Ninja Blade Hands-On Preview
What would Itagaki say? Microsoft has another stab at the ninja action game, this time thanks to From Software.
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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Tomonobu Itagaki will be pissing blush if he sits down to play Ninja Blade. As big fans of Itagaki's Ninja Gaiden action series, we found Ninja Blade to be one of the more intriguing Xbox 360 exclusives to be announced last year - not because it promised anything that's new, but precisely because it looked so similar to Ninja Gaiden that we had to investigate further.
The game came out in Japan about a month ago, and North American and European gamers will be able to buy it in April - but a demo's on its way to Xbox Live next week, on March 9. Microsoft's given us early access to the demo so we can tell you what we think about it before you decide to bother downloading or not.
Ninja Blade's from the same developers as the Otogi and Tenchu series - From Software - although quite honestly this game has a bit more sex appeal for my tastes, with a slicker art style and modern setting; the opening cut scene shows us the year is 2015, and introduces us to the main character, Ken Ogawa.
Ninja Blade's gameplay is extremely, ridiculously similar to Ninja Gaiden's. We're not talking Devil May Cry similar, we're talking lawsuit similar.
You block by holding the L trigger, you've got a quick attack and a strong attack (which can be charged up, just like Ryu Hayabusa can do), you can jump about in the same way, you can use similar attack strategies, you collect orb-like things from enemies that you've killed, and all of it uses pretty much the same controls. Anyone familiar with Gaiden will understand what's going on here pretty much immediately.
One difference is that defensively moving around while blocking is now performed by hitting the R trigger, while holding your direction - and the dashes are much bigger, allowing you to manoeuvre about in space more swiftly (possibly making things a little easier than in Gaiden - we'll have to see how this pans out).
Only five minutes into the game you'll have encountered two huge enemies - a big worm thing and a big spider thing - and we're told to expect many more beasts on a large scale as things progress. Hitting the left bumper brings up your 'ninja vision', giving a view each body part's health meter, although I didn't seem to actually find this useful for the spider boss (the only thing that actually had different body parts with different health gages).
Instead, I just kept throwing the character's projectile weapon at him. The projectile is one of the demo's key weapons by the looks of it, and is basically a large shuriken that comes back to you after you throw it - again, very similar Hayabusa's Windmill Shuriken weapon.