It's unlikely you'll have ever played a game as bizarre as From Software's Ninja Blade. This is the Xbox 360 exclusive that was rumoured to be Microsoft's answer to Metal Gear Solid. Funnily enough, while the game is nothing like Snake's many adventures, some might argue that they're on a par in the insanity stakes. Ninja Blade is a game in which you grab onto a mid-air motorbike, land on top of a mid-air bus (both of which were sent flying after an angry giant worm ripped through the city), ride along said bus at speed, leap from the bike as it flies into the mouth of the giant city-eating worm, and then ignite the gas tank with an accurately thrown dart, causing a massive explosion big enough to take down the alien ship from Independence Day. To be fair, we're not even sure Kojima could make sense out of this.
Ninja Blade casts you as a member of an elite ninja unit, with the game opening as the entire team leaps parachute-less out of a plane in order to quickly get to the threat on the surface: a spreading worm virus that turns things into giant monsters (worms, crabs, bats, spiders, snakes, etc). After an initial series of fights that would more than cover the entire boss quota in your average game, you're betrayed and left to fight alone as the virus continues to spread and the insanity level threatens to spiral off the chart.
As an action game, similar to the likes of Ninja Gaiden and God of War, Ninja Blade feels solid but somewhat lightweight. You can rely on a certain few moves far more often than you ought to be able to, and the right stick being mapped to the camera instead of dodge/roll makes combat feel less skilful. You can quick dodge by holding the right trigger, block using the left trigger and perform various combos, but on a pure "how does it feel to play?" level, it can't compete with those two giants and Capcom's Devil May Cry.
This would be a problem if it was the crux of the game, but, strangely, it's not. Ninja Blade throws in plenty of Prince of Persia-style platforming too (wall running, pole vaulting and wall jumping), a small dose of puzzle solving and quick time events… lots and lots of quick time events. We've done no research to qualify the following statement, but Ninja Blade must have the most QTEs of any game ever released. Small, finisher-style QTEs pop up during general combat, but you'll be hitting buttons that correspond to those shown on-screen whenever the action gets a bit too mental, and to finish off the pesky giant bosses that are seemingly trying to eat the Earth.
Usually we'd turn our noses up at such a lazy form of gameplay, but we found ourselves enjoying it here. The set-pieces are so ridiculous, so impossible to imagine playing using standard controls, that you accept them as interactive cutscenes. On top of that, the button presses correspond to what you'd do if you were in full control, so there's a greater sense that you're still doing something. There will still be a large group of gamers who simply can't get on with what is essentially the gameplay from the now ancient Dragon's Lair, but for us it works and is a tremendous amount of silly fun.
Of course, the usual hack 'n' slash staple of weapon upgrading is present, both for your melee weapons (slow but strong, fast but weak, and average) and your projectiles (air, fire and electric ninja stars), and various items can be found in each map to give you health and other bonuses as you progress. Fallen enemies and smashed up crates even release orbs, just in case you didn't feel quite familiar enough with the other mechanics - we half expected some chests to appear that needing prizing open.
General gameplay sees your ninja character (who, incidentally can change the colour of his ninja outfit to make him look like a clown if you fancy even more madness) slashing up wave after wave of drab looking mutated enemies, and it isn't much to write home about. It's solid, but nothing we haven't done over and over again in numerous games down the years. The whole experience relies on the constant bombardment of bosses so large they defy common sense, and often take more than one epic encounter to finally bite the dust. One level sees you fighting a three-headed fire Hydra while walking across the wings of a burning passenger plane, while a snail helicopter pelts you with missiles that you can deflect back with your sword. It's MENTAL. During a completely unrelated scene a plane comes into shot, and your ninja hero is hanging upside down from his feet, just taking in the view. There's even a double whammy of a boss that can only be described as a daughter riding her father.
From a technical point of view the game doesn't do anything ground-breaking, with the large bosses being the highlight of an otherwise drab looking game. There's the odd bout of slowdown too, which is a tad disappointing. But this doesn't matter. In a similar, but nowhere near as extreme, way to Earth Defence Force 2017, the sheer scale of the encounters make up for any shortcomings. Ninja Blade has the added advantage of not being bad looking; it's just not all that inspiring. Oh, and the voice acting and in-game acting is verging on terrible, but it shouldn't come as a huge surprise to find out that this suits the game rather well. There's even a character that ends every scene by saying "whatever", like he's some kind of ninja brat.
Ninja Blade has no right to be as entertaining as it is. It's nowhere near as accomplished as the genre's heavyweights, but anyone able to see it as the roller-coaster ride it is should have a great time. It's a game to play in the company of friends, laughing at the on-screen randomness and insane bosses, and because of that we can't help but recommend it.