Preview: Ninja Blade Hands-On

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Coming up on March 9th, a playable demo for From Software’s upcoming hack-n-slash title Ninja Blade will be launched on the Xbox Live Marketplace for the whole world to enjoy. Yesterday, Microsoft set me up with an early access code of the same demo you’ll be able to play next week, and after playing it through a few times now I’d like to give you a quick sneak peek at what’s to come.

Set in a near-future Tokyo under attack by nasty parasites called alpha-worms which have spread a disease that turns its victims into mutant creatures, Ninja Blade is an action/adventure game in the same vein as titles like Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Heavenly Sword and God of War. To save Tokyo (and of course mankind as a whole) from this infectious plague, an elite ninja team is called into action, and you play as a member of this monster-slaying, world-rescuing crew named Ken.

The demo kicks off in grand fashion with Ken and his band of ninjas leaping out of an airplane soaring over moonlit Tokyo and skydiving down to the sea of skyscrapers below, battling flying mutants along the way via a spectacular Quick Time Event sequence. Once Ken lands, you battle a short group of enemies called Carriers in what is essentially the game’s obligatory tutorial stage, and then from there you go on to flee from a giant Scolex Worm as it snakes around a skyscraper in pursuit before eventually engaging in an epic clash against a massive spider boss known as Arachne.

Ninja Blade plays very similarly to the aforementioned like-genre titles. You mash away on the X button to hack up enemies, wrack up combos, and collect colored orbs from slain foes. Combat centers around the use of a swappable three-weapon system: Ken is equipped with an all-around katana, a heavy sword that’s slow but capable of splintering shields and breaking through armored plating, and a pair of dual-wielded knives that make up for weaker damage by allowing for lighting-fast attacks and counters, and using the D-pad you can switch between these three weapons on the fly. And of course it wouldn’t be a ninja action game without some Ninjutsu powers. A cyclone shuriken is the only Ninjutsu provided in the demo.

Combat is fast, furious and fluid, and unlike the Ninja Gaiden games the camera is actually able to keep up with the action (sorry, had to get that dig in there, NG‘s crappy camera system angers me just thinking about it!). As a whole the gameplay appears tightly paced, too. Through heavy use of Quick Time Events (yes, this game uses a TON of QTEs), the action transitions from actual gameplay to event sequences smoothly, and when your QTE timing misfires the game rewinds back to the start of the sequence so you can instantly retry it without sitting through a game over screen before loading back into the game. I know many gamers despise QTEs, and if you fit into that group of haters you’ll probably want to steer clear of this game. But personally, I love QTEs when implemented properly, and based on what’s shown in the demo I’d say Ninja Blade’s use of QTEs is nipping at God of War’s heels.

What’s also impressive about Ninja Blade is its look. The sweeping draw distance over the skyscraper-laden Tokyo skyline is something to behold — especially during the opening skydiving QTE sequence — and the sense of scale to the set pieces and monsters (the spider boss in particular) is quite daunting. Something I was a bit disappointed by, however, was the gore, or lack thereof. There is some blood, but nowhere near the amount seen in similar games. But sometimes the violence level is turned down a notch in demo versions, so I’m hoping that’s the case with this game.

For a game I haven’t followed a lick of before now, Ninja Blade has totally blown me away. The scrumptious, bite-sized morsel of over-the-top ninja action the demo serves up already has me forgetting about 2008 disappointments like Ninja Gaiden II and Devil May Cry 4 and looking past even more recent hack-n-slashers like Afro Samurai, X-Blades and Onechanbara. Amidst all the early 2009 hype for games like Killzone 2, Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil 5, Ninja Blade sure hasn’t been getting a whole lot of pub, but I’m here to tell you that this is definitely a game to watch for.

Ninja Blade is scheduled to ship in North America on April 7th exclusively for Xbox 360. The playable demo goes public worldwide on March 9th.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!