I-Ninja Preview

We slice and dice our way through a demo version of Argonaut's crazy ninja platformer.

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Namco has provided us with an early demo version of I-Ninja for the PlayStation 2, and after running through the demo's four levels a couple of times, we've come away quite impressed with the game. In development at Argonaut, I-Ninja is a tongue-in-cheek action game starring a small, superdeformed ninja with an extraordinarily large and bulbous head. Though it's billed primarily as a platformer, the demo we played shows that the game also borrows concepts from a number of other genres, like extreme sports.

The main character is one rough-and-tumble little dude.
The main character is one rough-and-tumble little dude.

The four levels in the I-Ninja demo all feature their own distinct gameplay elements. Your goal is always to find a collectible token at the end of the level, but getting to this item is accomplished in a manner that's unique to each level. The most basic and platformer-like mission has you in a rocket factory, battling against sinister enemy ninjas and tackling assembly-line obstacles as you make your way toward the goal. There are a ton of moves that can be used here. Combat-wise, you have a light sword attack that can be used in combos and a heavy slash that will generally kill enemies in one hit, if you manage to connect with it. When you score a hit with the heavy slash, the enemy stands still for a second and then splits into two halves that slowly fall to the floor. This kind of comical death animation is indicative of the campy, humorous tone of the game. The demo also makes shurikens available for attack purposes, though there aren't a lot of opportunities to throw them in this level. You can also perform some other interesting moves in this level, like grinding on rails, running up and across walls, and using half-pipes to pick up speed to reach higher areas. The action moves pretty fast, and you'll always be pulling off cool maneuvers, thanks to the quick pacing of the level.

Another stage in the demo has you standing on an explosive barrel and running backward to make it roll so you can ride it to a cage you have to blow up. The level's token, of course, is located in this cage, and to get to it you have to navigate all kinds of crazy obstacles. Riding on a barrel full of explosives makes this task a little tricky, as you might imagine. You have to avoid flames, pitfalls, rotating platforms, and other threats as you roll toward the goal. The third level in the demo features more platforming action but with a greater emphasis on speedy, linear movement that's somewhat in the style of Sonic the Hedgehog. There's a lot more rail grinding and half-pipe running here, as well as a couple of tight turns that require you to use your grappling hook to keep from careening off the side of the track. At the end of this level, your ninja climbs aboard a giant eyeball, and you have to roll this eye down a long pipe in a set amount of time, avoiding obstacles and hitting groups of enemies that have been set up like bowling pins. These levels certainly feature a strange mishmash of action elements, but they're all great fun to play and fit together nicely.

Boxing robots: Something all games could use more of.
Boxing robots: Something all games could use more of.

The fourth and final I-Ninja demo level is a complete departure from the platformer formula--it has you participating in a tense robot boxing match from the first-person perspective. Your ninja guides the giant robot using a virtual-reality control system located at the bottom of the screen, and you see the action through the robot's viewfinder. You can throw right and left jabs and uppercuts, and you can dodge to either side and duck. When you've landed enough punches and filled up a special meter, you can also lock on to your opponent with a laser and fire for significant damage. This boxing portion is as strangely appealing as the rest of the I-Ninja demo, as much for its sense of humor and style as for its gameplay. Your robot's view will become cracked and broken as you sustain damage, and the other robot will lose all manner of body parts as you batter it around. Though we're not sure how robot boxing will fit into the overall scheme of I-Ninja, it's a welcome addition all the same.

Argonaut is crafting a truly wacky and appealing game in I-Ninja. The game's graphics aren't incredibly detailed, but they do run at an ultrasmooth frame rate with no hint of slowdown. Furthermore, the design of the ninja himself, his enemies, and his environments is inspired and incredibly cute. Your ninja displays an assortment of facial expressions and goofy animations, upping the humor value of the game considerably. The delightful visuals are joined by a drum-and-bass soundtrack that's surprisingly good. Between the smooth graphics, the campy humor, the fast action, and the solid soundtrack, the I-Ninja demo is awfully hip, not to mention a lot of fun. The demo levels are arranged very loosely around a hub area where a goofy-looking mystical sage gives you assignments, but there's no hint of the storyline or how the final game will actually be put together. If the demo is any indication, though, I-Ninja is shaping up to be a great action platformer with a lot of cool extras. The game is scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter of this year, and we'll bring you more as soon as we can get our grubby hands on a new build of the game.

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