Though already available over seas, From Software's Xbox, monster-slaying exclusive, Ninja Blade, is officially available in the US on April 7. Starting March 9, however, those who haven't already imported, played and beaten the region free and fully localized Asian copy of the game will have their chance to try out a short demo via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. We've played the demo over a couple of times, and though Ken Ogawa looks more akin to the Green Hornet than Ryu Hayabusa, there is still some exciting ninjustsu action to be had.
Taking place a few years into the future, it seems that the Tokyo of 2015 has been overrun by an infestation of mutinous creatures. Instead of a sending in legions of gun-toting armies, it takes a few squads of heli-jumping, drop-ninjas to shoo away fiendish monstrosities. Just before our character, Ken, leaps into the cityscape, he's given one last pep talk from his mentor figure and handed his master's sword.
After exiting a twin-prop troop carrier, without a parachute, it's up to you to guide Ken onto the rooftops below by free falling and killing large, winged enemies along the way to slow your decent, done so by engaging in coordinated, timed button presses—otherwise known as quick-time events. It's hard to screw up the scenario, as pressing the wrong corresponding face or directional button will only result in the game rewinding to just prior to the QTE scenario.
Though usually knocked as being a lazy mechanic, the QTE following the above mentioned cutscene made for a seamless transition between the playable and non-playable portion of the demo, and the same held true throughout the introductory level.
After successfully completing the skydive, Ken crashes through a high-rise window and is quickly welcomed by a group of what's surely the most brutish, cannon-fodder enemy in the game. Grotesque and human-like, bi-pedal adversaries introduce you to Ken's repertoire of various attacks that can be linked between three different swords and a giant shiruken (something that resembles the radial scythe from Dark Sector).
Switching between the armor-crushing, cleaving Stonerender; counter-capable, and lighting fast Twin Falcon short swords; and the multipurpose Ogawa clan katana, the Oni-Slayer Blade, we made quick work of the horde with controls that feel familiar to any who have touch the Ninja Gaiden series.
One thing that differs Ryu from Ken, however, is the latter's ability to use Ninja Vision: a way to slow down time, and get various data from opponents and surroundings. Activating the ability becomes especially helpful near at the end of the demo as you encounter a mammoth-sized armored spider, but for the troop at hand, it allows for some fun as the screen turns pinkish and slightly pixelated, with contrasting yellow segments pointing out intelligence.
Perhaps more useful in the gang fight, however, is Ken's dash ability that gets him out of danger quickly in a streak of latent ghosts.
Once we had our go with the dispatchable minions, the demo segued into another brief bought of QTEs as a giant worm burst through the wall of the building, causing Ken to avoid its razored hole of a mouth. A quick chase later, and it's down the side of the same building, using your katana as a handbrake, and taking out more of those winged beasts along the way.
Just before it seems like the coast is clear, the aforementioned giant spider appears as we continue to shave the side of the skyscraper, initiating another set of QTEs and ending with Ken landing on a long catwalk with the arachnid opposite, sending bursts of horizontal and vertical-oriented concussion waves towards us. It takes a couple of sets of dodging the waves, destroying armor-laden legs, and chopping away at the spiders exposed, weak hind side, and another level of spider leg-slicing to start up the final QTE scenario—an interactive cutscene that's worth the admission.
The final scene finds the eight-legged freak and Ken atop a new building, complete with a wrecking ball abandoned by its operator. Mariner's fans pay close attention, as Ken lines up the wall-crushing ball, just as Ichiro does when he steps up to the plate, takes a swing and finishes off the spider under the weight of the de-tethered sphere with another set of on-screen cues.
Though familiar in its premise and action, Ninja Blade seems to offer just enough of a difference from Itagaki's franchise to remain interesting. With a near non-stop pacing, the game transitions well between cutscenes, quick-time events and fully playable portions. Ultimately, it will be interesting to see how the whole game either complements or competes with the more visceral Ninja Gaiden experience...for those who haven't finished it already.