Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reflections on "Ninja Blade"

FromSoftware's X-Box exclusive "Ninja Blade" has been out for a while, so even though I just got around to playing it and beating it a few days ago, I'm going to skip the full review. Instead, I'm just going to throw some fairly unorganized thoughts at you.

First off, I'm sure what most of you want to hear from guys like me is a final grade. "Ninja Blade" is very middle of the road. It's not bad per se, just struggling from an identity crisis. I want to call it a hack-and-slash, but there are far too few villains to really fit it into that category. It's not an RPG, either, but there is a storyline (told through cinematics in-between levels) and you do get to choose which of your weapons to spend points on for upgrades. There are very slight platforming elements, like the eventual wall to run across or a bar to swing on, and it is also fairly linear.

The best game to compare "Ninja Blade" to would be "God of War," mainly due to a mix of action and Quick-Time Events. The only problem is, to call "Ninja Blade" a poor man's "God of War" would be giving "Ninja Blade" too much credit.

That said, all of these elements combine to make "Ninja Blade" very middle of the road. It's certainly not a bad gaming experience, but it's neither difficult nor memorable. It's also not very long at all (I took my time and still clocked in at only 8 hours), so it's definitely a rental not a purchase at a $59.99 retail price.

And speaking of middle of the road, the story line. To make a short story shorter, At some point before 2015 (when the game takes place), evil sentient worms began invading people's and animals' bodies, taking them over and turning them grotesque. Your job, as Ken Ogawa (not to be confused with failed New York Yankee Kei Igawa), who has magically worm-resistant blood, is to kill every last worm in Tokyo before world leaders just nuke the area. What results is essentially a game of running around killing zombies and monsters that look like animals.

There are nine levels total, but the last two are one giant ongoing boss battle against — you guessed it — Ken's Dad, who let himself get taken over by worms in order to turn Ken into the cold killer he would need to be. It would be heart-wrenching if it made any sense, or if the game showed any emotional attachment between the two characters before turning Daddy evil.

Each of the first seven levels follow a similar pattern: Kill zombies — often from a vehicle, mini-boss, kill zombies, mini-boss, kill zombies, main boss. And in each of those boss battles there are two or three Quick Time Events, which are, believe it or not, the game's biggest downfall. For one, there's just too darn many of them, including a lengthy one for delivering the final blow to each boss. For two, there's no consequence for getting the buttons wrong, other than rewinding and starting again. Sure, most of the time it's easy enough to get it right the first try, but all you really have to do is remember your mistakes and get it right the second time around. There's no threat of physical pain or reviving the boss if you fail. Consequently, boss battles (which really only require you to take your biggest sword and hack away in the first place) have no rhythm and slow the game down.

By the way, there are spoilers ahead, so be warned...

Really, there is only one difficult fight in the whole game, which encompasses all of the eighth mission, facing the still-human form of your father. The final battle — mission nine — is again fighting your father, only this time he's not your father. You see, all of the worms decided the best course of action would be to gather together in one place and condense themselves into one giant monster, and they decided to take the form of Ken's Daddy.

So yes, this game featuring body-snatching, zombiefying worms ends with a giant monster destroying Tokyo. No word on whether Daddy became Facebook friends with Godzilla.

So, if you really love games mixing action and QTEs, or if you really love killing zombies, then "Ninja Blade" is a game for you to fill up an afternoon or two. Otherwise, stick to "Rampage" for your giant monster quota this week.

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