Ninja Blade Xbox 360 Review
There’s no doubt ninjas are cool. Just look at some of the video gaming ninjas like Ryu Hayabusa, Strider Hiryu, Rikimaru, Gray Fox and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. All these ninjas, even though some don’t play by the stealth rules, show some sort of awesomeness about them. From Software is helping the cast of remarkable video game ninjas by adding their hero, Ken Ogawa from Ninja Blade, which is From Software’s latest action game.
Set in a future locale of Tokyo in 2015, Ninja Blade tells the story of an infection sweeping across Tokyo. The infection is overtaking the city and it’s down to Ken Ogawa to get rid of this menace before Japan becomes totally contaminated, or blown away by the World Super Powers who don’t want this bug spreading out of Japan.
The story isn’t anything new or different and feels like it would fit well in a Resident Evil setting. The infection itself is a creature that is called the Alpha Worm that hatches and grows inside the host, turning it into a grotesque monster. See, this sounds like the T-Virus we all have become familiar with. The plot is a bit rubbish and cheesy. It contains your typical betrayal and family emotions that are usually involved in Ninja stories, but it’s still enjoyable for what it is, and makes for good action at least.
This is what Ninja Blade is all about, crazy over the top epic action scenes. Throughout the game’s nine missions, you’re going to see a lot of things that are going to make you react in sheer awe at how awesome, if somewhat cheesy at times, these action pieces are. A lot are done through the infamous Quick Time Event (QTE) mechanic. It’s such a vital part of the game that the box art has it advertised on the back. I’m pretty sure only the hardcore gamers know what it means and it will certainly stir up a storm between gamers. QTEs are the Marmite of gaming at the moment, you either love or hate them.
But damn they make for some excellent moments. Most of them will stay with you for months to come as they are so over the top that they simply cannot be forgotten. A good one is when you execute a Todome, which appears when you’ve killed a boss. Todomes are like fatalities, they are Ken’s finishing moves. The first level boss has a Todome that revolves around Ken smashing a giant metal ball that is attached to a crane. Smashing it with his huge sword, Ken then jumps onto the revolving ball that is spinning up and over the crane. When the moon comes into view he cuts the wire holding the ball, then spins over the massive ball and throws it down right in to the boss’s face, ending in the death of the boss. Talk about insane! Others involve riding bikes up walls, surfing on a missile to aim it back at the boss that fired it and a good one that shows Ken’s brute strength as he stops a plane from crashing with his bare hands.
The game is roughly 35% QTEs, so if you hate them you probably will not enjoy Ninja Blade what so ever. However people who enjoy them or don’t really mind are going to enjoy the game. The upside is that QTEs are practically frustration free. The player knows when they are coming because From Software has added a nice little touch to alert you. As soon as one is about to happen, the game flashes a camera view of Ken’s face zooming in on his left eye and then the QTE starts. It’s a genuinely good idea that stops anything from unsuspectingly jumping out on you. Ninja Blade features a lot of QTEs that last a good 30-40 seconds, with lots of inputs to boot. The game does the Prince of Persia style rewind system and puts you back should you fail, free to attempt that bit again. It does remove the annoyance of QTEs seen in other games.
The 65% fighting part plays like something ripped from Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry. The fighting itself isn’t as deep as those games, but it’s not too shallow either. There are four different weapons at your disposal. These include the Oni-Slayer Blade (standard katana), Twin Falcon Knives (dual wielding wire swords), Stonerender Sword (big heavy sword) and the final utility of death is the Shuriken, which has the ability to use your Ninjutsu bar to wrap the shuriken in a magic element.
Each of the swords has their own combo chain, which is pulled off by pressing a certain button, for example tapping x will simply just hack with your sword. Holding the right trigger with that will turn your attack into a spin attack. There are about ten different types of attacks for each weapon. You don’t start with all the attacks as you have to use orbs collected from enemies to level up your weapons to make them more powerful and unlock the extra combos. Certain combos stand out a lot more because they are far more useful to use. The Twin Falcon Knives act like Kratos’ blades from God of War. Using the heavy attack, which is assigned to the Y button, Ken will spin his blades around with wires shooting out. These are extremely handy to repel enemy fire back at them.
