'Ninja Blade' a worse version of 'Ninja Gaiden'

Quick, boring mini-games drag down the mediocre swordfighting sequences.
This 'Ninja Gaiden' clone features quality action, but has too many non-interactive sections for its own good. Courtesy of Microsoft Game Studios

The quick-time event: gaming's most blessed curse.

Quick-time events come in many different forms, but they all boil down to the game putting a picture of a button on the screen and asking players to push it. Game design doesn't get much lazier than this, folks.

Unfortunately, "Ninja Blade" overindulges itself in quick-time events, tainting what is otherwise a perfectly competent action game.

"Ninja Blade" tells an uninspired tale of super ninja Ken Ogawa and his mission to save modern-day Tokyo from a parasitic virus turning humans into monsters. Ken is "the One" (of course!) whose destiny is to save the world using a sacred blade, which he must use when the time is right, and all that jazz.

The actions that Ken performs during the quick-time events are pretty crazy and fun to watch, but being quick-time events makes them inherently boring to perform. Quick-time events can serve as a nice way to even out a game's pacing, but nearly three hours of this eight-hour adventure are devoted to this nonsense.

There's an element of timing to the button presses, but this has no bearing on how the cutscene plays out. In fact, if you miss one, the game will just rewind and ask you to try again until you get it right. Come on. Half of the fun with quick-time events in games like "God of War" is screwing up and watching your character get pulverized!

"Ninja Blade" already blatantly rips off "Ninja Gaiden" in premise and character design, which is lame, but it also smartly copies the controls and combat mechanics. Basic swordfights feel great (thanks to attacks that feel cathartic) and the dodging and jumping controls are spot-on. When you look past the quick-time event bullshit, From Software still knows how to make a kickass sword-swinging action game (see the "Otogi" games for the original Xbox).

All of the aspects that you would expect out of a "Ninja Gaiden" clone are here, as well as a useful Ninja Vision feature that slows down the action and highlights points of interest. You can even customize Ken's outfit with every color imaginable, which if nothing else, gives you an opportunity to chuckle at a bright pink ninja acting all tough.

The swordplay is satisfying, but two other aspects of the game never feel fun: the gun turret sections and the boss fights. Nothing is fundamentally wrong with the shooting gallery aspects of the turret sections, but it just seems very "un-ninja-like" to shoot bad guys with bullets and grenades. All of the big bosses feel old school in the worst way, taking too long to take down for comfort. These encounters are the valleys to the rest of the game's hills in terms of enjoyment.

The game looks great by most standards and doesn't skimp on particle effects and explosions. Some of the low-resolution textures look ugly when the camera zooms in on them during cut scenes, but the skyscrapers of nighttime Tokyo always look impressive. Voice work is hit or miss, but From Software gets points for having Ken switch between English and Japanese whenever appropriate for the conversation.

Whether players will enjoy "Ninja Blade" depends on how they feel about the concept of quick-time events. It doesn't fill any voids in the third-person action genre that haven't already been filled by "Ninja Gaiden" or "God of War," but it's a serviceable imitator that plays it safe and looks good doing it.

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