Review by IrenicApollyon
"I-Ninja beats Shinobi (PS2) hands down!"
When I first saw the main character of I-Ninja in a playable demo I got with my Soul Calibur II purchase, I was not impressed. In fact, I don't think anyone who has seen the sword-wielding masked midget before has had the remotest interest in playing his game, regardless of your love of ninjas. Despite my doubts, however, I did give the demo a shot and, much to my surprise, I enjoyed it and eventually purchased it. What I found in the final product was a refined and fast-paced action game.
We start I-Ninja with your character, the ninja-in-training simply named "Ninja", and his teacher discovering a magical crystal within a cave. When Ninja gets his hands on the crystal, it immediately overtakes him and in a surge of uncontrollable energy (we're talking flying around the room swords swinging) accidentally kills his teacher and unleashes a new evil to the world. You can assume where the rest of the story goes. No, the plotline brings nothing original to the action-arcade genre but it does just enough to give you good reason as to why Ninja is chopping up robot-monsters.
The I-Ninja world is split into different levels comprised of several stages and one boss stage. The cartoony level design fits very well with the off-beat plot and character design and isn't too bad to look at either. Ninja animation is clean and often humorous and the monsters you face fit right into the world. My only major gripe with this game visually is that, although every level is original and has its own feel, the stages that make up each level are actually very similar. Seeing the same trees and grass textures in every stage is fine, but when the atmosphere and overall presentation of each stage is the same than there really is no difference between them. The result, in most cases, would be that the adventure gets really old really fast. However, the team at Namco really cleaned up in the gameplay department so I forgive them this tiny fault.
Gameplay is where this title really shines and differentiates itself from the Crash Bandicoots of the genre. The stages you play through are usually your standard "hack-n-slash" levels, but they're designed with Ninja's acrobatic abilities in mind and are a blast to play through. Ninja has a slew of moves and tools that makes the platforming aspect of the game a rush and execution of all the moves are as simple as pressing the R1 button. Outside of the regular run-and-gun stages, the team at Namco threw in some real gems. For example, there is a stage where Ninja must blow up a cage with a barrel of gunpowder. Since the gunpowder is too heavy for Ninja to carry, he lays the barrel on its side and runs along the top thus moving him forward or backward Looney Tunes style. The player has to maneuver I-Ninja through a series of traps to the cage, jump off, and trigger an explosion. There are other stages where Ninja will either be inside, running along the top of, or hanging onto the side of a massive ball and Ninja has to make his way down a ramp, bowling over rows of enemies as he rolls. These stages really change up the pace of the game and the ratio of these kind of stages to the regular kind is well-balanced.
A current trend in games today is the incorporation of RPG elements and character improvement. The I-Ninja development team didn't want to be left behind in this department so, naturally, it's in here too. It's actually very surprising how much you can improve Ninja. As you progress in the game, Ninja gets higher belt ranks which make him stronger and increase his endurance and with the money you collect as you travel through stages you can buy sword upgrades. This was a nice treat since the demo only had belt upgrades and the effects of getting higher belt ranks wasn't evident. That isn't to say that by the end of the game Ninja will be a veritable one-man army, the changes aren't very drastic.
The voice acting in I-Ninja is excellent overall though Ninja (voiced by Billy West of Futurama) gets a little grating on the nerves sometimes. The game dialog is also a mixed bag, usually hilarious but there is the occasional bad joke that makes you cringe. The music is pretty bad, all of it being of the industrial-techno kind or whatever you'd call it, though to its credit it does fit in with the game's look.
With I-Ninja facing off against action game giants like Mario and Crash Bandicoot, its clear to see this little guy has some huge balls. Boasting some fun visuals, solid voice acting, and some amazingly original gameplay, any fan of the genre will find this game a treat. Sadly, Ninja doesn't have a very "commercial" look and isn't very appealing to kids (or adults for that matter) so his game will never be played by most. Give the guy a shot and swear you'll love him.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/08/06
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