Release Date: December 4, 2003
I-Ninja, Think Different
Namco's slightly heralded hero has reached gamers in time for the holiday season with not much fanfare, but perhaps this game can accrue cult status if not the joys of a sleepy hit. In I-Ninja, you take on the role of the angriest ninja ever. Along the way you will battle inside a fifty foot robot, slay a robotic fish inside a giant bomb and even find yourself on the moon all while unleashing your ninja rage upon the menacing O-Dor's army of Ranx robots. I had always perceived ninjas as being cunning and calm, coolly maneuvering in the shadows to dispatch foes with silently efficient strikes. I was wrong.
Off the bat, I-Ninja seems to be your simple platforming adventurer. With the likes of Chaos Legion, Prince of Persia, Rygar, Jak and Dakster 2 and Ratchet and Clank 2 floating around PS2 libraries, Capcom had better well come up with something a little deeper than a "simple" platform adventure game. In this task they have done so.
During the first segment of the first mission, I completed the seemingly simple task of retrieving a giant mechanical eyeball to fix a giant robot. More on that later. As Ninja climbed on top of the eyeball he grabs it and rolls away into a chute. Unbeknownst to me, I found myself on the first of many "Eye Bowling" levels. I didn't really understand what was happening, except that I had to steer a giant eyeball through an obstacle course and bowl over little enemy soldiers to gain more coins. It was an odd experience, but I found myself laughing at the notion of a little ninja rolling a giant eyeball around.
I found I-Ninja to be a delightful mix of different gameplay elements. Each level introduces more and more. You begin the game with basic abilities and maneuvers ranging from hovering whilst using your sword blade as a helicopter to using a chain to swing over large gaps. You can even grind along banisters and run up walls to leap around or kick jump up seemingly limitless heights. At times you will find yourself running down tracks and around tight turns, to manage these twists you can swing your chain out and use it as an anchor to swing around the corner. Each of the moves is specifically intended for certain points in the game which ultimately stunts the spontaneity of the overall composition; however these moves are fun and satisfying to pull off.
The bulk of the game is spent slicing and dicing your way through swarms of bobble-headed robots where you can chain together various combos and rack up points and collect coins. Collecting coins felt a little odd for me as there isn't anything you can spend coins on. They simply earn more points at the end of each level. What are gold coins doing inside robots? Why is a ninja worried about picking up loose change? These questions go unanswered, but then I realized that this game isn't exactly centered on the narrative art of gaming.
Graphically I-Ninja exhibits a distinct style and character design. Ninja's head is more than twice the size of his body. Sensei, your spectral guide, reminded me very much of a Dakuan from Ninja Scroll. The palette for all the levels is varied and the overall character designs are childish and simple but they fit the overall feel of the game very well. Ninja is well animated with various little acrobatic flourishes. His little bandana flows in the wind as he trots along on his wooden sandals and he roars with trash talk as he rips through villains left and right.
One of the more interesting, if not reckless, gameplay tools afforded the player is the Ninja Berserk system. As you disable enemy soldiers your rage meter increases and rather than a simple power-up, you can also heal yourself or increase your speed or even your agility. You must earn your Yellow Belt before you can utilize Ninja Berserk, which was a relief because there are no other power-ups to be found among each level. Thankfully as the game progresses Ninja does increase his abilities and power with new swords and new belts which allow him to do more ninja-like things.
The second level, Bomb Bay, is really where the game begins to shine. The first beach level is more of a training level and introduction to the game. The small levels and easy missions are broken up by the Super Monkey Ball style mini-game at the end of each section. Had I-Ninja continued on such a simple gameplay premise it would've left most gamers unfulfilled. While in Bomb Bay, Ninja finds himself blasting incoming ships with a gun turret (terribly difficult) and sniping villains with darts and shurikens. The new twists on gameplay really bring this game to the level where it should be in order to earn its place in any gamer's library.
On the sound and music front, there is not much to be expected or had. The music has a certain groove to it, but nothing too inspiring, but given the overall nature of I-Ninja that is to be expected. The voice acting is overwrought at times, but Sensei offers some interestingly inane commentary and snippets of mixed up wisdoms and muses. Ninja blurts out some little gems as well. After playing I-Ninja, I found myself barking, "Feel my steel!" during a chess game when I mated my opponent. He was none to happy.
As a whole, I-Ninja is a great game for all ages. It might not reach classic status, but in the end if you are looking for something that takes great gameplay elements from a variety of genres and spices it up with some odd Japanese humor, then I-Ninja is worth the price of admission. There are no multiplayer options for the game and not much incentive to replay the game after going through it once. Capcom has produced a competent title that isn't going to set any houses on fire, but will be enjoyed by all sorts of gamers if they pick up a copy. The violence is very much cartoon and so the game is safe for a younger audience as well. I would recommend I-Ninja to fans of adventure gaming, if not for purchase then at least for a rental.
Score : 8.5/10
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