TOKYO--When Ninja Blade was first unveiled a few months ago, you could have been forgiven for thinking it had a lot of similarities to another, more popular Xbox 360 ninja-based action game. But in a pre-TGS media briefing held today at Microsoft's Xbox HQ in Tokyo, developers from From Software gave us our first close-up look at the upcoming game, and we're happy to say that while there are definitely similarities to the Ninja Gaiden series, Ninja Blade appears to have enough unique aspects to make it worth a look for action afficionados.
From Software was a little hesitant to give much detail about the story in Ninja Blade, but we do know that you'll play as a ninja trying to battle his way through a modern Tokyo whose entire population has been ravaged by a mysterious contaminant, turning both humans and animals into aggressive, zombielike creatures. The opening cinematic features large helicarriers flying low at night along the Tokyo skyline, before zooming into the cargo hold of one helicarrier for a close-up shot of the game's hero (dressed in fashionable ninja black, of course). As you'd expect from a mysterious shadow warrior, our hero promptly leapt off the back of the helicarrier and plummeted down towards a nearby skyscraper.
It's here that Ninja Blade's first major difference to the Ninja Gaiden franchise pops up. Ninja Blade looks to be going down the cinematic action route of many modern games (a la God of War); for example, a timed button-press event popped up onscreen as the ninja flew towards some human-sized flying demons. These timed events seem to be preceeded by a quick close-up of the hero ninja's eye, giving you some warning that something impressive is about to happen. Successfully pressing the correct button at the correct time (in this case, the X button) caused the ninja to perform a visually impressive slice attack on one of the demons while falling, before vaulting himself off the vanquished foe to attack another nearby demon. Another timed button sequence then appeared and this time caused the ninja to throw out a zip line to halt his fall and propel him through a pane of glass into a building's hallway.
Lurking in the hallway were several of the contaminated creatures, who looked to be stock-standard zombielike enemies. Our ninja had three weapons to choose from, the first being a sword, which resulted in fast attacks. Also available were two short blades joined together by a chain to form a nunchaku-like weapon. As the demo testers from From Software showed, this weapon can be used to attack more distant enemies, with the onscreen ninja twirling them around his body in increasingly large arcs. The final weapon shown was a large, stocky blade. As you'd expect, attacks using this weapon were much slower, although they did plenty more damage to the mainly lumbering opponents that appeared in the hallway. Our ninja also had some special moves that he showed off, including some wind-based attacks using large shurikens. The action here was quite stylish, with the ninja performing some impressive and athletic combos before another timed button sequence popped up. From the end of the hallway, a gigantic worm appeared (complete with thousands of sharp teeth protruding from its mouth), forcing our ninja to leap to safety out of another window.
While the combat described here is probably nothing new to ninja game vets, the next section shown was certainly more exciting. After jumping out of the building, our ninja had to engage in some combat while falling down the side of a tall skyscraper. The ninja had to deal with more flying demons, while simultaneously trying to slow his fall, occasionally by stabbing his largest blade into the side of the building. The frenetic pace of this action sequence was something to behold, and the developers said that vertical combat like this would be a staple of the full game thanks to the many high-rise buildings in the game's Tokyo setting.
The last key gameplay mechanic shown off during today's demo was ninja vision, an ability that let our hero slow down time, point out enemy weak spots, and see things that ordinary humans can't see. After falling down the building, our ninja had to take on an extremely large enemy spider perched on top of a building. To get to the spider, the ninja had to run down a narrow platform. At this point, the From Software demo player switched on ninja vision, which turned the gameworld a shade of red and slowed down time considerably, allowing him to dodge the large ground-based projectile attacks being thrown at him. When he got to the end of the platform, the boss fight started, with ninja vision turned on occassionally to dodge some of the spider's more dangerous attacks. Ninja vision can't be used indefinitely, however. A bar below the ninja's health bar on the top left side of the screen shows you how much time you have left. If you deplete the entire bar, your ninja's action will suffer slightly and the screen will go out of focus momentarily as the bar refills. The demo ended after another timed button sequence, which saw the giant spider rear up and the ninja throw a zip line to the creature's underside to swing out of harm's way.
From this hands-off look at Ninja Blade, the game's focus on cinematic sequences appears to lend the game even more over-the-top ninja slicing action than seen in previous similar titles. Failing a timed button sequence also seems to result in only minimal frustration--for example, our demo tester failed one sequence during the spider boss fight, which caused him to be pushed back to the start of the narrow platform section (but with the already depleted section of the boss's health staying where it was). The developers at From Software say the game is almost complete, with only minor tweaks left. Ninja Blade certainly looks good from a graphics perspective, and we're keen to get our hands on a demo on the TGS floor later this week. Check back with GameSpot for more on Ninja Blade.