Release Date: November 19, 2003
It's a hard life, being a cutified platformer hero. Many are called, but few stick around for long; the road to videogame stardom is littered with failed company mascots, who tried and failed to leap to the heights of platformer fame (no pun intended, I swear). Bubsy, Gex, Kid Icarus, Croc, Ristar, Joe and Mac… it's a long and sad list.
In the current console generation, the platformer is trying to make something of a quiet comeback. Sure, Sonic and Mario are still around, as they probably will be until the end of time, but they're the exceptions that prove the rule. Vexx, Ty, Cookie, Cream, and Blinx all disappeared just as quickly as they arrived.
There are success stories, of course. Klonoa 2 is a good game, albeit really easy, and I will continue to tell people about it until it gets a sequel. Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet and Clank, captured enough fans that they've got sequels coming out, but both games' look and feel have been radically retooled. They're "edgy" now; Jak's been given a soul patch, a shotgun, and a futuristic dystopia to capture, while Ratchet and Clank's already sadistic streak has been augmented with yet more serious firepower.
The point I'm getting at here is that amusing, bouncy platformers appear to be a rapidly fading breed, and that's a shame. This in turn brings us to Argonaut's I-Ninja, one of the more entertaining platformer-style games I've played in some time.
Now, this build has four complete levels, but nothing in the way of a story or plot development. All I know is that I-Ninja has a sword, and some throwing stars, and will be called upon to perform many bizarre missions in the name of collecting Medals.
I-Ninja himself controls fairly well; call him chibi-Shinobi. He can run along and up walls like all good ninjas (ninjas are to video games as love is to pop music; if they did not exist, game developers would have had to have created them), while fending off adversaries with his sword and shuriken. For extra aerial manuverability, he's got a double-jump, and his sword doubles as a helicopter blade to help extend his hangtime. Plus, he grunts and flexes a lot. While this latter point may seem minor, I am told by those who would know that his grunting and flexing makes him two hundred percent extra cute.
I-Ninja, much like his environments, is a big-headed, small-bodied super-deformed little guy; the character models remind me of the Peanuts gang. (Impious comparison: check. Note to self: learn Flash so I can make "A Charlie Brown Ninja Attack.") The graphics manage to hit the sweet spot between cartoony and recognizable; for example, while the rocket factory level looks like a Rube Goldberg device, all conveyor belts and random explosions, it's always obvious where to go and what to do. Argonaut also clearly dusted off their Blast Processing for Dummies manuals, because even when the action onscreen is moving at lightning speed, there's nary a hint of slowdown.
The music's kind of repetitive, but you can't have everything. Besides, you should not be listening to the music. You should be listening to ninja yells and grunts as you smite your opponents with ninja skill.
What stands out about I-Ninja is the sheer lunatic variety of its missions. While basic platforming is, of course, more or less omnipresent, these four levels required me to perform quite a few tasks, several of which had me gaping at the screen.
You want to grind rails like Jet Set Radio? It's in here. Chop up robotic mooks? Gotcha covered. Battle against an enemy ninja in endless freefall just like in anime? It could be a little easier to control, but yes, you can do that too. Sonic-style hell-for-leather racing across curved platforms? Oddly, yes. Wanna grind a halfpipe? It's not quite Tony Hawk, but it's available. Run through a maze on top of a rolling barrel full of gunpowder? Sure, it's got some of that. Play force-feedback boxing games against a hundred-and-fifty-foot-tall enemy mech? Okay, yeah, you probably didn't want that before now, but it sounds like fun, right? There's all that… and so much more.
If you've been looking for a PS2 platformer with tons of bonus games, as well as the crucial ninja factor, then I-Ninja's got what you want. It's set to stealthily sneak onto heavily guarded store shelves in November.
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