STAFF REVIEW of Ninja Blade (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009.
by Adam Dileva

Ninja Blade Box art It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; if this is true then God of War and Ninja Gaiden must be red from blushing. Ninja Blade is an action hack and slash by From Software and is a generally straight forward button masher mixed in with interactive cutscenes?..lots of them. It may not have the depth or nearly the difficulty as the games it?s clearly taken its inspiration from, but it?s not trying to be serious and should be ventured knowing ahead of time that it is meant to be completely over the top.

You are Ken Ogawa, a member of an elite ninja group that have highly specialized skills like your own. You are called to Tokyo because somehow parasites have infected the city and in engulfing anyone in the area, completely taking over their body and mutating them; destroying the city and anything in its path. It?s up to you and your team to save not only Tokyo from complete annihilation, but all of mankind as well by subduing the advancing infection rate. For some reason though, you will see crowded streets with moving cars even though the city was supposed to be evacuated.

The dialogue is generally cheesy and there are a few dramatic moments, but the entertainment value is sometimes unintended in some moments that will have you snickering at the wrong time.
There are a few plot twists other than the standard ?save the Earth? that make it slightly more interesting, but it?s cut and dry basics that barely pass as an engrossing storyline. You are simply playing for the action and excitement; much like going to an action movie to go see the awesome explosions and action rather than the story. This is apparent from the moment you start Ninja Blade as the first enemy and boss you fight starts the action off in the high adrenaline mode you?ll be on for the next 10 or so hours to finish it.

Through 9 different missions, you will travel across Tokyo clearing waste to anything in your way. You will battle across rooftops, on the street, and even through buildings and tunnels. Each level seems to center around two to four giant boss sequences and getting to each one has the standard hack and slash gameplay in between when getting from point to point.

The biggest design issue with the levels is not even the repetitive nature, but instead the fact that you cannot save mid level in any way. Each level is roughly an hour long each, so make sure you have that much time before you even start or else you?ll lose your current progress and have to restart the mission from the start.

As you begin, you are only given a single sword to battle your foes which is your balanced weapon. Eventually you will also be given duel wield swords that are much quicker and double as grapple wire hooks, and also a very large two handed weapon that is very slow to attack with, but extremely powerful to balance it off. Each type of enemy is vulnerable to different types of attacks and different weapons, so you will be switching your arsenal quite often trying to defeat certain types of infected with the appropriate corresponding weapon.

All of the weapons can be upgraded with a set amount of orbs you gather from defeating enemies and it?s up to you to upgrade your weapon of choice. As you unlock higher levels in a weapon, more skills become unlocked and your move set becomes more robust; making you that much more lethal and giving you more options for game play styles.

You also have an elemental Ninjitsu disc that can be thrown to slice infected and also even clear paths in your way. Have a fire blocking your path; throw your disc with the wind skill to blow out the flames. Need something blown up from afar, and then use the fire skill Ninjitsu to achieve this. Even the lightning Ninjitsu will stun enemies in your way or electrify water. It adds a little more complexity in getting to the right path in levels but it?s not generally very challenging to figure out; the difficulty is in actually performing it while keeping other enemies at bay.

It?s near impossible to get lost or figure out where to go next as you have an ability called Ninja Vision. This skill will detect weak spots on enemies and bosses, pointing out where you need to attack. It will also make paths and walkways glow blue which tells you exactly where you need to go next, and when activated, it will also even show you barrels and boxes that have items and secrets inside them. The downfall to using your Ninja Vision is that you take extra damage if you get hit with it activated.

Regular non-boss enemies are littered throughout the campaign while fighting your way to each boss. Unfortunately there are very few variations of the standard grunt enemies and you?ll be executing many of the same types of infected throughout the whole game. This coupled with the fact that they barely need any blocking from makes them simply too easy and you will rarely even have to switch to the ?proper? weapon to defeat them.

