With the amount of time that I have been able to spend with I-Ninja I can safely say that, while it introduces nothing new to the platforming genre, Argonaut’s title does combine some of the best elements of platforming with fighting, puzzle, and straight forward action. These fundamentals combined can only lead to a rewarding experience if the game didn’t suffer from some simplistic gameplay mechanics and the inability to introduce anything radically new to the genre.
The game itself is accessible to anyone looking for a great little platformer to hold them over till the next big thing. I-Ninja may pass under the radar of casual and hardcore gamers, but it really shouldn’t, as the game itself if filled with a unique sense of humor and lots of little ninja action.
Seeping into the role of the smallest ninja ever, you proceed to accidentally kill your sensei before the player is even able to control the character. But death is only a mild set back in this world as his ghost is quick to keep you in line for the remainder of the game.
You start off in somewhat of a tutorial world, aka Robot Beach. It seems that the Ranx Army has dismantled a few portions of the former political head and you need to retrieve his eyes and heart. These early levels, and the first boss, introduce you to some of the game’s new play mechanics and get you used to the controls. On the review PS2 version of the game, the controls seemed to fit with the action very well, with nothing being too complicated to pulls off, which was a welcome change after coming off of True Crime: Streets of LA in which something as simple as pulling out your badge could lead to a few headaches.
Your sensei will give you grades upon finishing levels, the more levels you finish the better belts you earn, and, well, you get the general idea. If the title does have one downfall it is that of the somewhat simplistic gameplay. Using standard platforming mechanics, such as a helicopter move, wall jump, and sword swing the little ninja progresses through linear level after linear level to his goal of acquiring the Rage Stones and taking on O-Dor, the game’s antagonist. Throughout each level you will face the Ranx Army who either spawn from floating orbs, or are already present in each level. Don’t be surprised to find yourself surrounded by more than a few enemies at any given time, which leads to another of my quibbles with the game, the somewhat cheap enemy AI. It seems similar to VU Games’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds where a group of enemies will proceed to pound on you getting cheap shot after cheap shot. Luckily, I-Ninja is an agile little guy and these small groups don’t ever become too much of a problem.
The game turns into you visiting level after level and progressing through very similar obstacles to reach the end. Then, after a series of levels, you face a boss, and then progress onward.
To progress through the game does offer a few new moves that you don’t see in every run-of-the-mill platformer. The ninja can run across walls, similar to Prince of Persia, and can use conveniently placed half-pipes to gain altitude and explore the upper regions of levels. Taking a page from Sonic the Hedgehog, the ninja sometimes faces blistering fast speeds while running on specially designed tracks that require you to use your grappling hook to make the sharp corners without losing speed and being returned to the start of the course. My personal favorite levels are those that are aptly inspired by Sega’s Super Monkey Ball where the ninja attaches himself to a ball and has to roll through an obstacle course avoiding lasers, deep pits, and toying with inertia and gravity to reach your goal. Through some levels you will also need to take on the stealth aspects of being a ninja to excellent results. Playing like a somewhat dumbed-down version of Metal Gear Solid, or the recently released Manhunt, you need to avoid being detected to progress. While the stealth elements are a welcome change, they are somewhat poorly executed in the way you can always see where you need to go, which eliminates the need for trial and error runs and merely opens the door to the path mostly traveled.
Futurama fans will notice that the title character is voiced by none-other than Billy West (Fry, Professor Farnsworth, et. al.). West successfully delivers a witty, although sometimes dry, personality to the ninja. The music itself is particularly forgettable, but in a game such as this, sound is not the main thing you are concerned with.
The game itself is very easy on the eyes. While not sporting the graphical prowl-ness of Splinter Cell or Need for Speed Underground, I-Ninja successfully creates a world rich in color and personality that looks vaguely similar to Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank series, which isn’t such a bad thing.
I-Ninja is a melding of the platform genre with some minor puzzle, fighting, and action elements presented in a rich environment that presents its only downfall in somewhat stagnant gameplay. Still, those looking for a good rental, or a game to take a break from blockbuster after blockbuster should look at this game for just such a diversion. It won’t win any awards for originality, but the fun factor will keep you interested all the way through.