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I-Ninja Review

Written : 04/04/04

If there is one thing that can truly separate one game from another, itís genre. It works just like with movies, TV shows, books, and pretty much every other sort of entertainment. Pretty much everyone has their favorite genre of things, and it will lead them to be more open to games, movies or whatever of their chosen genre. Me, personally, I like platformers when it comes to gaming. And while I should really save this intro for when I do some sort of salute to platform games or RPGs or something, Iím gonna go with it anyway, because I donít have anything better.

So yeah, I like the platforming games. Those are the ones where thereís a lot of jumping and item getting. You know, Super Mario Bros., Banjo-Kazooie, most MegaMan games and the like. I think subconsciously theyíve been my favorites forever, but I have gone through a couple other phases. Like when I first learned of ROMs. At that time I was on this really bad RPG kick. Pokemon might have had something to do with it, and itís funny because before that I was deathly afraid of RPGs because they looked too long and hard. Then when I first got Final Fantasy Tactics I got into strategy and got hooked on that and Advance Wars. I still enjoy those genres and others, but platforming is what I like to think of as my major.

But what happens when a game comes along and defies the normal genre qualifications? If you take Wario Ware Inc. and MegaMan Battle Network as examples, itís a great experience. When a game can combine all the winning elements of other games or create a whole new type of game, you know that itís at least worth a look. And thatís what Iíve got today. The game I rented this week has a ton of crazy stuff in it, and while it would be a platformer if it had to pick one, it certainly takes a lot from other genres. That game is Namcoís newest submission, I-Ninja.

I-Ninja, in a word, is cool. Obviously enough, itís got ninjas. That alone allows anyone to think itís cool. It also has its fair share of robots. Ding. Ring up some more cool points. And I havenít confirmed it yet, but to top it off there might be pirates as well, as there is a pirate-esqe area in the game. So right off the bat you know that there are ninjas, robots, and probably pirates too. Those are without a doubt the three coolest things ever, so the game has definitely got its cool down. But weíve seen before that cool alone cannot make a game. *coughMatrixcough* So letís take a deeper look at I-Ninja

After a rather lengthy and unskippable (tisk, tisk) line of company logos, we get to the start screen. Now the start screen is rather cool by itself. Unlike most other games, itís not just the title and a ďpress startĒ, oh no. While youíre deciding whether you want to load an old game or start anew, there is a demo of Ninja whacking a bunch of baddies. Already we see that the game is going to involve a lot of fighting and a lot of spraying goo. Some even splashes the screen and drips off slowly. So far, Iím impressed. Oh yeah.

It seems natural to start from the beginning to show you what itís all about. So after selecting ďnew gameĒ, weíre off to our first cinematic sequence. Here we see Ninja sneaking into an enemy base to rescue his sensei, aptly named Sensei. Ninja fights off a bunch of goons and then a big monster. Itís all very cool to watch, as Ninja has all the style of an entire discotheque.

After a savage beatdown, the monster spits up a strange glowy crystal thing. Ninja is captivated by it and takes the loot for himself. Sensei warns no, but Ninja has already been possessed by the glowy thing and goes into a berserker rage. He bounces around furiously glowing red and Sensei seems to be in a very panicked state. Ninja flies straight at him, and they smack right into a brick. Ninja's rage ceases, and Senseiís head detaches. His ghost pops out and tells Ninja that he just grabbed a Rage Stone and must find some more. I guess now would be a good time to explain what only the instruction booklet tells us.

Apparently the island of whatever was a happy place thriving with ninjas or something like that. Then some guy name O-Dor came and attacked the place with his army of Ranx ninjas. So all the good ninjas were killed or driven away and only Sensei and Ninja were left. Now since Ninja is the last of theÖ uhÖ ninjas, he has to stop O-Dor and save the island from the evil Ranx. Iím not sure what the Rage Stones have to do with it. Either it wasnít explained or I wasnít paying attention. It happens. First on Ninjaís list of things to do is save Robot Beach by toppling the evil Kyza.

To do this, Ninja will have to pilot the former something or other robot, Tekayama. But thereís a catch: Tekayama is impaled on a rock, and Ninja has to find his eyes and heart, which have been stolen by the Ranx, to bring him back online. So the game throws you right into the first level, where your mission is to retrieve Tekayamaís right eyeball, which the Ranx have been using as a laser. Sounds simple, no? Well if you said no, youíd be closer than if you had said yes.

Not to say that the mission isnít easy, but it certainly isnít simple. This is the training level of the game. It shows you how to execute most of Ninjaís amazing abilities. First youíll learn to do things like slicing baddies, run up walls, double-jump, and use the ninja chain. There is a lot to learn, but thankfully itís all pretty basic stuff and is easy enough to do. There are a lot of enemies to beat up around this area, and youíll need to get a good feeling for how to kill efficiently, because itís almost always four or more against one, and the enemies only get harder as it goes.

