It slices and dices!
Composer Igor Stravinsky once said, “Good composers borrow, great composers steal.” One can’t help but wonder if the team behind Ninja Blade took these words to heart while creating their new genre bouncing adventure. You can find elements of popular and successful franchises from the likes of Capcom, Tecmo, Konami, Sony, and even a little hint of Ubisoft. But it’s both a blessing and a curse, as while it’s still fun to play, it seems to have trouble finding a unique voice of its own.
[image1]In a lot of ways, the game is reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden. It’s got the same big-city, tiny-ninja feel down to a tee. You play as Ken, because there’s already a ninja named Ryu. Working as a member of an elite black-ops military group, you are sent into Tokyo to fight off an infestation of "Alpha Worms" that burrow through the human body, causing demon-like mutations in their victims.(Resident Evil/Parasite Eve much?) During the operation, it becomes apparent that your sensei/father and your best friend have become infected when they flip out and totally kill everybody. Ken somehow survives and sets off to stop the infestation, get revenge, and show these monsters what real ultimate power looks like.
Much of the excitement takes place on the rooftops of Japan, but each level has its own unique twist, usually making for a pleasant gameplay break in a genre that usually finds itself drowning in the monotony of hack, slash, collect orbs, repeat. Tasks such as stopping giant bugs from destroying the wings of the carrier ship you’re on, saving hostages stuck in a burning building and hunting down giant invisible exploding rolly-polly bugs before time runs out and everything goes up in flames keep the game engaging.
Action is split up into various genre staples. Combat is a mix of combo-intense enemy hacking and quick time events with some rail shooting and platforming thrown in to spice things up. You have three swords to work with through most of the story, each with their own unique abilities. You can use your giant broadsword to smash through walls and enemy shields, or you can bust out your extending twin blades for some of the bloodiest double dutch action you’ve ever seen. You’ll also have a Dark Sector–style glaive weapon that can harness the elements. Much of the action will remind fans of the Devil May Cry series. Even upgrading weapons and abilities uses a bloodstone currency system similar to DMC’s.
[image2]Fighting is all about finding the right tool for the job. You could go through most of the game using only one sword, but you’re probably not going to have a good time – especially when it comes to some of the gigantic bosses you’ll face. And you will fight a lot of giant monsters: giant, flying, three-headed hydras, humongous spiders, hot chicks with snakes growing out of their torsos. And while there is a lot of variety in the bosses you’ll face, sadly the same cannot be said for the lesser bad guys. While you will encounter some variations, most of the time you’re fighting off the same disfigured grunt over and over. Sometimes I think that there’s a factory somewhere just busting these guys out on an assembly line.
God of War-esque quick-time events are littered generously through every level. If you fight something bigger than a grunt, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to have to play out a time-based button-pushing brawl. And although the action is impressive from a cinematic angle, such as surfing on a missile or riding a motorcycle while dodging electric fireballs with more flair and style than Keanu Reeves in a trenchcoat, there’s just too much of it.
There were even a few times when I thought a level was over and I would get to enjoy some well-deserved plot development, only to have a button flash on the screen with desperate imperativeness. As cool as it looks to land a plane on a freeway using only your "mad ninja skillz", after fighting a giant monster, it would be nice to take a break and soak up the atmosphere. At least failing is not that detrimental and will only rewind you back a few steps in the overall sequence.
Many levels include a rail-shooting segment as well. It adds a little Sega arcade-style flair to the experience and to the already eclectic flavor of the game’s overall experience. In fact, I think I would’ve liked to have seen more shooting and less Dragon’s Lair quick-time play, as it’s way more fun to blow away a worm that looks like it came straight out of Tremors with a giant rocket-shooting turret than it is to try and quick time it to death.
[image3]You also have a special ability called ninja vision that functions similarly to the Eagle Vision of Assassin’s Creed, and while it’s useful for finding hidden objects and showing you the way to your objective, it also causes the screen to become blurry for a short period of time after use. While I can see why they’ve included the temporary vulnerability of blindness, I found it painful to actually look at the screen. My eyes would try to focus and get confused. I don’t know if I’m actually complaining or applauding its inclusion, but it just adds frustration. It’s like one of those magic eye pictures.
While there are parts where things get very difficult, nothing ever gets Ninja Gaiden impossible. You will die and fight the same giant crab monster several times, but not as much as you think you’re going to. Items hidden through each level add to the replay value as finding certain objects will unlock new ninja costumes (I love me some leopard print ninja garb) and headband symbols, upgrade your health and ninja vision, and unlock some hidden environments. The ability to customize your outfit into a stealthy fashion statement or make yourself look like a retarded Ronald McDonald assassin is a nice touch.
If you enjoyed Ninja Gaiden, Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Devil May Cry, Dragon’s Lair, Resident Evil, etc… then you will find something that you’ll like in Ninja Blade, because there’s a little bit of all of them in here. Just make sure that you have some eye drops handy for after all the quick-time events, since your eyes are going to be dry from not blinking.