos of their own. In a few cases, enemies can even chain attacks so that a single hit can cost you a huge portion of your life bar. While totally unfair, this is in line with the precedent set early in the game - it is difficult and demands a high degree of skill. It's hard to fault a game for being consistent. Those who learn to block attacks early are likely to see more success later in the game.

The first time I started a new game, it took an absurdly long time to load - about two to three minutes. After this, however, Ninja Gaiden Black booted very quickly and I was playing in no time. It is a faithful port of the title, and former players will feel right at home.

The "Black" moniker means it has all the content from 2004's Ninja Gaiden, but with all the subsequent downloadable content, a better camera system, some difficulty tweaks and stand-alone missions. Although I made little use of the new Lunar staff, I found the new Kitetsu weapon to be very much to my liking. The missions, which give you a single room, weapon, Nipo ability and a ton of enemies, are as fun as they are challenging. It's a real shame that they don't become available until you beat the main game, as they're great for quick five minute play sessions.

The camera angle was an issue during some boss battles or heavy platforming sessions. A bit annoying, but hardly a deal-breaker. I'm also disappointed by the lack of new features, as the game has the same graphics as the 2005 version, is not Xbox live aware and has no achievements. I also think that six gigabytes is a huge amount of hard drive space to spend on a single game, considering most users will be sporting a premium model. At 1200 Microsoft points, it beats the PS3's price point, but still isn't a great deal.

Still, a great game like this only comes along every so often, and this is a stellar title to own in conjunction with the recent DS Ninja Gaiden and the upcoming Ninja Gaiden 2. Despite its superficial flaws, this is a gameplay experience which can't be missed by anyone who enjoys the God of War or Devil May Cry series'. Highly recommended.