April 23, 2009
As anyone who knows me (or reads any of my reviews – you poor souls) will tell you – I like ninjas. Hell, we ALL like ninjas. Ninjas are cool and if you say otherwise then I’m inclined to think that you are just going against popular opinion in order to make yourself look cool. But you are NOT cool and ninjas are cooler than you: FACT. Aside from my slightly deranged rant though, it is fair to say that games starring mysterious warriors with throwing stars have always fared well. None more so, in recent years, than Ninja Gaiden which has always been slightly off putting to newcomers due to the rather sadistic difficulty level on show. Hopefully Ninja Blade will prove to be more than a simple copy and paste job and will actually make such shenanigans available to a much broader spectrum of players, as opposed to those of us with the patience of a saint and reflexes of one thousand tigers.
Developed by From Software, who may be more familiar to people with a penchant for giant mechs, this game strives to take a more action orientated approach to the genre rather than forcing players to learn just the right combo for every single situation. In fact, this game is more akin to things like Dynasty Warriors and Conan rather than Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry – as even though you have a vast repertoire of moves at your fingertips, you can choose to use the same ones over and over again should you so desire. It certainly makes things more accessible for one thing and also does a good job of ensuring you do not become frustrated easily. On the other hand there is very little here in terms of depth and the whole combat experience comes across as being far too shallow.
The story is pure B-movie hokum, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows the game to justify a number of over the top sequences that really make it stand out. Boiled down to the basics, a virus has been unleashed on Tokyo that has the nasty side effect of turning people into rather feisty monsters (it was probably packaged as a weight loss pill). So it is up to our main man Ken, and his team, to sort things out. Quite why a Japanese super ninja would be called Ken is a mystery that I was unable to decipher, but as the whole plot is stupidly preposterous it really does not matter. All you need to know is that beasties are running amok and it is up to you to slice and dice them.
The game is a pale imitation of Ninja Gaiden in the looks department, which is not to say that it is butt ugly, just that the level of polish is sadly lacking. The lead characters are fairly generic and the enemies soon become repetitive, with the ludicrously large bosses helping to break up the monotony. The real issue comes with the annoyingly static camera, which is something of a hindrance at times, and some dubious collision detection, which can often lead to either your untimely death or a lack of an untimely death on your enemies part. The voice work is passable too but no more than that, and the mix of Japanese and English acting is kind of confusing as the game would have tied together better with a continuous theme. It seems like the developers tried too hard to make the game appeal to both Eastern and Western audiences.
Once you start playing the game though most of the niggles will fall away, as long as you do not take the whole thing too seriously. The controls are intuitive enough and you have a number of weapons and ninja abilities at your disposal with which to dispatch your foes. You can snag new weapons as you progress and then upgrade them with orbs you will earn from defeating enemies – pretty much the same as any other hack and slash game out there. While there are plenty of combos to learn the game never really forces you to master them, primarily because the same moves will often reap impressive rewards. In some sense, this detracts from the whole experience as you can just spam the same moves over and over, level after level. It is saying something about the poor A.I that they will fall for the same tried and tested moves over and over again. While it does diminish the challenge somewhat, at least it means that everyone has the chance to play through the game in their own way.
The real crux of the game are the numerous boss battles on offer and it is no understatement to say that they are superb to say the least. The usual array of mini-bosses will come and go but the end of level terrors are usually screen filling behemoths out for blood. The real novelty is the variety of ways you get to take them out. It is not enough for Ken (sigh) to merely slice up his foes with a few sword strokes until their life bar whittles away. Instead you will be required to finish off your foes using a quick time event once you get to a certain stage of the battle – with success resulting in a stupidly amusing finishing move of some description, many of which simply have to be seen to be believed. This in turn however leads to another general gripe, which is the overwhelming number of quick time events that are in the game to begin with. As well as popping up during boss battles they also occur with alarming frequency during general play, such as key scenes, dodging foes or even finishing off rank and file enemies. It gets to the point where they are so obviously overused you can stand them no more. Perhaps it would have been better if they were more discreetly used a la Resident Evil.
If I had to choose a more middle of the road list than this one I would be extremely hard pressed. Not that it is terrible, just amazingly uninspired and devoid of any real innovation. There are achievements for completing the game on various difficulties and you will snag points at the end of each level too. The rest is just about using certain weapons and moves, not to mention a bunch of dreaded collectable achievements – when will people learn that not EVERY game can justify you searching for the million pieces of the Holy Grail (or whatever). The only real challenge comes in finishing the game on Hard, getting an overall A+ ranking and doing the level specific challenges. While these will all set you back some serious time, they are perfectly attainable with a bit of perseverance.
Comparisons with Ninja Gaiden are a touch unfair as the game is far more forgiving and a lot easier to pick up. While this may put off a few hardcore fans of the genre, it makes the game a pleasant surprise for anyone looking for something to pick up and play for fun. The game is ultimately a fairly shallow and repetitive experience but, while it lasts, there are more than enough cool moments to make you forget about the dubious sections that threaten to drag the whole thing down. If you are after a tough action game then you may well be advised to look elsewhere, but for sheer mindless amusement you could do a lot worse than this.
The music is nothing too special and the voice work is decent at best, but at least you get a sense of epic involvement when the bosses make an entrance but the rest of your journey will feel kind of flat.
The characters are far too generic and the backdrops are bland to a fault. A bit more variety would have set things straight but its all too easy to start a new level and think you have seen it all before.
Actually a lot more fun and engrossing than you would expect, and it has a far friendlier learning curve than similar games of this ilk. The combat tends to devolve into button mashing but it can be as complex as you want it to be really.
A good stab at the genre and one that can provide plenty of fun while it lasts, which is not that long sadly. I doubt you will have the inclination to keep on coming back for more though, as you will see pretty much everything the game has to offer in a solitary play.
A pretty bog standard list really, as most of the tasks will be done just by playing through the game and killing enemies in certain ways. A little bit of innovation has gone into level specific requirements (like finishing in a certain time, or using only one weapon etc) but overall it is fairly uninspired. Still you should be able to polish this off with a bit of patience as the difficulty is no where near that of Ninja Gaiden.
Derivative, repetitive and QTE heavy – yet still amazingly good fun. This game is more like Dynasty Warriors than Ninja Gaiden in terms of combat as you can eschew learning stupidly tricky combos in favour of button mashing good times. The over the top bosses add to the sense of spectacle and endeavour to keep the whole thing ticking over. It is not as big or clever as some of its peers but it is a good dollop of fun nonetheless.