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Jeremy Jastrzab
06 Aug, 2009

Ninja Blade Review

360 Review | Did that really just happen?
When a game sits atop its genre, the inevitable comparisons are drawn and when similar titles are released, the description of ‘clone’ often comes into play. For shooters, we’ve had our share of Doom, Half Life and Halo clones, for platformers we’ve had Mario clones and for RPGs we've had Final Fantasy clones. In the action genre, God of War seems to be the popular template, though the arguably superior Ninja Gaiden has been reported as the main inspiration for From Software’s Ninja Blade. Despite not quite living up to that mantle, it’s not the blatant clone that other media would have you believe.

What separates Ninja Gaiden from Ninja Blade, is that the former is an acute test of skill, dexterity and patience, while the latter just wants to be ridiculous and have fun. In an age where a lot of games strive to be more realistic, the best part about Ninja Blade is that you’ll see some of the craziest things ever to be witnessed in a video game. It serves as a wonderful reminder of why video games were made in the first place, to blow the lid on imagination and have fun. However, while Ninja Blade is a blast, the underlying gameplay could have taken a few more pages out of the Team Ninja book.

Players take up arms with the ninja Ken Ogawa (yes, Ninja Gaiden has Ryu, hilarious) to fight the Alpha Worms, that infect both human and mechanical hosts, turning them into mindless killing machines. Ken’s father and rival switch to the 'bad' side, setting Ken off on a quest for revenge as well as one to save the world (meaning near future Tokyo). The story isn’t particularly riveting, but it has some nice twists and is delivered with some ridiculous panache.

Ninja pose!

Ninja pose!
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From the same developers of the underated gem Ogoti, throughout the course of the nine missions in Ninja Blade, you’ll be taken on quite a journey. Things start off innocuously enough with a quicktime event and a few simple encounters with some of the infected. Soon you’ll realise two things. Firstly, that quicktime events are going to play a large part in the game and secondly, that you’re in for a hell of a ride. The level of ridiculous action in Ninja Blade is something that’s almost worth the admission price on its own. While most of the missions have a similar structure, the ebb and flow of the variety is quite strong.

The game has been described as one big QTE, but that’s a little unfair. Despite a rather sensitive reaction to analog movements, the QTEs are the best way to allow for the game’s over-the-top presentation. Players are given fair warning and while they are numerous, they do happen to be implemented pretty well. The best of these are the ‘Todome’ QTEs which are performed when you’re about to finish off a boss. Still, if you’re one of those sticklers who has some irrational deep-seeded gripe for QTEs, you’re best of looking elsewhere for your entertainment.

Ken is quite agile, as you’d expect of a Ninja. He’s able to do all the requisite moves, such as climb and wall-run, though he also has a very handy dash, so performing all these moves is relatively easy. Ken also has ‘ninja vision’ that slows down enemies, attacks and highlights useful objects and waypoints, just in case you were unable to see them for yourself. Unfortunately, Ken isn’t as dexterous as someone like Ryu from Ninja Gaiden, so you may have to put up with a few stiff moments and meetings with the pavement. However, this will only be a major concern if you’re going for high scores.

While you have three (very) different swords to aid with combat and you’ll eventually earn four types of magic, each of these help with your mission progress as well. One sword can break through walls and the other can be used to get to distant platforms. Controlled by your funky shuriken, wind magic can put out fires, fire magic can destroy barriers and ‘light the way’ while electric magic can stun enemies. All three are great in offence as well, but the fourth one is a late surprise. Again, it will only help late in the game if you’re going for high scores.

You heard the command, attack!

You heard the command, attack!
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There are essentially three parts to the combat. Firstly, most missions have some sort of on-rails sequence. These are quite intense and can have you on the edge of your seat, even if they’re nothing new. Secondly, between wall-running and QTEs, you’ll come across groups of infected enemies, bringing in your standard combat. Thirdly, you’ve got your boss battles that come from humanoid to the size of a sky scraper. Neat, huh? While nothing more than dial-a-combo in nature, you do gain a lot of moves as you play and the ones that you do gain are pretty cool.

Still, like the movements, the combat isn’t as dexterous as the more illustrious titles in the action genre. Particularly as once you start a combo, it will not be performed as quickly as your inputs. So that can lead to trouble and a lot of moves being directed at thin air. The main gripe is that given the structure and type of enemies you face, you never really get to take full advantage of your move set, making the combo system seem like a waste. The boss fights are a bit of a mix, but most are actually very good, once you figure them out. The main issue can be that you’ll easily avoid the boss attacks but wait too long for the obligatory opening to show itself. Failing to be patient results in many a death.

Overall, Ninja Blade is stupendously fun, if slightly shallow and at times loose romp that will take the best of eight to ten hours. Those chasing high scores and the game’s better weapons and upgrades will have to at least double that. If there is anything to genuinely fault the game, it is that most of the missions are fairly similar. They’re all played at night, most in dark skyscrapers and Missions Five and Seven are virtually identical. While we’re used to repetition in action games, Ninja Blade could have done better in this regard.

This you have to see to believe.

This you have to see to believe.
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The advantage of the lack of variety in environments seems to have come from the graphical quality. The graphics are mainly smooth, with a lot of well-implemented cinematic aspects, particularly in the QTEs. The design of the main enemies is rather generic, with only a few different skins, but some of the bosses help make up for this. However, the disadvantage of the lack of variety is just that, while later in the game there seems to be a little more going on than there needs to be and some detection issues really should have been ironed out ahead of the final release.

The voicing of the game is a bit strange, as the bilingual option has Ken sounding very different in Japanese than he does in English. You’re best off sticking to sticking to one or the other. There isn’t much background music, which is a shame given the haunting theme in main menu. The sound effects are well done, especially in the QTEs but in general, they give you a real handle on the power that Ken has.

Ninja Blade, like Otogi before it, is likely to be a game missed by many for being a little too far off the mainstream. There are aspects of the game that people won’t like, such as the QTEs, and those less open-minded will dismiss the ridiculous over-the-top occurrences. But for those who aren't above the non-sensical and just want their games to be pure and fun, then just like Otogi before it, they will relish the ride that is provided by Ninja Blade.
The Score
'Better' games will be released than Ninja Blade, but few will allow you to see and experience what's on offer here.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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5 Comments
4 years ago
I wanna get it, but 8-10 hours? I can't do it...
4 years ago
seems like I'll probably wait until it eventually hits the $20 bin, and grab it at an absolute steal then...

and 8-10 hours is a very good length for a 'fun romp' game imo, I rarely have more than a few hours a week to put into anything non-portable, and even a big chunk of that is taken in long-term dedication to various RPGs, it is games like this that take the edge off.
4 years ago
The demo was enough to convince me to wait for the $20-25 sale in 6 months or less. And yeah, the QTEs are pretty obnoxious.
4 years ago
looks pretty good - not on PS3 tho ? (too sloe to google)
4 years ago
^ It's a 360 exclusive.

I had a great time with the demo, I can see myself picking this one up soon. icon_smile.gif In case anyone is wondering, the cheapest price I've seen it going for is $40 posted from gameplay.co.uk.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  7/8/2009 (Released)
Publisher:
  Microsoft
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2008

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