Break out those ninja reflexes
The movement of a ninja needs to be tight, swift, and precise with each delivery. There’s no use in sticking to the shadows and sneaking up on your enemies if they’re going to be able to disarm you and discard you without a second thought. That’s why any ninja-based game on a mobile touchscreen device is a gamble – it’s tricky enough as it is to make a platforming game feel right on a touchscreen, so to recreate the feel of stalking your prey as a ninja is really rather difficult.
Remarkably, new ninja-based platformer Shadow Blade manages it with grace. While the controls feel a little unorthodox to begin with, they quickly prove ambitious and well considered, with flicks and gestures becoming your window into a world of great set-pieces, wall-jumping, blood-spewing, and rushes to the finish.
You play as a ninja student who is attempting to return to his master with important information. Unfortunately there are numerous obstacles and enemies standing between points A and B, and he’s going to need to hack and slash his way through the lot of them. Of course, that can only be good news for us – I mean, we need some baddies to make this fun, right?
Shadow Blade wants you to feel slick. To this end, the game comes with a control scheme that’s a little bit different – you can opt for the regular d-pad style controls, but you’ll want to go with the gesture and swiping control set, because it feels really damn good once you properly get into it.
Touching the left side of the screen makes your ninja go left, and touching right makes him go – yep, that’s right – right. So far, so simple, but it’s the jumping and general air movement that make things a little bit more energetic. Swipe up and you’ll jump up; Swipe diagonally up and to the side, and you’ll jump in that direction; Do it again and you’ll do a double jump; Then swipe to the left or right and you’ll perform a powerful side-slam; Now swipe down and you’ll crash to the ground and take out any enemies below…
As you can probably gather, it’s very much a game about chaining kills together and looking like a boss all the way. Rush forward and stab, and you’ll take an enemy out with ease. Wall kick up a tight space, pop out next to a sniper, and take him out from behind. There’s so much style and finesse to be found, and you’ll have plenty of fun exploring the different ways for your enemies to die.
In general, it’s an incredibly satisfying game. I found myself blasting through it in one sitting, and enjoying it immensely, especially the more difficult hardcore levels. This is a game that you’ll want to see through to the end.
It feels like more could be done with the concept, though. Take the comboing I was talking about earlier – when I said there is a focus on pulling off combos, I really should have added “in my head.” See, there’s no real reason to put awesome Dishonored kill combos together, as you don’t have any score. You collect things, and you race against the clock, but the actual killing isn’t very tightly knitted into the game’s reward infrastructure.
Another element that needs refining: The story. It’s basically non-existent, which is a massive shame, especially after seeing what could be done with the genre in Mark of the Ninja. It’s great that the game is so heavily focused on making a fun experience, but if you’re going to bother giving me even a shred of a story, you should back it up with a tale I’ll want to follow.
Shadow Blade could be the start of a great franchise on mobile, thanks to great controls and exciting action. Let’s hope we see the student become the master again soon.