Wednesday 13 May 2009

Ninja Blade

I’ve never been to Japan, and I’ve only briefly played Devil May Cry so I should be at a disadvantage reviewing Ninja Blade; but I’m still not an idiot. While I’ve never been there personally, I’m willing to bet that the Japanese government doesn’t have an elite squadron of ninjas, but even if they did I’m they wouldn’t be prepared to fire them out the back of a dropship several thousand feet in the air in the event of some bizarre natural disaster. Nor will they have such a group in the next few years. Think about it. Even if they did employ people with cat-like reflexes, agility that lets them run along walls and the ability to look at the world in bullet time, there are much better uses for them other than canon fodder:

- pilots
- decorators
- more dangerous pilots
- research subjects
- even more dangerous pilots
- pilots who can touch up the paintwork on Air Force One mid flight
- a funnier variant of a pilot

You see? That list took me about four seconds to think of. All I’m saying is that if I was in charge of dispatching people with such impressive abilities, my first idea wouldn’t be to drop them out of a plane into a room full of mutants armed with little more than a couple of sodding sticks. There’s a special breed of people for that job, Gene Roddenberry thought of it over 40 years ago. They’re called “redshirts”. All you need is some red tops, one person with a name worthy of appearing in a movie (such as “Jake Bullet”) who’ll survive and report back to you, and about eight people known only as something like “Hernandez” or “O’Reilly”. Yeah, they’ll certainly all die, but who cares? The mission will be successful. Eventually.

If there’s any kind of warning I need to give regarding Ninja Blade, it’s that if you already hate quick time events, don’t bother with it unless you want to develop a full-blown allergy, new found immunity and then another allergy all over again. Most of the game consists of random button presses as prompted on-screen and occasionally you get to walk around a bit. Oh yeah, avoid Ninja Blade if you don’t fancy spending most of you time stabbing giant penises. I have no idea what this problem is with giant penises, but pretty much all western interpretations of Japanese culture involves ninjas and penises. Great, throbbing, deformed penises capable of tearing down buildings. I’m not even doing justice to how predominant giant penises are in Ninja Blade. Seriously. I spent a while wondering if I’d get more of a kick out of it if I was a gay nymphomaniac.

I guess Ninja Blade is the game for people who don’t think they’ve played enough Devil May Cry (and really, they have) and also still enjoy cornering insects and pulling their legs off one by one. Unless you’re fighting a flying boss, all you do to anything bigger than yourself is quick time event it until it can’t run away anymore, then slowly cut its legs off with a couple of blunt swords. I know the story is about some weird insects infecting humans and turning them into horrific monstrosities, but considering the government is telling me to kill them one by one by cutting their legs off slowly and painfully, I was beginning to think I was the evil one.

Then I remembered that I wasn’t the one firing bolts of lighting resulting in another completely unnecessary quick time event, and dragging boss battles out for about an hour and repeating the same fucking routine over and over until eventually it worked properly. If you are fighting a flying boss, however, you’ll be delighted to know that the battle will be reminiscent of the boss hand thing in Super Smash Bros. on the highest difficulty setting. The only differences are that it’ll take longer because it’s just slightly higher off the ground and your ninja has a habit of occasionally getting caught up in his own awesomeness with a katana and as such will savage whatever direction you accidentally pointed him at for a few seconds while the boss comes up behind you and pulls your skull out through your colon.

I get a distinct impression that during the Ninja Blade design meetings, there was someone bouncing up and down in the corner repeatedly shouting “MAKE IT MORE AWESOME” without really giving any insight as to what they meant by “awesome”. As such, you’ll run along walls, plummet from the sky, fight along walls, fight in the sky and even (and I’m not joking):

- grab a freshly vomited motorbike out of the air at around 4000 feet
- ride it along a pair of coaches
- ram it down the throat of one of the giant asteroid worms from Star Wars: Episode IV and detonate it

I didn’t quite manage to finish it, but that’s not because it’s any measure of a long game, I was just a bit embarrassed about hacking giant penises during daylight and could only play it for a while during the small hours of the morning. I also have friends.

I think the tone they aimed for in Ninja Blade was “action thriller” but kind of missed the mark on account of deformed people stopped being scary some time before I Am Legend came out and made us question how they could be truly dangerous if they’re such big pussies that they can’t set foot in daylight. There’s also the fact that most of the action is so over the top that it goes right beyond corny and is just really funny. Speaking of which, what kind of city has “an emergency catapult” in it’s fucking sewage system?! It’s only possible use would be to make the Saint’s Row sanitation activity a lot less challenging, or conveniently enough, launching a giant insect into orbit. There’s also the ability to dress your uber graceful ninja/warrior/government agent up as the Queen of Hearts or a clown, which undermines pretty much every aspect of the game somewhat. I thought I could make the game more entertaining by dressing my ninja as a packet of gum, but that didn’t do the trick if I’m honest.

While not content with ripping off Devil May Cry and misrepresenting modern Japan completely, Ninja Blade spent and entire level missing the point of Snakes On A Plane; which is of course just to hear Samuel L. Jackson shouting “I’ve had enough of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane”. Instead it has you fighting some giant snake thing with god knows how many heads (maybe it was just three, but I’m sure I shot a few off on my way to the plane and cut a few more off while on the bloody thing) while on the wing of a cargo jet.

Personally, I feel a bit ripped off by Ninja Blade. It was on my incredibly short list of games I thought I’d be interested in this year only to turn out to be Devil May Cry via I Am Legend by way of quick time events. If you really want to run through some ruined corridors to twat a few colossal penises with a blunt stick for a few hours on end, I recommend Ninja Blade. I’ve just discovered that there is in fact a way to use stealth in Viking: Battle for Asgard, so I say “fuck that” to Ninja Blade.

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