To many the release of Ninja by the team that brought you the Tomb Raider series brings one word to mind, "Finally". The game which was advertised as coming out alongside Deathtrap Dungeon has finally made it on the eve of the third Tomb Raider, but do not be fooled. The Ninja game is much more like Fighting Force than it is like Tomb Raider. Incidentally, people who want a ninja game resembling the Lara games, check out Tenchu. Ninja, on the other hand, is for those seeking a 3-D platform beat-em-up.
The story is pretty insignificant to the overall gameplay but for those who dig a plot line so they can feel like their journey has a purpose, Ninja offers a good one. An evil Japanese emperor wanna-be sells his soul to a demon who summons ghouls and ghosts to do the dirty work of overtaking the country. However, the demons get out of control and start possessing all of the townspeople (as they sometimes do) and it is up to our faithful hero to rescue them. He dons his ninja mask and begins his journey.
The format is straight out of Double Dragon. Jump, punch, and kick are the main moves as the character walks around in a 3-D environment beating the crap out of anything he sees. There is also a knife-throwing button which does not do as much damage, but, luckily, the knives never run out. Once in a while there will be a weapon offered; usually a sword. The problem with this is that is occurs way too infrequently which sucks since it is the best addition to the arsenal. As far as special moves go, there are two, a bomb and a 360 shooting maneuver. This may seem like a great many options but with all of the enemies, combat mostly comes down to button smashing punching and kicking. Some combos are desperately needed to counter the repetitive combat.
The graphics that are featured throughout the game obviously took a good deal of work because they are lush and spectacular. There are very few areas that repeat and it is very clear where you are and where you have been. The layouts have a nice Far East feel (duh, it takes place in Japan, but the point is it looks like it is) that seems like it is right out of a movie. The characters are also very easy to see and each one is distinct. The only problem is the camera which you have absolutely no control over. Often, pick-ups and enemies are behind graphics and impossible to see.
The best thing about the game is the diversity of all the areas. Most games of this nature feature nothing beyond enemy after countless repetitive enemy. Ninja does have its share of the infinite character, but it adds many other elements to keep it interesting. The nicest of these elements is the constant introduction of enemies. Even deeper into the game new characters come into play, but they lose their novelty after you beat up 20 of them. Also the game runs on a "key and lock" format. This means that the game will not let you advance until you defeat everyone on the screen and find the key. This leads to a very linear game, but each section challenges the player with a new platform style element. Everything from booby traps like trip wires to hidden paths, so even though it is linear, it holds your interest.
In the end, there is nothing new about Ninja. It is a basic platform game that has existed since Double Dragon, but I think that Ninja offers enough elements to exist on its own. The combat is nice and simple even though it gets repetitive, and the game offers enough new challenges throughout that it keeps you pushing to finish it. Basically if you love mindlessly kicking butt without having to put much thought into the fighting then Ninja is for you. There aren't too many puzzles nor is there excessive strategy; just enough of both to make it interesting. The dragons are really cool too.
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