Who you callin' cute?
I love the sixth generation of gaming consoles. I think one of the main reasons aside from it being the generation when I was in high school is that there was a great range of low, medium, and high budgeted games available to play. There was an immense amount of risks being taken, and the variety of software was like nothing we had every seen. All three consoles, the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox (four if you'd like to count the Dreamcast, too) offered an amazing variety of games.
Since I was in high school, I didn't have the money to look into in a lot of games across the consoles and handhelds I had. However, as I've grown up and prices of sixth generation software has gone down, I've been able to invest money and time into games I had missed out on. One of these such games is a Namco-published game called I-Ninja. It always looked fascinating and fun to me, and while the gameplay really shines, some questionable design choices left me a bit flabbergasted and disappointed.
I-Ninja's story is as basic as basic can get. Upon attempting to rescue his sensei, our protagonist, simply referred to as Ninja, interacts with a special stone. It sets him off in a maddening rage, and he absentmindedly strikes down his sensei in the process. Quick to bounce back from a setback, Ninja's sensei informs him of a nefarious evil that is planning something horrid, and needs to be stopped. Ninja's sensei tags along Ninja's adventure, providing advice, level details, and comic relief. He and Ninja are pretty much the only two characters that get much screen time, as every other character is a one-off appearance that is over as quick as a sneeze. If you want character development, stick to your soaps.. or whatever you kids watch these days on your satellite radio or whatever.
|"Yeah, I may look all cute and all, but I can|
carve you up like a Christmas turkey!"
Besides being a killer ninja, our hero is quite nimble, too. He can perform a traditional double jump, he can twirl his sword in the air to cross small chasms and extend his distance from a jump, and he can throw shurikens and shoot darts out at enemies. Additionally, he's able to swing across gaps by hooking on to specific chain loops, wall jump, wall run, speed up walls, and so much more. Every move is available to Ninja at the beginning of the game aside from special moves like spells that improve attack and heal damage that are called upon by a tap of the direction pad in a given direction.
|Okay. You're just showing off now!|
|This level's mission is to reach the goal before this lit fuse|
destroys the Grade at the end.
This is annoying because many of the challenges that are available in levels after they are beaten simple feel like filler, something to artificially extend the longevity of I-Ninja. There are just so many times that I can play the same linear level with the only changed rule is that this time I have to kill so-and-so number of enemies, or this time I have to beat the level before the clock runs out. The latter is obnoxious, because some levels are six minutes long. If you fail at these, guess what-- you just wasted six minutes, especially if you did well the whole level and only messed up one costly jump.
Not only are many repeated trips to levels rather tedious, there are also levels that just grate on the nerves. I'm mostly referring to stealth levels, where you have to tiptoe and stay out of the sight of sentinel robots. One view on Ninja, and they teleport him back to an earlier part of the level. This also undoes any progress that you made after the most recent checkpoint. However, those levels still have a lot of fun to them. A level that doesn't, however, is one in the second hub of the game, where you have to man a turret, and we all know that turret sections are seldom not a slog. This one is a long four wave one, too, where one enemy ship that slips by your defenses means you have to restart it from the very beginning.
|Ride the same explosive barrel, but this time...|
DO IT QUICKLY! Egad! The creativity!
The bosses don't fare much better. Instead of playing to the game's strengths, its core gameplay, the slicing, dicing, and platforming of Ninja, the developers thought it'd be wise to throw in completely unrelated gameplay segments and tie them to the boss battles. The first boss is a clunky Punch-Out!! inspired affair, and the second has you piloting a submarine. None of these resemble anything out of what the majority of I-Ninja has you doing, and it's baffling to me that the developers had the awesomeness that is the gameplay, and instead of crafting clever boss battles using the game's traditional action-platforming mechanics, the developers shoehorned in alternate gameplay styles that simply fall flat. I get that games need variety, and that's a box you can check for I-Ninja, but when it's at a detriment to the game, there's a problem here.
|One of the hub worlds of I-Ninja.|
It's a damn shame that I-Ninja's brilliant gameplay and controls are overshadowed by the bizarre design decisions of the developers. They had a really great thing going with the excellent gameplay, but the need for so much filler, and quite frankly, moments where I felt my time was not being respected, bring the game down considerably. What would otherwise be a fantastic game to recommend wholeheartedly is dashed by inept boss battles that throw aside I-Ninja's stellar action platforming for gimmickry, a camera that doesn't always behave like it should, and repeating the same levels over and over again with slightly different objectives each time. ...Did I mention it's a damn shame yet?
[SPC Says: C-]