Ya know how we all agreed a few years ago that Quick Time Events were getting old and should be kept to a bare minimum or eliminated altogether? That memo apparently didn’t translate very well because From Software’s ‘game designed for Western audiences‘ has more timed button presses than Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace and Shenmue combined. They are pretty forgiving and rewind time to let you retry should you fail but the icons are easily lost among the insane action and the buttons don’t always relate to the move that Ken is about to do. Sometimes an ‘attack’ command is X, sometimes Y, and sometimes it’s ‘Press Left’. What’s maddening (and exhausting) is how many of these scenes there are and that you’re scored on how perfectly you press the buttons. You might think it’s odd that my final thoughts on Ninja Blade start with QTE’s but, seriously, that’s how big a part of the game it is. If you absolutely despise them, skip this game.
And yet there’s more non-sword-slinging gameplay to mention in the abundance of on-rails shooting gallery segments. Several times throughout the game you’ll be put in the decidedly un-ninja-like position of tailgunner, tasked with keeping a stupid array of enemies off of your helicopter or armored car. These sections are never fun and the animations for reloading and changing ammo type take way too long and pop up at all the worst moments. There’s even one of these sections during the final boss battle with no clue is ever given that you’re best advised to switch to your rocket ammo and shoot the big guy in the face… or hand, I’m not sure I ever really figured it out.
In between all that, though, is a decent third-person action romp that wants to trump Ninja Gaiden really badly but just never matches the perfection of Team Ninja‘s gameplay. Probably because they didn’t waste their time on QTE’s and shooting segments. Just sayin’. From Software missed another important memo that most developers seemed to pass around the office a few years ago, RE: Overpowered combo. Once you level up your basic sword a couple times you unlock this incredible combo where Ken grabs his katana with his foot and does some slick breakdance fighting moves capped off with a powerful lunge kick maneuver. It’s unblockable and unbreakable by most enemies and it even cuts through bosses like a ginzu through a tin can. The latter half of the game is a breeze once this is unlocked but it turned out to be a good thing because there’s one more last-gen herring that From Software slaps you in the face with: the repeat boss battles. Just like Mega Man, you’ll find every boss you already QTE’d into oblivion has magically been conjured back to life and given a power boost. Thanks to that breakdance combo it’s not a devastating setback, just a clear play at padding the length of the game.
I’m going a little long here so I’ll sum it up with this: Ninja Blade wants to appeal to you — average American man with a 401k and a lawn to mow — but everything from the over-the-top antics of the QTE scenes to the jive-talkin’ characters to the old school (and oddball) Japanese designs puts it squarely into the Rental Only category. The only motivation to play again is to top your best scores and finish leveling up weapons and I’d done all that I wanted to with the game in just over seven hours. A bargain bin lark, maybe. Free Blockbuster rental coupon you found in the couch, yes.