Do Ninjas dream of stealth sheep? In this X-Play Review, we take a look at the Xbox 360 exclusive 'Ninja Blade'. Will insane action be enough able to overcome a paper thin storyline? Find out in this review.
- Great cinematic direction
- Insane action at all times
- Good mix of gameplay styles
- So-so voice acting
- Paper thin story and characters
- Stuttering loading times
Ninja Blade is an action game that seemingly came from the mind of a 9-year-old boy who conceptualized it between bouts of pushing girls on the playground and wrestling with his friends. If Ninja Blade were a car, it would be a 1968 Dodge Charger driven by Steve McQueen. If Ninja Blade were a concert, it would be Van Halen and Metallica opening for Black Sabbath. If it were a soda, it would be in a 64-ounce collectible cup and come with a dialysis machine. It goes easy on the artistic expression and serves up a double-sized portion of super cool ninja action.
Tokyo Fight Club
The story begins in 2015 at the location any good ninja story should begin: Tokyo, Japan. An outbreak of a parasitic worm has struck the city, turning its residents into zombies and gigantic insects. Who turns up to defend this metropolitan paradise? Certainly not the government or the World Health Organization. Instead, Tokyo is in the hands of an elite squad of highly trained ninjas headed by a pretty darn good Bill Clinton look-alike. What follows is a tale of betrayal, revenge, and redemption. It’s clear within the first five minutes of Ninja Blade, however, that this plot is merely an excuse for main character Ken Ogawa to slice the ever-loving $#!@ out of everything and everyone in sight. From opening cut scene to final credits, Ninja Blade will take you on an excursion through some of the biggest, epic boss fights to ever hit a console, and each one of them is as satisfying as the one before it.
Contrary to the title, Ken actually has three blades at his disposal. Each sword serves a different need when in combat and each sword also has a special ability for helping Ken get around the neon-lit world of nighttime Japan (incidentally, the game never offers any explanation as to why ninjas can’t fight the infection during the day, instead leaving the city to become overrun with horrible monsters). Ken can also use his large shuriken to perform elemental area attacks when in a pinch, as well as use it to put out fire and blow up obstacles in his way. All in all, there are a variety of options for perforating foes and flying high, which lends a nice sense of freedom when approaching any given situation. The game will require you to switch weapons on the fly as well, so combo chains can continue well into the double digits.
Quick Times/Good Times?
Gameplay is broken into four distinct types: there’s the typical hack-and-slash action bits (the aforementioned boss battles falling into this category), simple platforming tests (usually involving wall-running and leaping), quick-time events (a la Shenmue), and vehicle shooting segments. The latter two serve to break up the pacing and keep things fresh. Some missions will begin with Ken behind the trigger of a mounted gun, either on an airplane or tank, and it will be his job to fend off waves of enemies as they try and destroy his ride. Usually these are challenging but not punishing, and the game is very generous with its checkpoint system, never causing you to get stuck in an area where the vehicle is about to die with no way to prevent it from happening.
The quick-time events (QTE) are scattered throughout the game and are probably about a quarter of the experience. Normally this would be a bad thing, but in Ninja Blade, each one is unique and extremely well-produced to show an amazing (if somewhat laughable) action sequence. Usually they are triggered to perform finishing attacks on a boss after you’ve depleted their health through conventional means, but the QTE sequences also appear at other times, too, like when Ken has to single-handedly stop a plane from destroying innocent lives on a freeway. What’s nice is that there’s no penalty for messing up these timed button-presses; instead, the game will rewind and give you another chance to endure, jump, land, grab, or perform any number of silly actions. The fun of this system lies in memorizing a section and then going back and replaying it to achieve better timing of the button press, ultimately rewarding you with a higher grade at the end of the level.
The first run through should take you anywhere from 8-10 hours, but there are some nicely designed achievements that enhance the replay value, as well as collectible goodies like health upgrades and new costumes you can pick-up by revisiting missions and scouring for hidden nooks. In an ode to its history with highly customizable games like Armored Core, From Software has even built in a feature that allows you to change the color of Ken’s costume in every conceivable way, from armor to gloves to accents (not to mention that some of the unlockable costumes are downright garish in their audacity).
A Slip of the Blade
The voice-acting is pretty ho-hum, and Ken Ogawa is one of the most one-dimensional characters in video game history, but he’s the type to let who he is show through by his actions. There will come a moment, probably during the boss fight of the second level, where you will either groan in annoyance from all the tongue-in-cheek action porn happening on screen, or start laughing hysterically as Ken surfs a missile to destroy a sentient helicopter covered in worm goop. It seems Ken likes to hit the beach because that’s not all he surfs throughout the course of Ninja Blade, but you can find that out for yourself.
Only the occasional load time that freezes play and poor collision detection against certain bosses drag the game down, but these are few. Other minor annoyances include hit-stun after being damaged that can throw you into fire (which puts you into a damage loop that’s tricky to escape), and some sketchy textures seen up close. Otherwise, Ninja Blade is the Japanese marriage of a Hong Kong action flick and a Jason Statham movie.
Not Your Average Ninja
Ninja Blade will take you for one hell of a ride as each level has you face off against multiple bosses, and each boss is bigger and more intimidating than any you’ve seen yet. Extremely well-directed cut scenes with a hint of interactivity punctuate a solid, meaty slice-and-dicer that teaches Ninja Gaiden a thing or two about stylish violence.
Article Written By: Justin Fassino