Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Ninja Blade

There comes a time during a play through of a bad video game where even the most easily entertained individual states, "oh my god, this is a terrible game!"  At that point, they are face with two options.  One, they can throw it back in the case and take it back to the store as a return, provided it's soon enough after the purchase date, or otherwise sell it towards the purchase of a different, better game and chalk it up to experience teaching them to be more careful...

...or they can say "well, maybe I'll just try to get through it before I take it back, so I can at least say I beat it.  I mean, maybe it'll get better soon.  Maybe there will be some really great moment that will absolutely floor me and completely flip my perspective of the game, since a good story can easily counteract mediocre or lousy game play."

I reached that point with the game Ninja Blade from "From Software."  How bad is it?  Here's a hint.  The company that made it is just called "From Software."    It's like they're trying to hide in case anybody seeks them out to complain.

So why is it so bad?  Let's slice our way in to this ninja nonsense.

Ninja Blade is what happens when someone takes a novelty idea and stretches it out until it implodes under itself.  Instead of simply being another generic "hack and slash" game like God of War, the creators thought it would be a great idea to have things work more on the "cut scene" style of game play for huge stretches of it.  Part of me really likes this idea, because I always feel bad when a game introduces a complex combo system to do elaborate moves and I wind up just mashing the "use the biggest sword" button over and over again until either I die or the enemy does.  (Spoiler alert, I killed the final boss by simply mashing the "biggest sword" button over and over again).

However, when every boss fight needs to end in a QTE (quick time event) where you need to mash the right button at just the right moment, it can get really obnoxious really fast.  Especially since if you miss one button, the game will rewind all the way back to the start of the button pressing.  However, don't think you're safe just memorizing the patterns, because there are a lot of moments where the game will present one pattern the first time, and after you screw it up and have to rewind, it'll change some of the buttons.

"Press X to watch the rest of the movie."
Oh, but don't worry, there's still plenty of mashing buttons.  The non-important scenes have you "God of War"ing your way across intricate settings and landscapes killing everything you come across.  Sometimes you need to use a big sword to break through a shield, sometimes a few quick knives to match the speed of some enemies, and other times you use a thrown weapon that you can link to different elements for special effects.

But let's talk about that weapon for a moment.  The three elements you can attach to it are wind, fire, and lightning, which you do by putting small elemental orbs into grooves in it.

Look at that above screenshot again.

There's five spots for orbs right there.  And they're all lit.  Was that in the hopes there's be a sequel?  (Editor's note: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

Back to the game play.  If you're afraid it's just QTEs, also known as "the cancer permeating our video games," and button mashing, don't be!  There's also rail shooters because our hero's bosses never realize that when they send out the ninja in a tank, armored vehicle, helicopter, or plane, the ninja is always the only one who comes back because the vehicle gets destroyed and he bails without trying to save anybody.  Way to go, Ken Ogawa.

Oh, right, there's also a story.  See, Ken is part of a group of ninjas lead by his father.  Their job is to go into Tokyo and take out these weird monsters that are essentially Resident Evil rip-offs because "From Software" couldn't use the words "T-Virus" and instead went with "Alpha Worm."  The worms infect their hosts, anything from people to spiders to, strangely enough, tiny little mites, and twist them into grotesque monstrosities in clear violation of the "square-cube law."

However, oh no, it turns out that Ken's father and the other lead ninja are both infected!  Despite personally leading Ken through the first mission, giving him his weapons, and teaching him movements and combat techniques, his father suddenly goes "oh, and I'm evil" and the two kill everybody else in the squad.  But he does conveniently leave Ken the "ninja blade," the only weapon that's truly capable of destroying the menace spreading through the town.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  "Nothing from that last paragraph makes sense."  Don't worry, the game tries to clear it up later by saying that Ken's father intentionally infected himself in order to figure out where the primary nest was (?) and was able to hold back the infection through sheer willpower (?!) but also did it because in order for Ken to successfully use the ninja blade, he had to be able to fight like he had nothing else to lose (!!!!).

Oh, and less you think that the bosses must be truly amazing in order to be in a game that's all about spectacle, I'm going to point out that the ninja who's supposed to be Ken's equal (the other infected one) gets his ass trounced by Ken's boss after trying to take the man hostage.

So, when did the game lose me?  Well, it might have been when I spent thirty minutes trying to do one of the simplest ninja "wall-run-jump" moves in the game and, despite the fact it worked a hundred times before that moment, I could not for the life of me get it to succeed again.  Or when I fought the second wave of the final boss for forty-five minutes before going to Gamefaqs because I couldn't figure out how to get into position to trigger the QTE death scene.

Oh, and for the record, if you don't get to the space in time and press "A," the boss wakes up and gets back half of its health.

Cheap, I agree.

If I had to summarize my experience playing Ninja Blade, I would try to describe it like taking a sudden, unexpected trip to the rain forest without packing anything.  At first, the sheer novelty of it overwhelms everything else, and the bright colors of the animals and the vividness of the plant life hold your attention.  Then, when the bugs start biting, you feel a growing sense of discomfort.  After a while, you're bitten by any number of creatures, you rubbed against a poisonous plant, tore most of your clothes, and there's the screams of some predatory animal in the trees above you, but dammit you made it to five thirty in the morning, the helicopter comes at seven, you can just hold on through the pain!  And hopefully your swearing will keep the predators at bay.

I wouldn't really recommend it to anybody else.  Expect it to be in my "worst of the year" category.

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