Ninja Blade (Xbox 360)
Ken Ogawa must have a bad case of Hayabusa envy. He's starring in a game that's clearly looking to capitalize on the popularity of Tecmo's long-lived Ninja Gaiden franchise, but the bizarre monster threats and backstory don't hold any of the slick appeal of Ryu Hayabusa's various adventures. You know how Ryu's dad sacrifices himself nobly, like, twice in the modern Gaiden games? Let's just say Ken's dad does something different.
Ken's part of a, um, special paramilitary ninja strike force that's been secretly eliminating outbreaks of a horrific, mutating, worm-borne plague. Set in the Tokyo of 2015, the Xbox 360-exclusive Ninja Blade opens with said team of ninjas taking on bigger, nastier creatures than have been seen in recent years. Right away, you get cues that this game's a cheese-fest: The overblown presentation, loud cinematic score and cookie-cutter characters are straight out of a B-movie. (The Andy sidekick character seems based on Will Smith's smooth-talking action hero.)
The game's so bombastic that the first two boss fights are just a prelude. After his son puts down those two "high-level carriers," Ken's father betrays him and stabs him with a mystical sword. Some international muckity-muck threatens to sterilize Tokyo with an orbiting laser, killing hundreds of innocents unless Ken can find out how to stop the plague. That's in addition to trying to save pops and brother-in-arms Kuroh from the mind-altering parasites. There's also some blather about corruption, temptation, Ken's special immune blood and a Queen Mother, too.
It's not like you'll care about any of this. Ninja Blade is like the Ninja Gaiden franchise's retarded cousin. It's a collection of clich?s: breakable environmental items that harbor collectibles used to upgrade your weapons; big monster fights -- giant golem, spider and crab -- that you've waged in dozens of previous games. It tries to jam in everything from the last five years of action games. Alternative slow-mo viewing mode? Check. Mounted-gun car chases? Check. Online leaderboard for mission stats? Yup.
The problem isn't so much that Ninja Blade uses these well-worn action game staples. It's that it uses them in the most predictable, unimaginative ways. And, as a fan of some of From Software's previous efforts, like Otogi and entries in the Tenchu series, Ninja Blade's lack of any kind of fresh take or refined polish feels like several steps backward.
The worst part comes when it dawns on you just how much the game intends to rely on Quick Time Events. Already overused since God of War popularized them four years ago, QTEs get abused in extreme fashion in Ninja Blade. The game chains together QTEs one after another in grunt fights, boss fights and cinematic sequences. The whole gameplay model seemingly exists to pay tribute to sharply timed button-presses and stick movements. Tagging the prompts with ridiculous verb labels like "Land!," "Dodge!" or "Endure!" makes the preponderance of this mechanic even more laughable.
Speaking of laughable, the plot makes some weak gestures at thematic sophistication, but the horrible voice acting and clunkily edited cut scenes undermine whatever ambitions the writers might have had. Dialogue inexplicably switches between English and Japanese, and the Japanese voices sound a whole octave deeper. It's funny, in a bad kung-fu movie dub kind of way, but you know they didn't mean it. You won't be surprised when, to mess with Ken's head, your best friend Andy gets resurrected, or that his dad sacrificed himself to eliminate the Alpha-Worm threat.
In fact, nothing about Ninja Blade will surprise you, and that's its biggest problem. It's clear you're playing a hackneyed, bastardized version of tropes better executed elsewhere, but Ninja Blade doesn't have the balls or smarts to embrace its cheese beyond a middle-school level of execution.
This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the publisher.