Then we get to the next part. It really turns a corner here, going from ninja-style moves to more of an extreme athlete motif. Youíll learn how to use half-pipes, grind, and outrun some kind of weird energy balls on huge high-speed tracks. And off in the distance, we see the target; the eyeball! After a lot of running and grinding, Ninja frees the eye from its prison pedestal and weíre done! Öor not. After breaking the eyeball-holder thing, it falls to the ground, and then youíve gotta roll it around. Nobody expected that to happen, and you wonít be expecting what happens next either.

Eye-bowling. Yes, eye-bowling. The eyeball rolls through a hole and into a huge, winding half-pipe. There are all sorts of pillars, ramps and fire in the way, and weíve gotta get to the bottom in less than one minute!. Itís a tricky task, especially if you want to hit all the Ranx and pick up all the coinage. The fun part is that the Ranx are lined up like pins, and if you hit them the right way, you get a strike! After making it to the end, Ninja and the eye are beamed up to the surface of Robot Beach to celebrate a jorb well done.

After every level, there are a few things that game has to count up. First and least important is the score. I got hi-scores every time because the previous hi-score was 0. Anyway, the points will earn you continues, so they are slightly important. Next it counts up the cash you earned in the level and puts it in your bank. Then it tallys your kills. For every so many Ranx you kill, you earn a new sword with increased destructive ability and swiftness. Finally, if youíve filled out the requirements of the level (the first time through is just to make it to the end), you get a Grade. Once you get so many Grades, you earn your next coloured belt and can open new levels and take on tougher challenges. Think of Grades as Shines in Super Mario Sunshine. They work pretty much the same way.

So now that weíve passed the intro stage, Ninja is finally free to explore the overworld. Or at least a part of it. Robot Beach is both a large and small place at once. Itís a big place, but there is very little to actually do there. But like most other ďcollect the doodadsĒ games, more areas will open up later. For now we shall just marvel at the sunset and jump around aimlessly. The next move is up to you; either go for the other eye or the heart. Theyíll both have to be got by the end anyway, so weíll check out the second eyeís level because itís easier.

This time there is grinding and running right off the bat. There is a lot to see in this level, and youíll notice that you canít quite get to everywhere. All in good time, grasshopper. All in good time. For now, just do all that crap you need to do to find out where that eyeball is being held. Since this paragraph is way too short, Iíll take the time to explain a thing Ninja can do. See the small gray diamond in the bottom-left corner? Looks like part of the scenery? Well when it fills up (by getting hit of hitting), Ninja can go into a rage and get real strong. Later, he gets other rage abilities, like healing and such. Itís all outlined quite clearly in the manual.

Ah, once again, the eye is being used as a lasery beam. But this time, Ninja will have to navigate a maze of lasers while on floating platforms. The camera in this game is a little tricky to get used to, and itís fickleness might lead to getting zapped a few times on account of you canít tell how high you jumped because the cameraís right above you. But after you get to the end and blow up the control switch, you can free the eye and, you guessed it, roll on out of there.

Ugh. More rolling. Only this time thereís no timer. Woo-hoo! But to make up for that, now weíve gotta get across a bunch of moving platforms. Anybody whoís mastered Super Monkey Ball will probably find this a lot easier than those who are virtual ball rolling virgins. Itís not too hard to do, and if you fall the game puts you back with no penalty besides having to try again. Once you get a feel for the ball, you should be able to complete the area quickly and easily. Just donít move faster than you can handle. It leads to much falling.

Yay for us! Weíve gotten the second eye of Tekayama back and now all we need to do is get the heart and weíre ready to rock! The third level of Robot Beach is a lot tougher than the first two, as the enemies have gotten a lot smarter (read: learned how to block) and there are sentry bots which will teleport you back to the start if youíre caught. And once again, the level ends in ball-rolling. This one is quite tough. It makes you try to balance to ball across very slim platforms, and it can get quite frustrating.

So Iím going to skip a detailed rundown of that level and take you straight to the first boss fight! Ooh! Itís Teleroboxer in colour and real 3-D! Now if you get that reference, youíre a real Nintendo fan. That or youíve been reading a lot of old Nintendo Powers. Anywho, the boxing is a fun way to end the day. It brings a very needed element of freshness to the game, whose ball-rolling antics have gotten very annoying and stale. Maybe itís just me, but I hate the ball-rolling parts.

So this guy is ugly Kyza. Heís pretty easy to beat up on until he backs off and starts firing missiles. After you dodge those, he starts blocking, and that means that youíre going to have to dodge and counter-punch to win. Fortunately, a defense system is installed in Tekayama and it tells you which way to dodge. Unfortunately, it doesnít give you much time to react, so youíre better off watching Kyza move. After three rounds, youíre going to have to work that way anyway, as the defense system breaks down and the warning lights donít work anymore.

When you bust Kyzaís iron jaw, youíll pick yourself up another Rage Stone, and this time, Ninja goes out of control for even longer. This is bad news for the guy whoís unlocking the next overworld area. Itís all kind of a blur, with Ninja bouncing here and there, yelling stuff all the while. Eventually, he winds up in the second, pirate-styled area known as Bomb Bay. Ha. Play on words, get it? Bomb Bay, like coach Bombay from The Mighty Ducks. Damn those were good movies.

