Not silent, but deadly nonetheless. We take a look at the loud-mouth antics of the diminutive Ninja in Namco and Argonaut's offbeat platform romp.
+ GCN & Xbox (US)
By Kikizo Staff
When one conjures up an image of a ninja, short, stubby little fellows don't often come to mind. Such is the case, however, with Ninja, the super-deformed protagonist of Namco's I-Ninja; a character whose standing in the martial arts fraternity more closely mirrors that of Goemon than the likes of Ryu Hayabusa. While Ninja himself conforms little to the known archetype, the title makes use of just about every contrivance the genre has produced.
Complementing Ninja's elementary platform-based antics are Super Monkey Ball-esque sequences, Goemon-inspired robot battles and Super Mario Sunshine-like red coin quests, among a host of other mini-game events and gameplay styles. Ninja's repertoire of abilities too, mimics popular convention, allowing him to run along walls, scale vertical surfaces, hop between adjacent walls, chain swing and float in the air using his blade as a makeshift rotor. In short, I-Ninja is one of the most blatantly generic titles of this generation. It is also brilliantly executed; seamlessly combining a cornucopia of pilfered gameplay mechanics and styles into one solid, highly enjoyable title.
Ninja's quest, like those of his peers, involves the acquisition of a great deal of trinkets, the most important of which are Grades. By collecting the requisite number of these, Ninja will gain new belts (white, yellow, green, blue, red and so on) that will in turn grant him access to new levels and different areas of the overworld. Though these Grades serve as tangible rewards for every level completed, Ninja's raison d 'etre is in fact to stop the schemes of Emperor O-Dor and his Ranx minions, while also gathering powerful Rage Stones along the way. To achieve this, the bobble-headed-one will have to navigate a mostly linear mission structure, acquiring the necessary Grades to progress onwards while also arming himself with new weapons and more powerful swords (bestowed upon Ninja once a particular number of enemies are dispatched). At certain junctures in the title, Ninja's innate abilities will awaken, allowing players to perform Ninja Berserker, Ninja Revive, Ninja Shuriken and the eponymous I-Ninja maneuver.
Interjected between these missions are cutscenes and character interactions responsible for explaining what is admittedly a wafer-thin plot. These succeed only as a consequence of the light-hearted humour which permeates much of the title and though the slapstick and one-liners are at times hit-and-miss, it's hard to fault a title that revels in its own frivolity as much as I-Ninja does. Rather than encumbering players with excessive dialogue or an overly involved plot, the title instead plies players with a great deal of gameplay variety, constantly rewarding your efforts with new challenges, levels and upgrades. A fair trade, we think.
The wacky sensibilities that infuse Ninja and his cohorts extend beyond just the cast of the title. The world in which players find themselves comprises a decidedly un-ninja-like selection of locales that include lunar, factory and pirate-themed environments. Regardless of their relevance, all are constructed using a template that will be immediately familiar to fans of the genre. Suffused with a panoply of bright colours, each level is constructed of an array of platforms, walkways, monorails, fan lifts and other Jungle-Gym-esque machinations designed to keep you on your toes. Though the realm of I-Ninja lacks the over-abundant detail provided by the engine behind Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando and Jak II, it does possess a charming personality all its own. Robot Beach, the first stop on your travels, for example, is a small alcove in which the robot Takayama has managed to get itself impaled on a nearby cliff face. An odd sight for a ninja one would think, yet fair game in the land of I-Ninja it would seem. Complementing Ninja's effervescent attitude is a lively set of acrobatic movements and facial animations. In all, an unsurprising, yet competent visual package.
Ninja's over-exaggerated wails, yips and cries are the predominant aspect of the aural arrangement, as it is these, along with a handful of snappy catchphrases that Ninja will repeat over and over throughout the game. Though it goes without saying, they do indeed begin to grate after extended play. Led by the likes of Michael Bell -- perhaps best known as Raziel in The Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver -- the rest of the voice-cast fares admirably, though it's Ninja's high-energy dialogue that you're most likely to remember due in no small part to the fact that it's drummed into your head throughout the game's ten-hour or so length. The soundtrack, oddly enough, is a subdued melange of rock and techno beats that aren't as out of place as you might imagine. Then again, not much of the hodge-podge that is I-Ninja could be considered out of place.
Serving almost as a compendium of genre gameplay from the last five years, I-Ninja is notable if for nothing else other than the fact that it is a great deal of fun. Where others endeavour to push the envelope of technology, blurring the line between immersion and gameplay, I-Ninja offers no excuses for the fact that it is a game, choosing instead to try and deliver as much fun as it possibly can within that context. And in that regard it largely succeeds.