Ninja Blade Preview (Xbox360)

The hack ‘n’ slash genre excelled on the last generation. Titles such as Devil May Cry, God of War, and Ninja Gaiden all brought their own sense of brutality that often left players wide-eyed and licking their lips with the lust for blood. The success of such franchises hasn’t played out to the advantages of this type of game in the long run though, as current gen updates have been little more than a graphically superior re-run of adventures past. With Devil May Cry 4 forcing players to retrace their steps and Ninja Gaiden 2 offering a noticeably more mainstream and unimaginative adventure, it’s hard not to argue that hack ‘n’ slash fans’ best days are behind them.

With this in mind, we approached Ninja Blade without passing any quick judgements. For one, we hoped the game would offer something different, something that didn’t adhere to the ‘How To Make A Ninja Game’ guidebook with overindulgent ease. Within seconds, our hopes were shattered, as the Tokyo city skyline filled with futuristic helicopters that aren’t just fond of the designs in Ninja Gaiden II, they mimic them to a perverted level of admiration. Brushing that off as coincidence, we quickly realised that the script isn’t going to push any boundaries either, as the second character to speak plainly quips, “WHATEVER!” before launching himself out of the aforementioned chopper.

This is Ken Ogawa, your generic ninja hero.
One of the projectile weapons, ripped straight from the glaive in Dark Sector.

Seconds after this sigh-inducing opening, you’ll meet lead character Ken Ogawa; a confident, ‘real-world’ type Ninja. Or at least, that’s what FromSoftware Inc wants you to believe. The comparisons with Ryu Hayabusa are obvious and somewhat tiresome, but they wouldn’t keep cropping up if there were something to set him apart from the legendary character. Unfortunately, both in appearance and with his short, sharp dialogue, Ken fails to look conspicuous amongst a crowd of Ninja Gaiden fanatics, as he ticks all the correct boxes for what makes a suitable ninja hero according to modern day terms. Aided by characters of various origins, it is nice to see the developers trying to bring a contemporary feel to the narrative, as it marks itself out as a present day ninja flick that isn’t too worried about the historic birth of such rampaging and stealth-like fighters.

Approaching the gameplay, you’ll open by working your way through a dull set of quick-time events. Never matching the heights of the boss battles in God of War, you’ll fall through the sky tackling demonic winged creatures that dare fly in your way. With one swipe they’ll be gone, leaving a flash of light and a trace of their putrid flesh flailing in the air. Before long, you’ll have landed and will be tackling the infected inhabitants of the Japanese super-city, realising that this really is in keeping with the recent downfall of the hack ‘n’ slash genre. Fighting these acrobatic zombie clones isn’t as exciting as facing human opponents in Ninja Gaiden, as they fail to put up a convincing fight, often resorting to a cheap resurrection in order to prolong their attack. Blood inevitably splatters and roars are quashed aplenty, but the decisive feeling of satisfaction fails to show up anywhere. Without the desperation of enemy ninjas that have been re-sculpted limb-from-limb, who are quite possibly standing on their last leg, the game begins to present itself as a cheap infection tale that shies away from portraying the bone-popping, head-removing gameplay that makes the genre the bloodiest in the business.

With QTEs aplenty, your reactions are going to need to be, well, pretty average to be honest.
Animations are repeated incessantly, so expect a lot of eye-to-eye contact with Ken.

With the enemies scrutinised to within an inch of credibility, you will have fun pulling off various combos that flow adequately on screen. Three sword types are on offer depending on the task in hand. Facing an enemy with a shield? Whip out the heavier, speed-eating weapon and destroy their barrier within seconds. Got multiple targets closing in? Two swords will do the trick in an instant. If you want to get a little more varied, be sure to try one of the various projectile attacks as these can halt enemies before they even think about stepping up to a battle. It really is simple stuff, as you’ll feel like you’ve played through this game many times before. With the usual heavy and light attacks plus a few ninja-style darting manoeuvres thrown in for good measure, you’ll be wincing at the effectiveness of Ogawa in a matter of seconds.

Undoubtedly, the demo’s low point is centred on the boss battle. Pitting your wits against the blandly named ‘Arachne,’ you’ll take on a giant spider that has lodged itself within two skyscrapers in the city. This sees the introduction of ‘Ninja-Vision,’ a revolutionary state of mind that allows Ken to, yes you’ve got it, slow down time. Take a big breath. Whilst unoriginal, at least this allows you to deal out damage and dodge incoming attacks so you can get the encounter over and done with quicker. At times, we managed to stand still for at least a minute without needing to move or attack, as the behemoth arachnid sat still like a baby nodding off to sleep. Once you have chopped off a number of its legs, you’ll be faced with a set of QTEs in order to deal a bigger blow. Shamefully, the animation is identical every time, meaning that the title begins to creek after only five minutes as a Ninjitsu master.

The boss we fought was big, but never reached its maxium potential.
Once again, QTEs break up gameplay in this rather blurry scene.

Once you’ve beaten the terribly designed monster to within an inch of its life, you’ll initiate a special ‘Todomé Attack.’ Essentially another set of quick-time events, you’ll use the environment in order to score a decisive victory. It’s a ridiculous ending, as proceedings close with an oddly underwhelming assault involving a crane and a splashing of spider-brains. Whilst regrettable, we appreciated the use of stylish camera angles, as it’s unorthodox approach enables a slick feel that many games fail to grasp.

Whilst not disastrous, Ninja Blade does very little to launch the genre back to the heights of the glory days. The game lacks a vital flow, as the endless stream of resurrecting enemies and QTEs means you’ll be interrupted just as you gain momentum to advance. Ticking all the hack ‘n’ slash cliché boxes a hundred times over, it’s difficult to see how this is going to make an impact when it’s released in early April. If however, you feel this has something to offer you, check the Live Marketplace today, as you’ll be able to sample the game with a playable demo.


By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 05, 2009
This was once a very good game. I don't know will I ever play it. These are the games that just pass in front of my eyes, sometimes the don't even get noticed... That's it. :|
By benny180 (SI Core) on Mar 05, 2009
"‘How To Make A Ninja Game’ guidebook" couldnt have put it better myself,unless a game really does something spectacular with this genre i think itll die a death of a thousand Ninjas!
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 07, 2009
What I like about Ninja is stealth. There appears not to be any of this in this game. And there are no real ninja weapons. :|
By pimpboy101 (SI Newbie) on Mar 07, 2009
this shit is tight ass hell
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 08, 2009
Come one man, we are supposed to speak like gentleman here. Be cool man. :)
By Revan (SI Elite) on Mar 08, 2009
"speak like gentlemen..." ahahahaha!!! That coming from you!! I don't encourage swearing on this site either. But yeesh dude! That coming from YOU!! You going soft old buddy??! :D
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 08, 2009
Nah. I just want to spread the rules!

Btw, you know how sharp-tongued I am, I spit in everyone's face and say whatever I want, but only if I want to. But I want to keep SI clean of that! I don't want to get kicked of because of my big fat mouth! :P
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Mar 09, 2009
Cut it off, let's talk about this game. I don't see anything special about this one, and the environment is always skyscrapers. Ken Ogawa? We have a better ancestor to do your job. Yes. The Eagle. Altair.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 09, 2009
This is something fictional that has nothing to do with Ninjas. I like a game from PS: One about the true Ninja, I just don't remember the name. But it was good and had nothing fictional. I would like to rush into that one again... :(
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Mar 10, 2009
Umm..... Tenchu? Strider Hiryu?
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 10, 2009
Doesn't ring the bell... It was nice, had all those shiny shurikens, grapples and bombs - old classic style. :)