...and he comes from a long line of ninja. He's from a family of ninja. And this family has a special ability to kill monsters. And that's Ninja Blade in a nutshell, according to From Software planner Kazuhiro Hamatani. That might set the mood for how inspired the Xbox 360 cinematic hack and slash game is. Yes, it's "cinematic" as you're a super ninja fighting off demons atop Tokyo skyscrapers and during freefalls from helicopters. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's exciting.
Ninja Blade feels mostly adequate at this point. It's joined by a handful of gimmicks that could eventually turn out to be refreshing. The main character, ninja master Ken Ogawa, can sprint down the face of a building, slicing up hellspawn en route to the ground floor. In the Tokyo Game Show demo version, this was more than a bit jarring, as each attack on the winged demons that plagued Ogawa forced a transition to a new camera angle. Unsettling, in its current form.
From Software's other tactic for making Ninja Blade feel cinematic are its numerous timed button presses. We call 'em Quick Time Events round these parts. Ninja Blade's are a bit more exciting than some of its action competitors and certainly far less frustrating. Miss one and you'll simply do it again.
There's some variety in these QTEs. The button press for a "Dodge!", "Wire!" or "Endure!" may change with each attempt. It keeps you on your toes, but unless there's some tangible penalty, they don't really feel very tension-filled.
We'll admit though, that our battle with the giant rock skinned spider attacking Tokyo was made better by the cinematic Quick Time Events.
The standard combat isn't that exciting, though. Button mashing seemed to do the job, our hack, slash and jump attacks quickly whittling down the zombie-like hordes who pestered Ogawa. On-the-fly weapon switching helped to add some spice, as did Ogawa's wind manipulating ninjitsu skill, but the swordplay felt a little dry when inevitably comparing it to Ninja Gaiden.
Ninja Blade's "ninja vision" mode, flipped on with the Xbox 360 pad's left bumper, didn't quite sell itself in our hands-on. It slows the action down a bit, giving Ogawa an improved — and more orange-hued — look at the action. It didn't, however, showcase its usefulness quite yet. Perhaps in a more complicated boss fight.
Our brief time with Ninja Blade left us wanting. The action doesn't yet seem solid enough to dethrone titles like Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry 4, nor does the visual design help us to overlook some of its gameplay faults. It's dark, dreary and all too familiar at this point. Hopefully, though, From Software will surprise us with something we've yet to uncover in the game soon. Otherwise, the game may be deserving of its "Ninja Bladen" me-too nickname.