It’s a shame that Ninja Blade doesn’t have better enemies to fight against. The fighting mechanics are not used to full affect. Most enemies can be defeated by simply repeating the heavy attack. This is due to the heavy attack smashing and stunning the opponents allowing you to either rinse and repeat or attack with another weapon. The highlights of battle are the bosses, which come in all sizes from skyscraper size snails and worms to smaller humans with snakes for arms. These bosses follow a pattern for you to decipher and plan your attack, although they can be taken down multiple ways. One such boss is the giant enemy crab (Genji style) on mission 3. You can either break its legs off or simply reflect the balls of lightning it shoots back at you. The latter will take longer, but it’s less demanding on your health bar as getting up close opens you up to all sorts of attacks.
Weapons also interact with the environment. Travelling across gaps requires your Twin Falcon Knives to attach to buildings, while your Stonerender smashes through walls. Throughout the nine missions you will find yourself jumping over the roofs of Japan, going underground, flying on a plane and raiding huge skyscrapers. Mixing up the fighting is the inclusion of on rails sections that come in form of taking control of a tank’s or helicopter’s gun turret. This consists of purely blowing up everything with the infinite ammo that your gun turret comes with. There’s nothing wrong with these sections but they don’t do anything particularly new either.
One final fundamental gameplay element is Ken’s “ninja vision”. This allows you to enter a slow mo mode while at the same time highlighting key points on the stage. It also allows you to hit for double damage, but on the flip side you also take double damage. It’s a very helpful mechanic that you will use countless times. The function has a weird side effect on Ken. It saps away at your Ninjutsu bar, but the longer you have it enabled means the longer the strange blurring that appears after you turn it off. It’s a bizarre effect that I can only guess is there to stop you from using it for too long, but the effect, while messing with your eyes, lasts for about 3-4 seconds maximum, so it doesn’t stop you from using it. It really does not need to be there.
Outside of missions you can fully customize Ken’s outfit. Plenty of settings can be changed, from head to feet and using them you can create your own weird deranged vision of what a ninja should dress up like. I had Ken dressed up in bright orange pants and jacket with a black shirt and black armour and head gear. It looked amazingly silly, but then again the whole game is over the top and this just adds to that. Missions also contain secret costumes for you to hunt out – like flowers painted on a pink colour that make Ken look that a little bit camp.
Funny enough, Ninja Blade doesn’t follow in the steps of that awful ninja vision after effect when it comes to the game’s graphics. It’s a decent looking game that its visual flair shows a lot more in the QTE sections and cut-scenes. While fighting, the graphics get the job done, but they don’t come close to the detail seen in Ninja Gaiden 2. Occasionally the game will suffer from slowdown, this occurs when you hit a few enemies at once with an attack that break their armour. There’s also this general colour scheme of green/grey that features for the first half of the game, like everything is this colour. Later on it seems that the developers noticed this and started to broaden the range of colours.
Audio is on the better side. The voice acting isn’t the best, but it is tolerable. There’s also a full on English track or a bilingual track where the Japanese people will speak Japanese and the English speak English. This does add to the atmosphere. The soundtrack is fine and gives the game a blockbuster feeling during the cut-scenes and QTEs.
The first play through Ninja Blade will last around 9 hours. There is incentive to play it multiple times through to gain hidden items in levels, increased difficulties and max out your weapons. Achievements are mostly easy to get, with just a couple that might strain you a bit.
Ninja Blade was set out to bring an over the top, pure action blockbuster experience to the table and it succeeds at just doing that. It’s far from perfect but it supplies gamers with a decent action experience with an awesome QTE mechanic to show off scenes that are totally outrageous, but so memorable. If you like QTEs then there’s no doubt that you should play this game to experience them. Other people will probably turn away in disgust and reject it. Which is a shame because this is one of the better examples of how to do QTEs in a game, annoyance free and put to use in situations that should use them.