Version tested: Xbox 360
Even when a game is as gleefully stupid as possible, developers are sometimes smart enough to leave room for the player to make it even more so. It's almost inspiring. Case in point: Ninja Blade. The game opens with a unit of ninjas, one of which is you, being dropped from a transport plane into a city that's been infected by Alpha Worms from Space. Or something. None of the ninjas have parachutes. On the way down - slashing enemy flying things who have the misfortune to be passing by - you proceed to land by crashing through the side of a skyscraper and slow the impact by doing a forward roll. That's as sane as it gets. By the end of the level, you've kicked an enormous demolition ball into the boss' equally enormous tendril-covered face.
Which is all mental enough. But then you finish the level, and realise it includes a costume editor. So now, when the high-octane straight-faced lunacy kicks off again, it's starring a fluorescent pink ninja. It only gets worse as you unlock other outfits. I went out the room when a friend was playing and he edited the ninja so he was rocking a scarlet leopard-skin with pink love-hearts all over his sleeves.
There are two sorts of ninjas. There's the sort who are big on hiding and the sort who really aren't. Ninja Blade is the latter. He thinks hiding is what animals are covered in. He's an expert in three weapons - the ancient ninja blades, mystical shuriken and the M60 machinegun. He is, to stress the point, mental. Lunacy is the primary constant. At Ninja Blade's best, it's hilarious, destructive and joyous. Even at its worst, it's often bad in a way that makes you wonder at the sanity of the developer for making whatever decision you're contemplating.
It is... well, let's go with "action game". Action-adventure would probably be the box to tick, but that doesn't quite grasp the entirety of its mood-swing game design. I'd say God of War, if I were to choose a single game, but while it's got all that increasing-combo quick-time event finishing move boss-fighting malarkey, its so fond of the wall-running that it pushes the platforming elements into something that even looks a little like Prince of Persia. And then it's got extended on-rails shooter sections where you're mowing down enemies while your truck or chopper trundles along. And the typically elaborate boss fights. And the quick-time events.
Ninja Blade likes its quick-time events. It's got more than I've seen since Fahrenheit, but they're integrated in a far less painful way. But still incredibly odd. Put it this way. It's like you're typing a paragraph in a review and you make some kind of mistkktsim fo dink emos ekam uoy dna wiever a ni hpargarap a ginpyt er'uoy ekil s'ti os. So it's like you're typing a paragraph in a review and you make some kind of mistake and then it rewinds and you try again with no further conseqeeqesnoc rehtruf on htiw niaga yrt uoy dna sdniwer ti neht dna ekatsim fo dink emos ekam uoy dna wiever a ni hpargarap a ginpyt er'uoy ekil s'ti os. So it's like you're typing a paragraph in a review and you make some kind of mistake and then it rewinds and lets you try again with no further consequences.
That's annoying and strange. As just demonstrated. But oddly, less annoying than the alternative of having to do the whole sequence again. While I suspect this is a total dead-end in game design, this compromise - the QTEs are set to be pretty damn easy on normal difficulty - does allow a developer to keep a tiny fraction interaction in events most games of the type would have as a cut-scene. The normal complaint in a game that runs an awesome video of your character taking down a baddy is, "Well, great - why can't I do it?" Ninja Blade's extended sequences of Dragons Lair-style action at least keep you slightly involved as the protagonist. Given the choice, I'll take this.