Should we be stroking From Software's sword? We hit B to not die - repeatedly - in its QTE-laced ninja adventure.
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Hands up all those who like Quick Time Events. Right, here's a katana, PVC togs and a copy of Ninja Blade to play with - go in peace, young grasshoppers. All you people who kept your hands down - here's ten quid, go buy Devil May Cry 4. Sorted.
No, things aren't quite as karate chopped and dried as that, but you will get significantly more enjoyment out of From Software's solid, glossily derivative hack-and-slasher if button prompts raise your pulse rate rather than your hackles. Other action-adventure titles resort to the infamous QTE when the ideas run out; Ninja Blade makes it a defining principle. If you thought Resident Evil 5 cut near the knuckle at times, make sure you try the demo first.
Some of the button prompt sequences are five minutes or more in length, and there are at least four or five per mission. Pretty much every time you encounter something in the way of a boss or sub-boss you'll be whisked out into interactive cut-scene mode, tapping A to somersault away from the descending claw of an enormous mutant crab, pirouetting in mid-air with a yank of the stick before administering a counter-stroke that could tear a skyscraper in half - rinse and repeat a few times before full control kicks back in a few miles from wherever the QTE kicked off, with several intervening buildings reduced to bits of scorched cement.
If that last sentence didn't spell it out, these scenes are never less than spectacular. One of the least impressive - note, least - we saw involved driving a titanic cockroach back onto an underground catapult with a series of improbable blows, before leaping on-board to trip the firing mechanism, which hurled our intrepid ninja protagonist and his adversary thousands of feet into Tokyo airspace, where we finished off the cockroach by punching clean through it at an eardrum-ripping velocity. A little earlier there's an episode featuring a stricken jumbo jet, octopus-helicopter crossbreeds, an aerial cousin of God of War's Hydra boss and giant exploding bluebottles. We won't spoil the surprise, but it makes Kratos' antics look positively homely.
To compensate for their frequency, From Software has sensibly made each QTE a forgiving affair. There are four timing ratings from "Good" to "Perfect" per button prompt, but the scene will unfold the same way whether you nail an input or scrape it, with the only difference being to your final level score. If you foul up completely the game will roll back a few moves Sands of Time style rather than flashing the restart menu in your face. Death, in other words, is an impossibility.
The downside of this consequence-free approach, as you might guess, is that it makes each QTE a bit redundant as a gameplay device. Wow you though Ninja Blade might with its acrobatic extravagance, it's hard to shake the feeling that you're just playing Snap with the level designer, who hits the rewind button every time you lose. Cack-handed players will dig it, but those who set store by "proper" gameplay components like combos and counters may curl their lips.
Fortunately there's a "proper" game - and a good one - in here too. As we noted in our hands-on, it's quite similar to Ninja Gaiden 2. Once again you're running around with left stick, mince-meating melee, heavy and ranged zombie grunts with light (X) and heavy (Y) strikes, occasionally halting to block with left trigger, but more often relying on your right trigger dash and fearsome jump (A) to slide past attacks.