One part Shinobi and one part Canabalt, Ninjamurai is an interesting little PSP Mini that promises to bring plenty of old-school challenge at a value price. Set for release in next week's North American PSN store update, we managed to sneak an early peek at the bite-sized action packed into Ninjamurai.
As the story goes, Ninjamurai is the son of a ninja and a samurai. His parents killed at an early age, he was rejected by both the Ninja and Samurai clans. Instead, the boy was raised an orphan by a master at the local mountain shrine. Always up for helping out those in need, ninjamurai is traveling to a local city when he encounters the evil Black Armor Militia occupying the land. It's up to ninjamurai to defeat the Black Armor forces and restore peace to all.
It's a straightforward tale as far as adventures go, but you don't usually play these sorts of games for the story. You look for the action. Ninjamurai takes an interesting approach toward that, as there are two primary stances that the player can use and both handle quite differently.
On stance is all about speed and stealth, while the other is designed with an emphasis on combat. You can swap between the two stances at any time, allowing for a change in tactics at a moment's notice. The speed stance is particularly useful when navigating tricky ledges, as it allows for a double jump. While in the combat stance, you only have access to a single jump.
In the short time we played, the controls were noticeably different between the two stances in terms of how the game felt. With the speed stance, Ninjamurai nearly always felt as if he was out of control. Things moved quickly, and if you didn't know what to expect, it was very easy to jump right into an enemy or a pit of spikes. Playing with the combat stance was much more deliberate, with movement that felt more structured. You also have access to a few more fighting moves in the combat stance.
What's nice is that Ninjamurai doesn't really force you to use either stance. Key performance statistics, such as time, enemies killed and packages collected, are tracked throughout each level, but you don't need to max them out in order to finish an area. Levels are completed simply by making it to the end in one piece. That said, the speed stance is certainly useful if you're going for a time record.
While it doesn't appear to have trophy support, Ninjamurai does have its own achievement system.
Ninjamurai features hand-drawn, 2-D visuals and story sequences that consist of a series of still frames. It's a thematic nod to the 16-bit era that looks good when played on a PSP. With that said, when played on a PS3, the game graphics don't scale quite as well as some of the other Minis out there, which use polygonal 3-D images.
Although we're waiting for the North American version to appear before passing final judgment, initial impressions of Ninjamurai are good. This likely isn't going to be a game for everyone, but retro-gaming fans looking for a new fix should probably keep an eye on this one.
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