There are two sayings that come to mind when I think about Ninja Blade. The first is one that I am sure you hear on car commercials, and fine wine ads and that is “Often Duplicated, Never Imitated” The other is one that I have used in other reviews that I have written over the years, and this is “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” while both of these sayings ring true when comparing Ninja Blade and Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden the latter I am using loosely because I don’t want to boost From Software’s ego too much. From the opening scene of a ninja living in a high tech world, fighting monsters or in this case infected beings, to the use of swords and magic instead of a good blaster Ninja Blade pays quite the homage to Tomonobu-Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden franchise.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Ninja Blade and Ninja Gaiden are quite similar. Young Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden is tasked with saving the world from monsters; the same goes for Ninja Blade’s Ken Ogawa. Ryu can climb vertical walls, wall hop and even wall run; ditto for old Ken Ogawa. Hayabusa has various weapons in his inventory; selectable on the fly, upgradeable and generally bad ass in nature; Ogawa’s inventory works nearly the same but his weapons are limited to three swords and a ranged disc that can be imbued with the power of fire, lighting, and the like. So it is pretty clear that FromSoftware hoped to tap into the Ninja Gaiden fan base with this new game.
There are some differences between the two games though, but only one of those in my opinion is better in Ninja Blade. Ogawa can do a wall run then jump maneuver that’s a pretty cool visually, since he has sort of a blur aura and then when you make the jump it appears in slow motion. Yes….I am a sucker for things in slow motion…sue me. Ninja Blade also features a set of dual-wielded short blades, which have the alternate function of enabling Ken to swing on tethers in certain parts. My problem with this is it is a special function that is mapped to the A button. It wouldn’t be so bad if this game didn’t force me to press soooo many buttons in all of the boss battles… but more on this later.
And that brings me to the one thing that I would take from this game and import into ole NG and that is Ninja Vision, which is a way of cluing players in on important points of interest such as vertical surfaces that can be used for wall runs or smash-able barrels containing pick-ups or to uncover boss’ weak points. There’s a risk/reward to Ninja Vision in that Ken is more open to harm when it’s being utilized which is a nice touch. I can remember in NG2 I got lost more than once, and could have used some sort of visual clue to point me in the right direction.
Now for my biggest problem with Ninja Blade, the quick-time events (QTE). You know, the on-screen prompts that tell you to push a button at a specific time in order to trigger some sort of action. Don’t get me wrong here, I think that QTE’s are great in the music games like Rock Band, but it doesn’t belong in an action game like Ninja Blade. Sure, these events depict some off the wall stuff like surfing on a missile or riding a motorcycle that is falling through the air on buses and trucks that are also falling. My gripe is that they happen so often they end up disrupting the flow of the game. Plus I missed out on half the crazy stuff that Ken was doing because I was so focused on pushing the right button next. I mean honestly do you really need to push a button to land a jump you just did. I think that this really takes the player out of the game, because as I said you spend more time focusing on the next button to press rather than enjoying the cut scene that should advance the story for you. There is also this pause that happens right before a QTE occurs, the camera zooms close to Ken’s eye and he turns toward you as if some stuff is about to go down. My friends and I have called this the “eye of the tiger” and believe me if you see it in action you will agree.
The game also offers some rail shooting sections just to spice things up and while these are decently done, they just feel unnecessary to the story. Speaking of story, if you are looking for a gripping tale like Final Fantasy, or The Godfather (movie…not game) you won’t find it here. You and your team are sent to stop an outbreak that is happening in Japan. The mutants and monsters you fight were all human at some point and are now infected with this horrible parasite. Honestly it is really just a reason for you to fight monsters. But I will say this about the game; some of the bosses are really cool and epic to fight. I had fun with almost all the bosses, especially the snail creature.
Although Ninja Blade does accomplish some things in its quest to honor Ninja Gaiden, other things it just pulls right from NB. The first of which is the rather awkward camera. Now I never really had a problem with the camera in Ninja Gaiden, but I know a lot of people do and don’t like it. Well in Ninja Blade the camera functions pretty much the same. You can turn it around you with the right stick, or snap it on your back by clicking the stick in. I am not knocking this game for its camera; I just felt to mention it because I know a lot of you don’t like NG’s camera system. Another thing is the auto target system in NB could have used some tighting up. Sometimes you will be slashing all around your intended target because the auto targeting system fails to do its job correctly.
Now did I hate Ninja Blade? No, in fact I thought despite the QTE, and some other frustrating parts it was a pretty fun game. The game even allows you to design your ninja outfit, as well as give you other unlockable ninja garb. FromSoftware even promises DLC for the game to extend its life on your shelf. While I don’t think Ninja Blade is better than Ninja Gaiden by any means, I do think it offers a more fun and outlandish style of ninja that some people may dig more than the hardnosed seriousness of Ryu Hayabusa. If you played the demo for Ninja Blade and loved it, then the game is clearly for you as the retail copy will give you more of what the demo offers.