Developer: From Software
Release Date: April 7, 2009
At first glance, Ninja Blade comes off as a somewhat-derivative combination of Ninja Gaiden and Resident Evil, featuring a squad of elite ninjas using their swordsmanship to battle abominations that have begun to infest Tokyo. As it turns out, Ninja Blade has plenty of redeeming qualities of its own. While much of the game is old-school action, complete with finding and exploiting weak points in the numerous boss fights, Quick Time Events punctuate the gameplay in good measure. Though the game features a ninja and you are fending off the attacks of what could be taken as the undead, the game's style and substance makes it a surprisingly fresh experience with a taste for flair and an aim to entertain.
In Ninja Blade, you play as Ken Ogawa, a member of a task force of ninjas who have been trained to tackle a parasitic foe that can infest and mutate the human body into viciously hideous abominations. These parasites have suddenly been found in modern-day Tokyo, and on the first day of the infection, the squad is dispatched to fight them. Things go horribly wrong pretty quickly, with most of the squad getting killed and the leader and another member getting infected, which leaves the task of saving Tokyo in the hands of the player.
Now, Ninja Blade is not one to be taken seriously, as it goes about as far over the top as you can get without entering orbit; it doesn't even attempt to approach the subject matter with realism. The game starts things off with ninjas backflipping out of an airborne plane without parachutes and slashing their way in mid-air combat with flying parasitic forms before kicking through the plate glass window of a skyscraper to stop their descent. In this title, getting into combat with a hydra while standing on the wing of a flying 747 is the norm, just as much as riding an airborne motorcycle down the side of an also-airborne bus before using both as an improvised bomb.
The gameplay is similar to titles of its ilk; you move around and slash at enemies by using different combinations of strong and weak attacks to chain together combos while doing your best to dodge or block attacks. Enemy projectiles can be either blocked or reflected by hitting them before they land, adding another layer to the chaos of combat. Fairly early on, you gain access to three different weapons, each with unique roles: fast, normal and strong. The fast weapon is great for hitting multiple foes at once but is rather weak, while the strong weapon is incredibly unwieldy but is also the only thing that will bust open the thick armor of some foes. The normal weapon has no real strengths or weaknesses to it, and it's your fallback weapon once enemy swarms and armored foes have been dealt with.
Accentuating your death-dealing capabilities is your Chi, which is represented by a bar that slowly refills when not in use. Chi is used for two things" ninja vision and disc attacks. Ken's disc is elemental-based magic and can be set to use wind, fire and lightning, as such abilities are found through the course of the game. Cyclone is great for knocking around enemies, while lightning is an area-of-effect stun and fire can deal heavy damage to a select area. Ninja vision slows down the game, letting you hack away at enemies with ease as they are mostly unable to react. However, this mode quickly drains your Chi, and during this time, attacks on you deal more damage than usual. When you exit the vision mode, your screen blurs to an extent, dictated by how long you spent in the mode. It is definitely a powerful ability, but those disadvantages ensure that it's far from a recharging god mode.
Nowhere are these abilities more important than when used in conjunction with boss fights. Fighting bosses in Ninja Blade is often an affair centered on finding a boss's weak point while figuring out and avoiding its pattern of attacks. Most bosses can slowly be killed by picking away at them with your sword, but once you locate their weaknesses, you'll be able to hack away at large chunks of their health. Boss fights are usually large events, with some of them taking up the entire span and duration of a level, but they all end with a Todome QTE-style finishing move.
Once a boss has been brought to no health, it becomes stunned and waits for you to run up and interact with it. This starts an interactive cut scene with random inputs needed by the player as Ken flips around and ultimately decimates the boss through a stylish finishing move. If you fail one of the button presses, the game rewinds to a few presses back rather than simply fail you outright, making these endcaps more of a reward to the player than an extension of the fight.
Ninja Blade makes frequent use of interactive cinematics with the killing blows of bosses and also when you're doing some of the more crazy moves listed above. As often as they appear — and they appear a lot — they don't detract from the gameplay; they feel like a means of giving players a break as they loosely control Ken when he pulls off some pretty ridiculous feats of ninja skill. The whole game follows this sort of cinematic flair, so even basic enemies can sometimes require a quick QTE button press before you dispatch them in a stylish cut scene.
As a game, Ninja Blade wears its identity on its sleeve: It's a stylish and over-the-top action game in which modern-day ninjas fight monsters that are ripping apart Tokyo. However, rather than make the game dwell on the horror aspect, it embraces the idea that you play as an awesome ninja for whom killing a giant mutant serpent is all in a day's work. The gameplay is fast and somewhat unforgiving in its old-school style, but the payoff in the form of interactive cut scenes makes each difficult fight worth it. With so many other ninja-themed games on the market, it would be easy to overlook Ninja Blade, which is a shame, as it may be one of the more entertaining titles in quite some time.
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