By: Matt C. on December 15, 2003
There are no shortage of games out there that allow the player to take on the role as a ninja. After all, ninjas are cool and mysterious characters that have quick reflexes and superior martial art skills. However, unlike a serious and bloody game like Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, I-Ninja takes a more comical approach at the ninja theme.
Some ninja games require the player to use stealth to complete his or her objectives. I-Ninja is the complete opposite, as the gameplay is more along the lines of Ratchet & Clank, Crash Bandicoot, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Super Monkey Ball; then Tenchu or Splinter Cell. Initially, the main character (who is simply referred to as Ninja) gives the impression that this is a kiddie game, with his outlandish antics, bad attitude, pint-sized body, and giant head. Fortunately, I-Ninja provides plenty of challenges and action-packed gameplay that will be more appreciated by older gamers. Youngsters can still enjoy I-Ninja, but they probably won't get as far into the game as more experienced players.
I-Ninja is a fairly short and straightforward (read: linear) action title. You start out in a hub area and must travel to generic looking doors in order to begin a mission. However, to balance things out, I-Ninja offers missions and levels that have lots of variety from one another. Granted, the game borrows heavily from other third person action/adventure titles, but you'll find some unique gameplay elements here and there. One mission has you rolling a robot's eye around in the same fashion as Super Monkey Ball, another has you defending a beach from invading battleships, and one boss battle has you boxing in giant robots. In the end though, you just need to reach the end of the mission in order to earn a grade, which is needed to upgrade your belt (yellow belt, green belt, white belt, etc.)
Ninja himself has a whole bevy of moves at his disposal. He is equipped with a katana (it can be upgraded), and you can mash on the square button to have him do a simple 3-hit combo (which works surprisingly well against most foes), but he can also do more advanced moves with his blade. Ninja can slow down his descent by spinning his sword in the air, and he can perform lightning chops, uppercut attacks, and backstab strikes. He can also throw shurikens and hi-explosive darts from a distance. The fighting system is far from deep (it doesn't take a lot of memorization to remember all of Ninja's moves), but its simple mechanics work well in I-Ninja.
Early on in the game, Ninja finds a "rage stone", which gives him powerful rage abilities that he must unlock. Ninja can go into berserka mode to upgrade his sword's power for a limited time, or he can revive some of his health. One ability even has him riding on a giant shuriken, mowing down foes that get in the way. Of course, to use your rage abilities, you need to fill up your "rage meter."
As expected, Ninja's surroundings are full of obstacles, so you need to make use of his many skills in order to progress in the game. For starters, Ninja can run up or across certain walls, grind on rails and pipes, and jump kick back and forth on two adjacent walls to reach areas high above the ground. He can also use a chain at "chain points" to swing across bodies of water or pits (a la Tarzan), or he can use it to do quick 180-degree U-turns when running along a track. Needless to say, Ninja is a man of many talents.
I-Ninja is the type of game that will never make you say, "Wow, this game looks gorgeous." Truth is, I-Ninja doesn't excel in the graphics department. Yet, the visuals are NOT terrible and I find it hard to believe that they could turn people away from the game. It reaches the PlayStation 2 standard, in terms of graphics, but it doesn't go very far above and beyond that little invisible line on the scale. There are nice little visual touches here and there, the animations are good, and most importantly -- the levels are well-designed.
Speaking of the levels -- I-Ninja's world is divided into 5 sections, each one has a unique look to it, and you'll rarely come across stages from other areas that look similar. You first start out on Robot Beach, then you make your way to Bomb Bay, Jungle Falls, Mountain Gorge, and eventually, you'll reach a moon base. Some missions are very linear, much like the first three Crash Bandicoot games, but some other ones offer more breathing room. Just don't expect the same massive, wide-open areas found in Jak II and Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando.
Not surprisingly, I-Ninja sounds a lot like a cartoon. When enemies surround Ninja, and when he starts swing his sword, Mr. Ninja makes stereotypical "hiya!!" kung-fu sounds. Ninja also makes a habit of saying silly one-liners during combat, such as "Want some more?! Here, have some more!". It's humorous the first time, but certainly not the 25th time. Argonaut Games should have given Ninja more catchphrases, because all of them get old amazingly quick.
As for the music, it mostly consists of simple and forgettable techno beats. The soundtrack isn't bad, you just won't be humming them in the shower anytime soon. It's not really a problem though, because it gets the job done.
It's obvious that I-Ninja doesn't have the same high production value as the games it imitates, but it still manages to hold up well against the big budget titles. Most importantly, I-Ninja is an enjoyable game due to the large variety found in most of the gameplay, and Ninja himself is a likable character. Go ahead and give this underrated action game a try.