Best known for their work on Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, From Software created Ninja Blade before that; a Ninja Gaiden inspired chopsocky game exclusive to the Xbox 360. If you don’t remember it, that’s cool, cause it came and went within the blink of an eye. For years, I patiently waited until it hit the bottom of the bargain bin before picking it up. After finding it brand new for $5, I decided to take the bait.
In the near future, parasites are turning human beings into monsters in Tokyo. Of course, the only solution to this problem is to send in an elite squad of ninjas to kill them all. By design, this feels like a mix between Ninja Gaiden and God of War. At its core, you get the sword-slashing and acrobatics of the former with the added layer of Quick Time Events. These QTEs range in scope from minor flourishes on regular enemies to elaborate button presses corresponding to epic moments of boss fights. I’m generally not a fan of the mechanic, though I’m willing to let it ride if the payoff is there. As if this were the precursor to Asura’s Wrath, some of these are insane. Early on, there’s a sequence where a helicopter shoots a missile at you, which you end up surfing on and guiding back into the helicopter itself. The core combat isn’t bad as well. You get a decent mix of swords and shuriken types that are used in a number of different ways to provide variety to the action.
While I liked the core of the experience, there were no shortage of things that rubbed me the wrong way as well. I feel like the game is overly reliant on QTEs, especially ones tied to fail states. I failed a ton of them just because I wasn’t ready for them, which unnecessarily makes the game more frustrating. At times, the camera can be a bit unruly. During the game’s more intense sequences, the action can slow down to half speed. My biggest gripes with the whole thing are the unkind checkpoints and distinct inability to save mid-mission. I ran into multiple instances where I fell off a ledge after clearing out an empty room, only to have to restart the room with a full suite of enemies again. Worse, the game has missions that are roughly an hour long each with no places to save in between. In these modern times, forcing someone to go that long without any option to save is ridiculous.
My expectations going into Ninja Blade were admittedly low. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a diamond in the rough, though I would have been satisfied with at least a few hours of decent fun. While I think I got my $5 of value out of it, my few hours with it only revealed a middling action game at best with some glaring flaws. With so many other great character action games available for the Xbox 360, you’re better off letting this ninja sneak by.