When at first you don't succeed…
Ninja Blade was originally released as a console game. To be more precise, it started its life as an Xbox 360 game. An odd choice given the fact that its developer, From Software, is Japanese and we all know how well Microsoft's console has done in the Land of the Rising Sun. Not. The game's reception was lukewarm at best, receiving 68% average score on GameRankings. Unsurprisingly, the game did not sell particularly well, not even when it landed on Xbox 360-rich Western shores a couple of months later. Not to be deterred, From Software set out to earn an extra dime by porting the game to PC. A hazardous undertaking for many a game developer and one that we will learn the outcome of in this review.
You're not in control
Things are not well in Tokyo. The population has been infected by a parasitic worm that mutates its victims to all kinds of weird, manga-inspired monstrosities. The army has surrounded the city and can barely hold its own against the waves of cannon fodder trying to get out and spread the infection. By the time that your team of Elite Ninja's arrive on the scene, over 2 million people have died already. And guess what? It's up to you to save the city and Japan as a whole.
You are dropped out of an airplane in mid-air. It is a little disconcerting that none of the members of your team have any parachutes. This in itself could be explained away by "it's only a game" were it not for the fact that I mistimed a jump and fell to my death off a building not three minutes later. Backtracking a little, the plane jump also had me fighting some winged baddies for which I needed to tap the X and Y buttons on my… mouse???
Puzzled but not defeated, I played along with the game's instructions for its control scheme. If you have hooked an Xbox controller to your PC, the game will let you use that. I didn't, and I don't want to. PC games are meant to be controlled with mouse and keyboard. Period. As it turned out, From Software was just lazy and did not build in any detection for what input device you are using. Instead they opted to display a confusing mix of instructions for mouse/keyboard along side of the instructions for the Xbox controller. To make matters worse, buttons are switched around during QuickTime events. So an attack may need to be carried out by pushing the X button on one moment while the exact same action would require the Y button a second later. Confusing, unnecessary and dumb.
Fighting the beasties
Disposing of run of the mill enemies can be a satisfactory experience filled with a variety of dynamic and interesting looking effects. Your character will be hacking and slashing wildly around him, leaving very little alive in his wake. Unfortunately he seems to be doing it all on his own. Ninja Blade is very much a button masher and most of the time pointing your character in the right direction and bashing the attack button will be all that is needed to destroy whatever foes the game throws at you. Luckily the game also sports some more interesting enemies, usually bigger in size and always harder to defeat. Coming up against those means blending normal attacks with triggered QuickTime Events that are paired with some really cool looking moves from your character.
Graphically, the game could well have been an Xbox game. There is very little to suggest that this game was created for the current generation of consoles. This means capable graphics, passable textures and average effects all put to work in bland, uninspired levels. The in-game animations on the other hand, are one of the few highlights of the game. They may not blow you off your feet but they look fluid and convincing. It is a shame that From Software did nothing to improve upon the graphics, harnessing the power of today's PCs.
And then some
By now it should be clear that I did not enjoy my time with Ninja Blade. Playing the game is a frustrating experience filled with little bumps and potholes that conspire against your enjoyment. Think, for instance, of Japanese Ninja's speaking like American truck drivers? And what about glass floor titles that are so damaged that no one in his right mind would stand on them, and yet you are expected to run around on them freely? And what of suddenly appearing NPCs that pop out of nowhere to talk to you or give you instructions? The list goes on and on. Granted, these are minor things but they all add up to a 'to be missed' experience.
Some games are not meant to make the transition from console to PC. The chances of making a game work with mouse and keyboard, especially when the console version was nothing to write home about, are slim at best. It did not work for Ninja Blade, causing the game to fail miserably. While the graphics are passable and some of the battles are dynamic and fun, its control scheme will sooner or later make you want to take that blade, plant it firmly against the floor and then fall upon it to end your misery.
Impossible control scheme conspires against you playing this game