Ninja asks, âDo you want some more?â We say, "Yes please!"Review by Robert Graves
I-Ninja is a game that somehow manages to equal much more than the sum of its individual parts. Broken down, it offers nothing that hasnât already been covered before by titles such as Super Mario 64, Super Monkey Ball, and, more recently, Prince of Persia. However, as a whole, itâs a fun-filled and genuinely humorous romp with plenty to offer even the most jaded platform-gaming fan.
The story, such that there is, is pretty flimsy and serves no real overall purpose in the game. Checking almost every cliché in the book, our hero Ninja is the last of his clan (following a Rage Stone incident in which he accidentally kills his own sensei) and is thus charged with saving his world from the evil emperor O-Dor and his marauding Ranx army. Being dead doesnât of course matter to Sensei, as he simply dusts himself off and pops back up in sprit form to help his now beleaguered pupil. It's a simple set-up, but one that does all it needs to do.
Ninja himself is a versatile character. Alongside the standard running and jumping abilities of more orthodox heroes, our man can also grind along rails, use his sword to hover, run and kick-jump up walls and half-pipes, use his chain to swing across open areas, and âpower chainâ around almost F-Zero-esque tracks. He is also gradually given access to four different, and very useful, Rage Abilities which are charged by taking or delivering blows.
The game takes place over five pretty large worlds (Robot Beach, Bomb Bay, Jungle Falls, Mountain Gorge and Moon Base). Each of these worlds acts as a hub to the various levels contained with in it, and they are gradually opened out as you progress. The way in which the game opens up is a very big plus point, and one that makes it feel considerably less linear than many other titles. When Ninja completes a mission he is awarded a grade (the equivalent here of a shine). As his total number of grades builds up, Sensei awards Ninja with new belts which, in turn open up new levels or new variations of levels already completed. Itâs here that I-Ninja gains some meat to its bones... completing a level once will allow you to move on, but returning to it again to take on the alternative objectives (usually consisting of either a red coin hunt, a time-limit race to the finish, or a Ranx kill target) will see you earn additional grades and therefore unlock previously closed levels out of sequence. Of course itâs not just grades that you are after - collecting the coins within each level allows you to purchase tests from the level guardians, and wiping out the Ranx enemies along the way will see you gain several sword upgrades.
So far nothing appears to be out of the ordinary for I-Ninja, but itâs the sheer number of things to do within its world that helps it to rise above the rest of the crowd. You may begin a level with some simple jumping, but success may then depend on running up and along walls, grinding along rails, manoeuvring a giant robotic eyeball or heart in a wonderfully monkey-ball style, sneaking past sentinels, or popping a poison dart into a fat sap sucker. The variety of action keeps each of the levels feeling fresh, and even then something occasionally comes along out of the blue to totally change the pace. âShoot the Shipsâ within Bomb Bay, for instance, sees you manning a gun position charged with destroying the ships of the incoming Ranx army. Kysa, the Robot Beach boss, has you taking control of Tekayama, a 150-foot tall robot, for a sea-based mechanical boxing match (this particular match-up is repeated again in one of the guardian tests called seed Shell Skull, and the cruel one-hit kill scenario almost cost me my WaveBird on several occasions).
Sprinting through the game would see completion in eight to ten hours. Collecting all of the grades for 100% completion takes considerably longer, and it never feels like a chore (although the reward for doing so seems a little meagre, it has to be said). Each of the worlds are wonderfully realised with a simple but stylish charm. Some might say that I-Ninja is graphically simple, but the art direction is so tight that it always feels just right. The animation is of particular note, and alongside his constant wise-cracking, "The blade is cold yessss!", it really brings Ninja to life.
I-Ninja is a wonderful blend of styles that every platform fan should take a look at. Itâs filled with the kind of touches that indicate quite how much love and care the development team put into it... from the manic laughter of Ninja himself, to the unbridled joy of a sentinel Ranx who catches an unwitting player. Itâs a genuinely funny, refreshing, whirlwind of a game. As Sensei would say, "A player who misses out on I-NinjaâŚâŚâŚ..is a stone gathering no moss!".Pros
- Plenty of levels and mini-games to beat
- Some genuine humour
- Great character animation
- Occasional camera problems
- âLooseâ collision detection at times
- Wavebird-smashing seed Shell Skull test!
A very simple style belies the care taken to achieve a consistent and solid look to the game. While often colourful, the game is very pretty, with clear textures and some nice lighting effects. None of the levels are particularly huge, but they are all presented well and themed accordingly. Character models are very well animated, and some of the facial expressions which Ninja pulls really do add to the charm. Minor niggles include a very occasional frame-rate chug when the action really heats up, and almost box-like collision detection on some back ground scenery.Sound: 7.5
While the background music in the game is fitting enough, the voice work is where I-Ninja really delivers. Ninja himself is constantly chattering and screaming as he cuts down the Ranx masses, and Sensei pops up at the entrance to each level with some rather confused, it has to be said, words of wisdom.Control: 8.0
For a game with such a wealth of actions, Ninja is surprisingly easy and responsive to control. Everything from wall running to power chaining is instinctive after just a few minutes. Ninja possesses a range of combos attacks which can be triggered by holding the control stick in different directions as you attack. The only slight concern comes when trying to chain swing at full speed, as the required swing doesnât always occur.Gameplay: 8.5
Platforming with a collection element has rarely been disguised so well. The large range of missions, mini-games and bosses makes I-Ninja a joy to play. Missions range from short quick sprints to the grade, to longer puzzle-based teasers. Returning to a previously conquered mission often requires a completely new tactic to achieve success a second time around.Lastability: 7.5
The five worlds can be blasted through pretty quickly if required, but the fun really comes from returning to each of the levels for additional grades, coins, and Ranx kills. Reaching that Ninja Master belt will take some time, but even then youâll want to play for better and better scores in the Battle Arena.Final Score (Not an average): 8.5
I-Ninja didnât arrive with the greatest of fanfares, but Namco/Argonaut have delivered a title that deserves more success than it will probably achieve. Itâs jam-packed with clever little touches, and only really disappoints in that it has to end.