|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: From Software||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 7, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Move over Ryu. Take a seat Kratos. There's a new badass in town. Sure, you've done it all before, but never quite like this. Ninja Blade is an excellent fusion of the gameplay found in Ninja Gaiden and God of War. So much so, it loses points for unoriginality. In fact, I expect this game to get somewhat mediocre ratings from gaming critics at large due to its striking similarity to these aforementioned titles and, of course, for its preponderance of quick-time events (QTE).
Still, I couldn't get enough of this game. I've got a feeling many gamers will agree, as it feels more like an homage to Ninja Gaiden and God of War rather than a knock off. Ninja Blade is a fast and furious romp that sends boss after boss at players, while testing their reflexes and pattern identifying abilities. Best of all, the title ships with shiny, polished visuals HD gamers are sure to appreciate. This challenging game is not for everyone, but those who can't get enough of action-heavy titles simply shouldn't do without!
The area of the game that is most likely going to receive the harshest criticism from my peers is the predominance of QTE found throughout Ninja Blade. Quick-time events nowadays are the WWII shooter of gameplay mechanics - while once innovative, they now have grown tired. Ninja Blade is absolutely filled with them, incorporating them into gameplay as its cornerstone. However, before you let your groaning and grumbling get the best of you, know that the QTE in Ninja Blade are actually done well. Think of this as QTE 2.0. What makes them so different? They actually enhance the title by making your character feel more like a superhero ninja. Events depicted on the screen are actually keyed to the protagonist's movements in clever, satisfying ways, rather than just being slapped together in a haphazard fashion. Whether it's slamming the left analog stick to dodge getting squashed, mashing buttons to hold back a wave of force, or dealing a deathblow by tapping out combos to the onscreen prompts, Ninja Blade's QTE mechanic is the most satisfying use of the system since the original God of War.
Plus, players can adjust the difficulty level apart from that of the rest of the game's difficulty. Therefore, if you just want simple, forgiving commands to flash across the screen but need the rest of battle to test your skill, you can achieve that mix in the options menu. Played the game through once and are looking for a stiffer challenge? Jack up the QTE difficulty on the second playthrough. What's more, players will get graded on just how well they time their QTE button presses; while getting goods and greats are acceptable and keep the game moving forward, pulling off excellent and perfects in a split-second feels genuinely rewarding. All of this seems to have somewhat rejuvenated the QTE experience, at least for this IP. As such, I truly enjoyed this once great now painfully commonplace system as put in place in Ninja Blade.
As much as I appreciated the QTEs, this game has a lot more going for it. For starters, the story is enjoyable if not entirely original. Set in the near future, players will take on the role of Ken, a ninja in a unique Special Forces unit whose job it is to eradicate a parasitic outbreak that has previously plagued the world in small pockets, but in 2015 has left an indelible mark on Tokyo. Known as Alpha-Worms, these nasty buggers infect their host, causing the carrier's organs to liquefy, much like the symptoms associated with the Ebola virus. However, victims don't die. In fact, they become stronger, changing into a flesh-hungry mutant horde that must be put down. Unfortunately, with infection levels reaching close to a quarter of the population, drastic measures must be contemplated. It sounds familiar, I know. But there are enough twists to keep the narrative engaging for any action buff. Moreover, there's an interesting WMD discourse early in the game between Japanese and American officials that I found to be quite fascinating, especially considering the two nations' intertwined, dark past.
Standard gameplay is also quite enjoyable. Players have customary melee, ranged, and Ninjutsu (magic) attacks that can be performed in concert. There are also three different weapon types that take advantage of power, precision, and speed. Switching between the weapons and learning and implementing efficiently the myriad attack combos with each is standard action fare, but it is expertly employed in Ninja Blade. As such, action fans will be slicing their way through the tainted threat with the greatest of ease. What's more, players will rarely have to dispatch wave after wave of minions, as Ninja Blade strings mini-boss and BBG battles almost back to back. I loved this aspect of the game! Why futz around with red shirts when you can go after the big bad guys - level 5 carriers as they're known in Ninja Blade?
There's also an extensive character progression and customization facet to Ninja Blade. Like many other straightforward, action games, an RPG-like power-leveling component will have players acquiring XP in the form of Blood Crystals that upgrade swords and Ninjutsu, unlocking several new attack combos and effects. Also, players can play dolly between levels by switching up their character with new suits, armor, and accessories.
Acrobatic platforming also makes up a significant portion of Ninja Blade. If you've played Prince of Persia, Ninja Gaiden, or even the latest Tomb Rader titles, you'll know exactly what to expect. Pulling off linked wall runs, chimney jumps, uncanny dodges, and super sprints is as easy as holding down the RT button along with the left stick or A button.