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Arts & Entertainment

Review: As a ninja game, this is a dull 'Blade'

| Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Please step away from the shuriken.

"Ninja Blade" might look like a wannabe "Ninja Gaiden" that borrows from elements of "God of War" and "Onimusha," but this imitation is not flattering.

Right away, we're met with Ken Ogawa, who so wants to be Ryu from "Gaiden." He and his ninja squad are tasked with battling a parasitic outbreak that's turning the citizens of Tokyo into repetitious mutants that do little but make noise and shuffle about, just waiting to be sliced and diced.

The game seems geared to the "Ninja Gaiden" crowd; however, it's more like ninja training wheels. Most of the big sequences play out in quick-time events, where you're prompted to hit a button during a cutscene.

Executed correctly, quick-time events can add some tense razzle-dazzle to combat or unleash spectacular finishing moves. In "Ninja Blade," these sequences excise the satisfaction of finishing off bosses and often don't add anything extraordinary when finishing off the grunt monsters. Considering such a large part of the game is devoted to quick-time events, it's as though you're stuck on autopilot for half the game. And there's no difficulty at all. Miss a button prompt, and the game will pause, rewind and let you try again.

Then again, for most of the game you can just settle into cruise control. Hordes of monsters are nary a threat, with very little A.I. guiding their actions.

Platforming elements pepper the levels, because what's a ninja game without some death-defying acrobatics• Running and bounding from one wall to the next is just a standard mode of transportation for ninjas, but for some strange reason, it takes some kind of special mind powers to perform vertical wall runs. If you don't release the controls at just the right esoteric moment, you'll fall back down. For the longest time, I'd say I had about a 50 percent success rate for first-try vertical wall runs, and I'm practically a platformer pro.

If your resistance is futile for ninja games, do not mistake "Ninja Blade's" checkpoints for save points. I scoured the menus for a save option before quitting the game, found none and mistakenly assumed this meant my game progress was automatically saved. Modern games have spoiled me with their friendly save options that don't chain you to your controller. Despite having defeated the mid-level boss, I had to start from square one because I didn't complete the entire level.

Even with quick-time events to break up the hack-n-slash monotony of boss battles, each requires little more than spot attacks, jump out of the way and attack again. No strategy required. Sure, some of the death scenes are an over-the-top hoot, but that's hardly enough payoff for the grind.

One upside is the quickly acquired collection of weapons, all upgradeable with experience crystals. Each weapon has its own specialty for destruction.

Ninja vision is a handy feature to expose weak points or access points, but when the vision meter runs out, there's a protracted, distracting blur that obscures the surroundings before regular view kicks in.

The environments are one of the game's high points, and maneuvering your ninja through a crumbling Tokyo is a sight to behold.

Ninjas versus mutants -- "Ninja Blade" should have been a thrill ride. Instead, the title falls on its sword with watered-down combat, turning a great premise into a dull fight.

Additional Information:

'Ninja Blade'

Rating: D+

Developer : From Software

Publisher : Microsoft

Platform : Xbox 360

Genre : Action

ESRB : Mature

Retail : $59.99

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