The enemies that take center stage in Ninja Blade are the numerous and sometimes challenging Bosses. These will range from spiders that crawl up the sides of skyscrapers, crabs, snails, and even worms that can plow through buildings. The scale of the battles can be absolutely huge; which was definitely an influence from the God of War series or even Shadow of the Colossus. Comparatively it would be much like a bug trying to fight something the size of a human or even bigger, it?s that big. You may be wondering how a single ninja can take down a beast this large (well you shouldn?t, because it?s a ninja). Sometimes it will require you riding a missile like a surf board into its face, or even riding a motorcycle down the side of a bus all while freefalling midair. Yes, it?s that over the top at times, which does bring it some charm without taking itself too seriously.

Regular combat plays much like a hack a slash much like God of War or Ninja Gaiden, but it feels more simplified and less demanding of perfection (which Ninja Gaiden brutally punished you for mistakes). You will also be taking control of turrets on a moving vehicle or plane or sometimes also fighting monsters while running down the side of a building. Defeat certain enemies in a specific way and you are given a chance to do a one hit finishing move that requires a few correct corresponding button presses. Miss the button and you just need to finish it with normal attacks though and don?t get the bonus score.

When you aren?t in combat, you will be watching cinematics that require specific button inputs at given times to progress. This feature is a way to keep the player engrossed rather than simply watching a cutscene and it can even be fun?in moderation. At least a third of the whole game is based on these quick time events scattered between battles. It happens so often that it sometimes feels more like an interactive movie than an actual game at times.

They are in almost every single cinematic and you need quick reflexes to input them correctly, though a properly timed press has more rewards than just pressing it as soon as you see the correct button. One of the great design choices for this though is actually if you fail a button press. Instead of starting all over from your last checkpoint, the quick time event rewinds time and starts you back at the start of that cinematic for you to try again. They aren?t very challenging and there really is no penalty for failure, instead they sometimes even divert your attention away from the action because you are keeping a keen eye for what to press next instead of enjoying the video.

Once a boss? health has been depleted and you?ve also done the quick time event (most bosses have one afterwards) you then need to do one more quick time event, but this one is your special finish move called your Todomé attack. It?s the same thing as any other quick time event, but if you don?t go up to the boss and initiate this finisher manually, the boss can actually regenerate and you will be forced to fight it all over again. It?s usually not an issue to initiate the Todomé, but if you get knocked down or can?t make it to the appropriate spot, it can be quite frustrating to restart all over.

There are a few other notable positives and negatives that stood out quite clearly while playing. Some of the positives being that if you go in expecting just to have fun and enjoy completely over the top action you won?t be disappointed from the complete unpredictability that this has to offer. The camera angles during the action sequences are excellent and have that ?cool? feel to them that you?d probably see in a Hollywood action movie that highlights all the action appropriately. Also, you can unlock (and download) extra costumes for Ken to wear. I?m going to have to categorize this as both a positive and negative as some of the costumes are very cool and suit the ninja style while others are completely ridiculous like bright pink with hearts or flowers.

The absolute largest frustration though had to come from a horrible design choice regarding the save system. Each mission is about an hour or so long, but if you aren?t completely certain that you can?t set aside this much time in one sitting, there is no point to even put the disc in your system due to having no save system during missions. There are checkpoints if you die and will restart at, but if you have to turn off your system or can?t finish a level, you have to begin from the start all over again regardless of how far you got in the level.

Considering the scale of some of the main battles, I was quite surprised that I didn?t encounter very much slowdown, but of course it did happen to me at some odd times that did require me to restart due to the drop in framerate when trying to make specific jumps.

It feels as if the game is simply trying just too hard to be cool with all the action thrust towards the player. It does have a certain charm to it for simple mindless fun, but those looking for a deeper story or combat will be disappointed from the general clichés.

Over the top can be fun and interesting, but there is a fine line between awesome and absurd. Make mid-level checkpoints. There were times where I wanted to play but couldnt set aside an hour so there was no point sadly.

Overall: 6.8 / 10
Gameplay: 6.3 / 10
Visuals: 7.2 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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