So now that Iíve walked you through a couple levels, and youíve gotten to see what the game is like, itís time for the more reviewish part. To make the intro relevant, Iíll start with the whole multi-genre thing. Now itís got a lot of actual platforming action. Thatís the obvious part. Then itís got that ball crap which is a lot less fun that playing Super Monkey Ball. Seriously. And thereís the added bonus of having a boxing mini-game on top of it all. Now this is all just the first part of the game, I might remind you. Thereís a lot more.

I havenít played much farther in, but Iíve seen a lot more. One level is a shooting gallery kind of thing, similar to what I imagine the Beachhead games are like. Then there is rolling around on a barrel, which surprisingly, is quite different than rolling a ball around. The second boss fight is an underwater battle, in which Ninja pilots a submarine-type thing. Itís kind of like a cross between the shooting gallery and one of those top-down flying shoot Ďem up games that I love and my friends loathe. Thatís about all Iíve seen, plus a couple bonus levels which are a lot more like Monkey Ball than the actual levels.

The only other game I can really think of that has such varied gameplay is Conkerís Bad Fur Day. And that game, sadly to say, is a lot better than this one. Itís not really that I-Ninja is a bad game. No, itís designed quite well, actually. The controls are a little bit off and the camera is very defiant most of the time, but those problems arenít severe enough to make I-Ninja a bad game. No, I have the same problem with this game as I did with 007: Nightfire; I just donít want to play it. Maybe somethingís missing, Iím not sure, but I just donít want to go back and play I-Ninja any more. Itís sad too, because this game has a lot of things going for it.

Take the graphics, for instance. While the cinema scenes do have better graphics and effects, the in-game stuff is excellent. Itís kinda of like a cross between The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Super Mario Sunshine. The effects and animations are done in a way that reminds me of Zelda; very cartoony and funny. While the graphics arenít cel-shaded, theyíre in that kind of transition between cel and normal graphics like SMS was. Only I-Ninja doesnít fall victim to horrible texturing. At least, I canít remember any. The one thing I really like is the way they did the clouds. They look like something out of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I dunno why. Itís just kinda neat the way they did it.

The music and sound stuff it pretty good to. The music itself is mostly pretty fun and upbeat, bringing to mind some other game that I canít think of right now. But I know it was similar to something. Now the voice acting is where itís at. Ninja is voiced by none other than the uber-talented Billy West (Ren & Stimpy, Futurama), and as always, he does a spectacular job. The rest of the cast is great too. I donít know Ďem, but they are obviously professionals at what they do, from Sensei to the tutorial program voice. Itís like Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, only the voices are funny instead of serious.

And one thing that rarely draws me to a game is a big thing in this one: the characters. Ninja himself is one of the most lovable characters ever. Heís an asshole, a hothead, and his head is way too big, but heís a really cool character. Heís always spouting his mouth off at someone, but heís got great writing going for him, and heís always funny. Sensei is great too. He keeps trying to give Ninja words of advice, but never quite gets it right. Some of his quotes are just too good not to, uh, quote. Like ďYour grasp of the obvious astoundsĒ and ďA stitch in time is worth twoÖ in the bush.Ē

So while all it has all this stuff going for it, I just canít find the charm in I-Ninja to make me want to recommend it. Iíd say go out and rent it for sure, but donít buy it until youíve played it a little first. With a recommendation like that, the best grade I can give this game is a B. Itís just not the kind of game that makes me want to play, and some of the challenges are just too hard. Theyíre mostly the ball levels too. And considering that Iím not too far in the game and itís already finding way to be too hard, thatís not a good sign for the future. Basically, this game is just another Pac-Man World 2 with higher production values.

I canít say Iím disappointed with the game. There really isnít anything wrong with it besides the lack of wanting to play it. I think it might just be the fact that there is too much ball rolling that turned me off. But in any case, it was worth my 3 bucks (go gift card) to rent it. Iíll probably never play it again unless Namco makes it real cheap and packages in Pac-Man Vs, in which case I might just buy it. But it would have to be at the $20 mark before I even considered doing so. But considering that I have resolved to not buy any games that I donít really want, Iíll probably never play it again. Unfortunately for that resolution, there are a lot of games that I really want.

Anywho, itís nice to be back from the cottage, but I canít complain about the week of bliss. Not having to do anything rocks. Itís funny, I had no idea what to review this week, as I didnít think about it at all while I was gone away. I rented I-Ninja not expecting that it would turn into my weekly review, and after playing it for a while, it just hit me that it was good review material. I was trying to find something a little less, you know, video game once again, but failed to do so. Maybe next week will bring better material. Nobody knows for sure what Iíll come across in a weekís time, but it most likely wonít be much, since I donít do a whole lot. Oh well. See you in the future.

E-Mail: Mr_Hotshot64v2@hotmail.com