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Vice Blog

Brazil Issue Extra - Sheppard's Video-Game Pie

June 9, 2009, 3:31pm

Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Ninja Blade is fun.
The obvious point of comparison is Ninja Gaiden II. By almost every common standard of measurement, Ninja Gaiden II is the better game. It’s got more polish. It’s got more levels. It’s got more enemies, and more weapons, and more magic, and more special moves. The combat system is tighter; tight like unto a fighting game. It’s a big blockbuster of a production. Yet I did not find Ninja Gaiden II fun. Ninja Blade, I did.

Anyway. Ninja Blade is a third-person adventure brawler game thing where you play as Ken Ogawa, a member of an elite government-sponsored ninja special ops team, dispatched to Tokyo to root out an infestation of “Alpha Worms,” a sort of hookworm that grows in human brains and causes its host to mutate into horrible monsters, ranging in scale from human-size to skyscraper-crushing. It thus joins the proud tradition of games about ninjas vs. monsters, and doesn’t seek to do anything more than continue this tradition. The fighting is a bit shallow, but viscerally satisfying—it doesn’t require ridiculous concentration and skill, but it’s not just button-mashing either.

The game makes heavy use of quicktime events during cut scenes—a button indicator appears on screen, and then you press that button with the right timing and Ken Ogawa does something awesome. Every boss fight ends with a lengthy quicktime event, and most begin with one, too. Unlike certain other games, if you mess up a button push, it just rewinds a bit, instead of killing you, so the QTEs are mostly there to keep your fingers busy while you watch the action. Some people do not like QTEs on principle, but I think they’re used well here: The alternative, which is non-interactive cut scenes, wouldn’t be any better, as there’s currently no way to create a game engine that would let you pull off Ken’s QTE moves in-engine on Ninja Blade’s budget.

It’s not a big blockbuster, it doesn’t really redefine gaming, but it doesn’t really have design flaws as such. Playing it never made me angry. It was a fun diversion. Plus, the game lets you change the colors on the protagonist’s ninja suit, which I spent more time on than I probably should have. It’s not surprising the game lets you do this—From Software, the developers, also do the Armored Core games, which allow for heavy visual customization of their giant robots. It’s a neat touch, and not something you’d normally see resources devoted to on a mainstream game.

So… thumbs up, as it were.