Ninja Blade Xbox 360
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: FromSoftware
Ninja Blade is a flawed and frustrating game to be sure but it's also fun and addictive. At times the game makes you want to throw the controller down but there are also times when you'll have problems putting it down because you'll just want to keep playing. It's an odd mix but the adrenaline filled, nonstop and over-the-top action keeps you interested throughout the game's fairly short playing time. Those who don't enjoy Quick Time Events probably ought to look elsewhere for their ninja action however.
Set in Tokyo in the year 2015, Ninja Blade tells the story of a ninja's fight against a parasitic virus that has spread throughout Japan's capital city. The parasites, dubbed Alpha Worms, have been mutating humans into incredibly vicious creatures that wreak destruction and murder everything in its path. You'll play as Ken Ogawa, a modern day ninja but Ken isn't the kind of ninja who likes to sneak around. He'll fight on the wing of an aircraft whilst it's in flight, he'll ride a wrecking ball and tackle huge spider-type monsters for fun so stealth is not a consideration. Some may find that a little disappointing but Ninja Blade is all about action and in some respects it's all the more refreshing for it.
The combat in Ninja Blade is fairly good but it's definitely not on the same level as the Ninja Gaiden games. In some respects this isn't a bad thing because many will find the game more accessible. The boss fights are the star attraction here and they are genuinely challenging. Some of the boss battles are too long however and just as you think you've defeated a boss character they usually come back for more dragging the battle out to an unnecessary length. Ken has access to three weapons. There's the Oni-Slayer Blade, the Stonerender Sword and the Twin Falcon Knives. As you'd expect, each of these weapons are suited to different types of enemies and different situations so you'll be switching between them quite often. The weapons can also be upgraded. One of the collectable items in the game are Blood Crystals. When you find a sufficient amount of these, you can select a weapon to level-up and gain additional moves. The combat is enjoyable, if a little shallow, and you're not going to make the most of all the moves you'll unlock on the game's default difficulty setting.
The combat definitely doesn't attempt to keep things realistic (you can even dress Ken in some rather bizarre costumes if you wish) with Ken carrying out some rather bizarre moves. You'll also find some Prince of Persia-style acrobatics thrown in the very brief moments between the battles. Ken also has access to Ninjutsu powers, such as Cyclone Shuriken, Flame Shuriken and Lightning Shuriken that he'll need to use against certain enemies. He also has a power known as Ninja Vision which allows him to channel his chi to boost his reflexes and read his environment. Essentially it allows him to figure out what surfaces can be interacted with (Mirror's Edge-style) and it also allows him to have a temporary burst of superhuman speed so that he can have an edge on difficult enemies.
There are some real problems here that prevent the game from being one of the truly great ninja titles. The game relies far too much on Quick Time Events and you can't even enjoy the bulk of the game's cutscenes without having to do a few well timed button presses. Whilst I don't have anything against QTE's per se, the sheer number of them here is painful to anyone who doesn't love them. Should you press the wrong button or get your timing wrong you'll have to do the series of button presses again, without suffering a game over screen, which does alleviate some of the frustration, but there should not have been so many of them in the game to begin with. It's also a little annoying that you can't save your progress mid-mission. In order for your progress to be saved you'll have to complete a mission meaning this isn't a game you can play if you don't have much time on your hands.
The graphical quality of Ninja Blade is actually quite mixed. Several aspects, such as the character and boss models look good but some of the environmental details are not so good looking. There are numerous impressive visual effects in the game which add to the dramatic mood. The game's cutscenes are certainly respectable and it's a shame you couldn't sit back and enjoy more of them instead of having to complete QTE's. The frame rate is mostly OK but there are moments when the frame rate significantly drops and whilst it doesn't affect the game in any way, it's still rather unsightly. At least the camera is reasonably well behaved and it rarely causes any problems.
Ninja Blade is actually quite a decent experience for deaf gamers. Before starting a new game, take care to go into the options menu and change the subtitling option from "Japanese dialogue only" to "All dialogue." You are given some options to choose when starting a new game but you won't have access to the subtitling options. The cutscene subtitles don't have any speaker names or portraits accompanying them but this usually doesn't present any problems. During a mission you are usually notified of who is speaking to you. Objectives are shown in text and can be recalled at any time. Tutorial messages are shown in text. You are notified when you have reached a checkpoint and when the game has been saved. You also receive some notification when a QTE is about to occur as you're given a close-up view of Ken's eye.
Those expecting Ninja Blade to be in the same vein as the Ninja Gaiden series will be slightly disappointed as there are some significant differences here. That said however, Ninja Blade is certainly more accessible and definitely more forgiving. The number of QTE's is disappointing and there should have been far fewer of them. Even when taking the game's annoyances into consideration though Ninja Blade still manages to be a solid action title that definitely has its moments and some truly epic boss battles that are definitely worth experiencing. As long as you have a lot of love for an obscene amount of QTE's, you'll find a lot to like here. It's not a classic by any means but it's one of the most action-filled games on the Xbox 360 to date.