Review: Ninja Blade

Jordan Deam | 21 Apr 2009 09:00
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Is there any game mechanic more universally loathed than the quick-time event (QTE)? One moment you're enjoying a break from the gameplay, leisurely watching the story unfold without your intervention, when suddenly you're face first in a pit of spikes because you didn't hit the A button fast enough. It's the perfect solution to a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place - namely, how to prevent players from losing interest during a long cut scene. (The better answer? Shorten the cut scene or ditch it altogether.)

The drawbacks to QTEs are common knowledge at this point. Which is why, against my better judgment, Ninja Blade has earned my grudging respect, if not my $60. In a field where most game developers have either lost their enthusiasm for QTEs or given up on the concept entirely, From Software has doubled down on the doomed mechanic. In fact, they've built an entire game around it.

Ninja Blade is the rare game where the actual gameplay feels like filler. The real highlight is the cut scenes, but you can't simply sit back and watch them. Instead, you have to prove your worthiness by executing a series of button press at the right moments. There's actually a primitive rhythm game built into these sequences - the game grades you based on how close your button press was to the "ideal" button press, which isn't always immediately after the prompt appears. Line it up at the exact moment, and "Perfect!" lights up the screen; wait a half second too long and you're merely "Good." After each mission, you receive a grade based on your overall QTE performance with the option to upload it to an online leaderboard. That's right, QTE fans: You can finally compete with literally dozens of your peers from around the globe for the title of Best (But Not Necessarily Fastest) Button Presser in the World.

If you're less skilled at the art of button pressing, no need to worry: There's no such thing as failure in Ninja Blade's QTEs, just another opportunity to succeed. Instead of showing the grisly consequences of your error, the game rewinds the cut scene to a few seconds earlier and prompts you to try again. While it's not as infuriating as having to wade through a "Game Over" screen after each botched attempt, it stretches the limits of what could rightly be called gameplay - and not in a good way. Imagine watching a DVD where you have to press a different button ever 15 seconds to continue playback, and you have a decent approximation of Ninja Blade's modus operandi.

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