Review: Ninja Blade

NinjaBlade.jpg The year is 2015, Tokyo is the place. Deadly parasites called “Alpha-worms” have infested the city turning all those they infect into violent mutant creatures (or zombies, basically), and as modern-day ninja badass Ken Ogawa it is your job to eliminate the threat and rescue humanity from the brink of annihilation. To get the job done, you’ll slice and dice through gangs of mutants and all sorts of giant boss creatures, all the while running down the sides of skyscrapers, skydiving from airplanes, and driving motorcycles along the sides of a bus…in mid-air!

That is the plot setup for Ninja Blade, and, yes, it is every bit as silly and outlandish as it sounds.

Coined by developers From Software as a “cinematic action game,” Ninja Blade lives up to that billing through its liberal use of Quick Time Events (QTEs) that make every scene in the game feel like it’s straight out of the latest blockbuster action flick. Seriously, if you dislike QTEs in any way, you’ll want to avoid this game.

When you aren’t timing button presses during cut scenes, Ninja Blade plays very much like a cookie-cutter action/adventure game, copiously borrowing mechanics from other like-genre games. It has QTE-heavy bosses just like God of War, an on-the-fly weapon swapping system like Heavenly Sword (standard katana, heavy sword for breaking armor, and light wire daggers for crowd clearing and ranged strikes), and numerous elements – both good and bad – from Ninja Gaiden, including Ninjutsu magic spells, basic acrobatic adventure mechanics like wall running and pole swinging, similar camera woes (though not even close to as crippling as NG‘s), the archaic game-padding method of repeating defeated bosses leading into the final mission, and a similar general aesthetic. From Software even threw in some on-rails shooting segments which have you blasting at enemies from a turret mounted on a moving vehicle like you’d expect to find in Gears of War or some other third-person action game.

I’m generally not one to pick at games that piggyback off the ideas of other successful games – if a game does something really well it should be mimicked by other games as far as I’m concerned – but unfortunately for Ninja Blade everything it copies lacks the same high level of execution of the games it draws inspiration from. That doesn’t make it a bad game, just an uninspired one.

The QTEs, while impressive in their grand over-the-topness, aren’t as seamless as they need to be due to niggling little pauses and skips that frequently disrupt the timing and flow of the scenes. Also, the swordplay is zippy and satisfying, but at the same time lacks the smooth fluidity of movement that games like Heavenly Sword and Ninja Gaiden pulled off so well.

Compounding the problem is Ninja Blade’s indistinct style. Graphically, the game’s characters and environments look great and there really aren’t any gross technical deficiencies to point out, but in terms of art direction the game is lousy. The color scheme for the entire game is black on top of black on top of even more black, with little variation to keep your senses stimulated as the levels go by. The creature designs are terribly generic too. Mutated humans, bats, giant spiders, giant worms, giant plants…yada, yada, yada. However, you do at least get to keep Ken’s outfit fresh using unlockable costumes and emblems hidden throughout each mission.

Although derivative and artistically bland, Ninja Blade still manages to put forth a fun roughly 8-hour action experience with all the trappings of a Hollywood summer blockbuster, which makes it a good game to think about grabbing during a hot summer weekend when you’re stuck indoors looking for something to kill time with. Just don’t expect to remember it much once it’s over or find yourself itching to replay it again.

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Pros:
+ Core swordplay is good fun
+ Impressive QTE sequences
+ Swift pacing keeps you involved at all times

Cons:
– Completely derivative
– Generic art direction
– Annoying frame rate skips during some QTEs
– Heavy QTE usage not for everyone

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: From Software
Release Date: 4/7/09
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

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!