by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
The name Shadow Blade: Reload evokes certain expectations when it comes to asking how this game actually plays. It conjures up images of Ninjas creeping through the inky black shadows and silently taking out their enemies before slinking off into the night. It also inevitably draws comparisons with other fantastic stealth side-scrollers. Mark of the Ninja comes to mind amongst others. But despite the heavy hint in the game’s title, stealth is not in fact where Shadow Blade: Reload shines. Though that’s not to say it doesn't have other strengths that make this a thoroughly satisfying, but short, romp through a fantastical ninja adventure.
So as mentioned, Shadow Blade: Reload is a 3D side-scrolling action platformer, in which you take on the role of Kuro, a slightly less than subtle ninja. Something is going on with warring factions and a magic medallion of some kind, and the fate of the world is in Kuros hands or something. I’ll be honest here, the story isn't this game’s strong point. It seems pretty thrown together from plenty of overused clichés and has some pretty well sign-posted twists that are anything but surprising. The cut-scenes through which the story is told are nicely done though, with the game using a simple comic-book style to show what’s happening between levels. As for the levels themselves, they are laid out across seven separate locations, which you travel between as the story progresses. Level design itself is very important in any platformer, especially one which encourages speed. Fortunately enough this is where Shadow Blade: Reload comes into its own.
Every level is a concentrated mixture of just the right amount of challenge from both the obstacles and enemies placed in your way. You are also given just the right combination of movement skills to make traversal simple and quick, whilst leaving you feeling in complete control throughout. You can jump, double jump, dash side to side or down and bounce from jump boosters placed throughout the levels. All of these come in useful and can be used in combination when trying to avoid the games many spike pits, laser grids and various other obstacles.
As far as combat is concerned it’s a slightly more mixed bag. When it lands properly, the combat and attacking moves can feel satisfying and visceral. You have multiple approaches to combat open to you, whether it be throwing a shuriken from a distance or hopping on to your victim and slicing their throat, the animations are generally great to watch. But I did find timing to be slightly out on several occasions, along with some ambiguous hit detection, that led to a slight break in the immersion. These aside though, for the most part, leaping from head to head across a group of enemies and watching the blood splatter is always fun. There’s a decent variety amongst the enemy types as well, with the classic cannon fodder up to heat-seeking missile launcher grunts and heavily armoured goons.
They do a good job of mixing these enemies up and gradually introducing more of the tougher goons to up the ante somewhat. Most of these enemies can be one hit killed however once you've worked out their patterns of attack. This leaves the challenge more in how these enemies and obstacles are combined to take you out. It is unfortunate that not a lot is done in terms of stealth gameplay in Shadow Blade: Reload. It essentially boils down to waiting until an enemy’s back is turned, and then stabbing him in it. There are no real hiding spots or stealth mechanics for you to utilise, and enemies for the most part spot you as soon as you turn up. There is ample opportunity here for classic stealth mechanics like vision cones or taking cover, but none of them are used. This leaves you feeling a little more like a roving instrument of instant death, rather than a master sneak, slipping silently through the shadows. Not to say that playing as a death machine isn't fun, it just feels like the game is setting itself up as a stealth platformer, without really providing the tools to justify that. As is now expected from most action platformers, you are thrown a number of boss fights as well throughout the game. Unfortunately these didn't ramp up the challenge that much like you'd expect and were disappointingly easy. Because of that that they felt a little tacked on rather than well thought out and necessary.
Shadow Blade: Reload is a fine looking game, especially considering this is an enhanced version of the original mobile game. It understandably opts for a simple aesthetic, with environments and characters having a certain cartoonish edge to them. There isn't too much visual difference between the different locations you explore during the game, beyond changes in colour and tone. But enough is done to differentiate each area that I never felt like I was getting bored of the same old backdrop. As I mentioned previously, the cartoonish look works its way into the comic-book style cut-scenes between levels and the style here is consistent and interesting. The voice-acting and soundtrack is also suitably melodramatic to fit with the rest of the game, though at times it feels like the game is taking itself just a little too seriously.
Shadow Blade: Reload is a straightforward and satisfying platformer. It doesn't live up to its lofty stealth claims and the clichéd story doesn't do much beyond add some context for the action. But once you get a feel for how it plays and settle into the solid platforming mechanics, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
Solid and Satisfying Gameplay, Effective Style
Predictable Story, Lack of Decent Stealth Mechanics