If it weren't for the graphics and the scope of its action, you could be excused for thinking that Ninja Blade was an early PlayStation 2 game. It's an action game that feels like it was designed somewhere around the turn of the century, ignoring modern conventions in a way that almost seems stand-offish, like it's daring you to enjoy it. For those who wade through the game's dull battles and extreme focus on sometimes-harsh boss fights, you'll be rewarded by a stream of cinematic chaos in the form of Quick Time Event cutscenes that depict your ninja doing things you simply wouldn't expect. But when the best thing you can say about a game is that its interactive cutscenes might occasionally make you chuckle because they're often out-of-hand, you can bet that the rest of the game is sort of a mess.
Ninja Blade puts you in the role of a ninja named Ken. You're part of some secret governmental task force and your goal is to save Tokyo from "alpha-worms." These worms are infecting everything around you, turning people into monsters, and turning animals into... well, more monsters. You're somehow immune to infection, giving you free reign over the city as you hack apart carriers on your way from one boss fight to the next.
You're armed with a few different weapons and a few types of magic that you can toss out on a big, plate-sized shuriken. The combo system is fairly basic, though you'll unlock more moves as you upgrade your weapons. Weapons and magic are upgraded by spending the red orbs that launch out of every enemy after they're defeated. Defeating the standard enemies isn't much of a chore, and there aren't very many different varieties to keep things fresh. You'll occasionally run into enemies with shields that require a swipe from your heavier sword, which cracks the shield. Sometimes you'll see a swarm of bats heading your way, requiring you to swap to your faster twin blades, which extend and whip around, giving you a good ranged attack to clear out the bats before they even get close. But the game isn't really about the average enemies or its run-of-the-mill combat. It's about big, pattern-based boss fights that are surrounded by interactive cutscenes that force you to time a few select button presses to keep the action moving forward.
The "animals getting infected" part of the story is what gives you your boss fights. You'll find giant snails, huge worms, sizable spiders, a giant enemy crab, and so on. The bosses rotate through a few basic patterns of attack, leaving themselves open to counterattack at various times. You'll often need to soften them up with your heavy sword first, as it can crack through the armor surrounding your targets' fleshy bits. Most of the game's levels are about these boss fights--even if you're not actively engaging a big guy, you're probably chasing him down. Along the way, as well as during and after the big fights, you'll get dropped into a ton of Quick Time Events. It feels like around a third of the seven hours I spent completing Ninja Blade was spent going through QTEs. If that makes this game sound boring to you, you're right, it's not much fun. But it's also not quite as bad as it sounds.
The one thing Ninja Blade has going for it is that those cinematic cutscenes often show Ken doing something pretty wild. At the end of the second mission, you'll watch him ride a motorcycle along the side of a bus... which happens to be falling out of the sky after being puked up by the enemy boss. Ken rides his way down the pile of cars and debris, then flips off the motorcycle and flings it into a tanker truck near the bad guy's mouth... and then everything explodes. These scenes almost act as a consolation prize, like they're saying "hey, we know the game isn't any fun, but the least we can do is give you something sort of crazy to watch." It saves Ninja Blade from being a complete failure, but that doesn't make it much easier to recommend.
The focus on occasionally tough boss fight patterns and cutscenes goes a long way in making Ninja Blade feel old. That's compounded by the game's inflexible save system, which only lets you start a session at the beginning of a mission, not in the middle. If you die, you'll restart at a checkpoint, but if you decide you have something better to do and come back later, you'll have to begin the entire mission again. Also, any orbs you earn or powers you upgrade are reset if you don't reach the next checkpoint before dying. You may consider those to be little issues--they certainly don't break the game or anything--but they all kind of add up to around 2000 or 2001. Saving your progress at checkpoints, at least, has to be considered standard in this day and age, right?
It's great that Ninja Blade has its wide collection of big, hairy bosses. And it's cool that it doesn't stick so close to the "ninja" blueprint, occasionally putting you behind the turret of a heavy machine gun for a rail-shooting sequence or showing you riding a motorcycle during cutscenes. But it isn't hard enough to be attractive to players who fiend for a challenge, it isn't flashy enough to appeal to graphics enthusiasts, and the gameplay isn't good enough to distinguish it from the pack. If the thought of seeing a ninja fighting a giant hydra while standing on the wing of burning jet sounds awesome to you (which, to be honest, should sound awesome to anyone), and you're prepared to deal with some funky issues and some boring combat, look for Ninja Blade... after it's been discounted a couple of times.