IGN Review of Ninja Blade
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. If that is true, Ninja Gaiden and God of War should be flattered as Ninja Blade borrows heavily from these two. While a game that mixes elements of two giants of the gaming world might sound good on paper, we all know that a good recipe still needs a talented chef to cook up something that tastes great. Though the group at FromSoftware has put together a passable action title, they miss the mark on delivering anything worthy of the predecessors that inspired so much of this game. Ninja Blade starts off well and offers some sections that are a lot of fun, but it can't sustain that level of excitement for the whole ride as the generally mundane combat wears thin.
Ninja Blade tells the story of Ken Ogawa, a ninja that is trying oh-so-hard to be just like Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden. He jumps out of helicopters, shuns stealth, and fights all sorts of nasty creatures. A parasitic outbreak has hit Tokyo, turning everyone and everything into destruction happy monsters bent on turning the entire world into a pile of rubble. The only hope, naturally, is Ken.
This tale is told through a series of cutscenes and quick-time-events (sequences where the player is required to push a series of buttons as they flash on the screen to interact with a cutscene) in a fairly traditional anime fashion. With voiceovers that switch between English and Japanese and a fractured storyline, Ninja Blade toes the line between something mainstream America will be familiar with and a story that feels foreign.
If you're going to play Ninja Blade, it's for the totally ridiculous and over-the-top action that closes out each level. Ken Ogawa doesn't just kill these parasitic monsters of the night. He ends them with the kind of style great B-movies are made of. What's the best way to kill a giant spider? With a wrecking ball, of course. Cars and rubble flying through the air aren't just debris. They're platforms to run atop and jump off. These are all played out through quick-time-events to keep the player engaged, not that you really need any encouragement. These kill moves had the entire IGN editorial office cheering at their sheer lunacy.
Unfortunately for Ninja Blade, the over-the-top finishing moves are not the entirety of the game. The rest of Ninja Blade just can't keep up. The end result is a lot of tedium, middle of the road hack-and-slash gameplay, and sometimes obnoxious game design that makes all of the sequences leading up to the level finishes the sort of game that many will want to avoid.
Each level offers up a bit of ninja combat, courtesy of Ken and his small arsenal of swords and magical throwing star, occasional shooting sequences where you man a turret, and some limited platforming. It's all capped with first a mini-boss and then eventually a final, over-the-top end boss. Fighting through the level rewards you with little red orbs which can then be used to upgrade weapons and unlock new moves. Pretty standard stuff.
The hack-and-slash portions are middle-of-the road, mostly due to the lacking enemy artificial intelligence. Almost every enemy in the game, including a number of the bosses, can be bested simply by jumping and then doing a heavy attack with Ken's big sword. You can do more attractive flourishes, but the game really doesn't give you a reason to care about learning the combat system.
It doesn't help that the boss fights, though capped off quite nicely, aren't the best. They're filled with repetition and patterned attacks that don't convey the feeling that you're dealing with a big hulking monster in the slightest. Again, like the standard mid-level combat, the lack of artificial intelligence really hurts. Just following a pattern as a big enemy stands in one place isn't enough to make you feel like you're part of the battle.
It often feels like the developers at FromSoftware were trying too hard to make Ninja Blade a flashy and cinematic experience rather than focusing on keeping everything smooth. Ken's Ninja Vision ability gives hints on where to go next and slows down enemy movement, but when you go back to the normal view the entire game screen goes blurry for far too long. Similarly, there are chase sections where the camera spins around to let you see what's on Ken's tail. This, of course, makes the player run blindly forward toward the screen -- one of the most annoying design decisions a developer can make with an action game.
Even if these attempts at being cinematic didn't fall flat, it would matter little. The art style here is generic at best and sometimes downright bad. The animations are pretty good, but it's hard to look at Ken and his foes as anything other than a poor man's version of what Ninja Gaiden offers. Everything just looks so bland and uninspired. It doesn't help that scenery sections and enemies unapologetically start repeating in the second half of the game. Of course, if you want to make the game look even lamer, you can dress Ken up in one of the many ridiculous unlockable outfits or custom make your own by adjusting some color sliders.
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