"The main character is, as you can see, a ninja."
We were quite pleased to have figured this part out on our own, shortly before From Software's Kazuhiro Hamatani laid down the pertinent facts in a pre-Tokyo Game Show presentation of Ninja Blade. Which, as you can see, is a "cinematic action game." For better or worse -- and it's better if Ninja Gaiden II failed to satisfy your unhealthy hankering for third-person kill-em-ups -- Ninja Blade appears to be almost exactly what you'd expect. We're not proponents of judging a game by its cover, but in this case, we're almost able to peer through to the back of the box and recite the bullet points:
- Cinematic Action Game (i.e. quick time events)!
- Ninjas (i.e. running on walls, being a badass)!
- Hideous enemies (i.e. giant spiders and bats)!
- Crazy Ninja Powers (i.e. bullet time and highlighted weak points)!
- Upgradeable Weapons (i.e. kill more to kill better)!
- Exotic Locations (i.e. monsters just won't leave Tokyo alone)!
Though ambition may be absent from both the list and the brief snippet of gameplay we viewed, Ninja Blade at least delivers on some of its modest promises. With Tokyo's Shinjuku district providing a beautiful backdrop of city lights and skyscrapers, "cinematic" adequately describes the frantic fighting on the streets and, in some cases, the walls. Hamatani is adamant that the player remain in control at all times, which really just means that you'll have to press buttons during cutscenes. Much like God of War, Ninja Blade often strings regular combat and mash X to not die sequences together within the same, oh-so-epic battle.
When protagonist Ken (who is, as you can see, a ninja) tackles an enormous arachnid atop a precarious walkway, he first has to dodge several shockwaves, slowly making his way toward the creature (not the direction we'd choose) and, by extension, its exposed appendages. Thanks to the use of "Ninja Vision," Ken is able to spot the weak points -- yes yes, massive damage and all that -- and slow the action down. It provides him the opportunity to land several blows, to which the multi-legged mutant responds with a directed energy beam. If not deflected in time by mashing the highlighted button, it's back to the shockwave stage of the fight for Ken, though the enemy retains any damage taken.
In terms of presentation, Ninja Blade is looking, and we apologize in advance for this, sharp. There's a palpable energy to the cinematic sequences, with in-his-face camera shots capturing Ken's exaggerated movements and otherwise reinforcing the game's over-the-top action film styling. They should prove quite pleasing to watch, at least if you aren't keeping an eye out for that next button prompt.
We're not convinced quick-time events are the best way to keep the player in control (why can't we be the ones to harpoon the boss and swing beneath his belly?), but we're certain you already know which side of that debate you're on. We'll be getting some hands-on time with Ninja Blade later this week, hopefully gaining a better grasp of this ninja's upgradeable blades and, ultimately, seeing how accurate our initial impressions are. It's out in "early 2009."