Impressions: Ninja Blade Demo

Ninja Blade has been on my radar for several months now. Some have labeled it a direct ripoff of games such as God of War or any other normal hack-and-slash title, and they’d be correct. However, I’m the kind of person who will give anything an honest chance, and how can you do too much wrong with ninjas, gore, and action? Er, don’t answer that – I’ve played Nightshade. Though Ninja Blade’s demo isn’t set to appear to the public until March 7th, I was given the opportunity to taste the carnage a few days early. Does it live up to what positive hype it’s gotten? The demo did indeed showcase a gripping performance, but left me aching a bit for hack-and-slash done right. It’s still relatively unclear how the full game will measure up to the demo, but what was presented should delight fans of the genre.

A stylish opening cut scene sets the stage for the demo – a plane full of stern ninjas are being briefed on their mission. Tokyo is infested by a mysterious species (again?), and it’s up to a souped-up ninja force to right the wrongs. The player character, Ken, makes a quick exit from the plane after an exchange between fellow ninjas and their leader. With that, Ninja Blade begins.

Ninja Blade boasts impressive visuals.

Ninja Blade boasts impressive visuals.

Though it seems as if a free-fall to the surface merits only a slick cutscene and a bit of a wait, don’t put down the controller. A series of quick-time events ensue as enemies impede Ken’s progress. A quick press of one of the face buttons slices through some lowly baddies in a couple inventive ways. The transition from introductory cut scene to combat is seamless and offers no coddling – simply press the buttons or fail. If you fail, retrying from the beginning is mandatory. Those without quick reflexes may find this a bit maddening, but a quick memorization of the required button presses (they’re not random) should allow players to breeze through.

Cutting through the disposable flying demons will land Ken on a skyscraper where shuffling zombies are waiting to cut him to pieces. As extremely blatant sword-fodder, these guys are easily handled with a few slashes. Quick, tutorial text is displayed on the bottom of the screen to ensure a quick victory. You’re given a choice between heavy swords, sprightly katanas, balanced shortswords, and shuriken. Using different weapons varies what combos can be performed in combat, but there is no real apparent difference between any of them save for the speed at which moves are performed. For quicker weapons like the katana, the game will enter a type of bullet time to ensure players can take better note of the destruction. Admittedly, this can get a bit old when all you want to do is power through a horde of enemies, but the amount of detail presented is clean and slick.

There are a wide variety of moves available for Ken to employ, but a good portion will probably never be seen – you can get by just fine simply by button mashing. Should you choose to perform some of the flashier moves, know that there are interesting animations to look forward to, such as ramming a sword into an opponent’s forehead, backflipping into an enemy and lopping off a head, and other similar, more crafty moves. It’s all in taking the time to make them happen. Some require chi, but fallen enemies act as a neverending source, so gathering chi is not difficult.

Just when it seemed the area was clear of zombies and it was time for a frustrating “Where do I go?” session with the environment, a mammoth worm charged up through the floor of the building. What to do? A QTE, that’s what. Bounding away in the opposite direction as the worm rushes after Ken, a QTE allows him to swing from pole to pole, then rappel down the side of a skyscraper. Changing things up a bit, enemies appeared on the side of the building. They quickly fell prey to Ken’s katana. Sequence over – cue enormous spider with a penchant for devouring ninjas whole. The behemoth resembled spider-like bossses we’ve most definitely seen before more than just a little, and brought to mind a particular fight in Ninja Gaiden.

The game oozes style, but can it bring substance?

Suddenly, you’re racing toward this beast while dodging errant shockwaves and debris. One would assume that parts of the game have been stitched together, as surely the game does not jump erratically from a crazed worm to a spider. Neverthless, this Arachne was the next to fall by Ken’s sword. Luckily, Ninja Blade has a few more tricks up its sleeve. After a few more bouts with QTE, Ninja Vision is introduced. Ninja Vision tosses a red filter over the screen, and highlights more vulnerable areas of specific enemies. It also tends to slow down the action for a bit so Ken can get just a few more hits in before time returns to normal. This is, indeed, a very hackneyed concept, but seems to work well nevertheless. The boss battle with Arachne is a long and drawn-out venture, especially after whittling down his health several times before a real cut scene ends the fight. Leading Arachne to the roof where a wrecking ball awaited for a flawless victory was most likely the highest point of the demo. Taking out the nightmarish arachnid netted an endless stream of what I assumed to be the game’s currency – probably for purchasing first aid sprays and adrenaline boosts in the future.

Ninja Blade looks absolutely fantastic, and its controls are reasonably slick. My only gripe is its complete lack of originality. It’s blatantly copied 90% of hack-and-slash games available on the market, only having tossed a brand new skin into the mix – ninjas. However, it excels with its slick presentation and the sheer fun it is hacking through dozens of enemies. At the end of the day, that will propel sales, but I surmise the game won’t be received well with critics. What’s presented in the short demo is enjoyable, but it’s highly doubtful that the same kind of content can carry the entire game. Even so, I’m intrigued, as God of War and QTEs are two favorites of mine that go hand in hand.

Ninja Blade’s worth your time if you’re a fan of hack-and-slashers as well as ninjas, but I’m still not entirely sold. I’m going to have to see the finished product to pass fair judgment. The demo rolls out on March 9th, if you’re interested.  Check it out, and if you enjoy the demo, you can look forward to an April 7th release.

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