Product Type: Microsoft Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... the monster models are particularly nice, the giant spider boss on level 1 is suitably creepy and immense. That really is all this game ha... more
Not the sharpest
Ninja Blade (Xbox 360)
Member Name: Wolfzilla
Ninja Blade (Xbox 360)
Advantages: All around a solid action game
Disadvantages: While it's a good way to pass some time, it's not great. Those damn QTEs
Given their long-standing popularity in the 8-Bit and 16-Bit eras of video-gaming, the rejuvenation of Ninja-themed videogames seems to have been a short lived one. It was only a few scant years ago there were Tenchus, Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, Nightshade, Red Ninja, Otogi and their ilk clogging up the shelves of your local games retailer like Sho Kosugi had been appointed Prime Minister with Michael Dudikoff his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yet since the Xbox became the 360 and the PS2 the PS3, those same black-clad, katana-wielding protagonists seem to have found themselves unemployed. Ryu Hayabusa's rise to prominence seems to have been cut-short since Tomonobu Itagaki's fall-out with Tecmo, but on the coat-tails of what may be his swansong in Ninja Gaiden 2 came this little title produced by From Software, introducing the world to Ken Ogawa.
It was indeed while reading up Tecmo's ninja title that Ninja Blade was brought to my attention...and it would be the last time I saw or heard of it until I stumbled over it in a supermarket bargain-bin. Having been a while since I let anything other than a football game grace my 360 I figured I'd give it a bash, after all it was less than a tenner.
The game slides you into the sleek black boots of Ken Ogawa, a modern-day ninja warrior and part of a covert Government strike force aimed at dealing with threats the beyond the capabilities of the military. He is thrust into action when a rogue-strain of hook worms dubbed 'Alpha-Worms', which mutate the bodies of their hosts into monstrous beings capable of inhuman acts, get loose in Tokyo. The only prior case of Alpha-Worms had been in a remote location where the military were able to Ground-Zero the area...naturally doing so to Tokyo would be unheard of so it's up to Ken and his team to stealth into the quarantined city and clean up.
The story certainly isn't going to win any awards, but it's serviceable and acts as a fair point of interest between levels. The game does hark back a lot to games of it's type from the olden-days, and the plot is almost 16-Bit in it's naivety. The characters and their designs are an almost surreal mixed bag - ranging from excellent (the snake-woman hybrid given an usual twist) through thoroughly generic (Ogawa senior...an elderly martial artist in a gi, with a beard) to downright bad (Ken). When the worst designed character in the game is your main one you are off to a pretty bad start it has to say. While it has become clear that a traditional ninja-garb would look pretty silly in a modern-day setting, Tecmo and Sega (to an extent) both succeeded in re-imagining their heroes for modern settings, From Software just don't seem to have grasped the idea. The most amusing thing about this is that if you read up on the game, apparently this was something they went to great lengths to work on. Ken just looks far too clunky, and heavy, almost more like a soldier or superhero than a ninja. His mask adds a feel of the latter, with it not being his mouth covered but quite the opposite. The bizarre metal plate on his forehead almost makes him look like a bottle-opener. The design of the standard enemies also leaves somewhat to be desired, looking more at place in a rubbish Resident Evil-clone (I'm thinking Blue Stinger) than would-be opponents in a martial-arts themed game.
So what of the actual game? Well the crux of the game works along the same lines as all the aforementioned Ninja-reboots. It's a 3D action game with an emphasis placed upon swordplay against multiple foes, many of whom are more equipped for long-ranged combat with you, mixed up with some boss battles against either large, monstrous enemies or other ninja-style characters. In this sense the game is serviceable. You have a decent selection of weapons at your disposal, the usual standard blade, strong but slow one and fast but weak ones, a nice touch is your projectile, which breaks from conventional shurikens and arrows and replaces them with a circular boomerang-styled weapon. This throwing device is also where the game involves the infamous trait of 'Ninja Magic' with Ken being able to charge it with fire, wind of lightning abilities to suit certain situations. This gameplay meat-and-bones isn't too challenging, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't actually rather enjoy it. Sure it doesn't grab the attention and imagination like Ninja Gaiden, but it's certainly a solid imitator and is solidly constructed.
The game's control scheme is easy to pick up and get used to, however there are times when the buttons don't respond as fluidly as you would like them to, which can lead to a great deal of frustration. One of the reasons Ninja Gaiden became such a hit was how magnificently the action flowed from your fingertips to the screen. Messing up a series of wall-jumps when you know you pressed the buttons timely is incredibly infuriating. Unresponsive buttons also brings us nicely to arguably the game's biggest talking point...
Who remembers when Quick-Time-Events (QTEs for brevity) were something of a rarity in games? For those unaware of what I'm talking about, a QTE takes place during the cut-scenes between gameplay stages, where the player is prompted to push a certain button within a very limited space of time. The first time I encountered these was in Sega's Shenmue, where they served a purpose, of keeping the player involved in a very story-driven game, well. As years have went by more and more games have incorporated them into their cut-scenes (most notably Resident Evil 4) However Ninja Blade takes QTEs to a perverse level. There's at least 3 every cut-scene. Now for a start this is incredibly intrusive and irritating to begin with, I mean when you get to a cut scene am I the only one who would actually like to watch some of them without a bloody great 'X' or 'B' or such in the middle of the screen? Couple in the aforementioned somewhat slack controls and you are in for something incredibly frustrating.
Aesthetically the game is, as with it's gameplay, solid if unspectacular. The graphics, when it comes to Ken, the levels and the cut-scenes, are nicely done without ever blowing you away, but the enemies are really rather disappointingly depicted, with flat textures looking decidedly last-generation. The sound consists of stock 'exciting' themes that serve their purpose without living long in the memory. The voice acting is likewise, it keeps things moving without ever really standing out. The game does boast the tones of the sexy Kelly Hu, although bizarrely it's for the fairly minor serpentine Yakuza villainess mentioned earlier in the piece.
When all is said and done...Ninja Blade is a decent game. It'll pass the time on a rainy day for those who really enjoyed Ninja Gaiden 2, but don't expect to find yourself raving about it and considering it one of your favourite games. Personally I don't regret the £9.99 I spent on it, but also had no qualms about trading it in upon completing the game.
Summary: A decent way to spend a rainy day for someone who enjoyed Ninja Gaiden 2, but iit's fairly generic