I-Ninja

I-Ninja

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 12/4/2003 for PS2  

Admit it, there’s something intriguing about rooting for the little guy. It’s the reason why you rooted for the Marlins in the World Series, the reason why the NBA’s Earl Boykins is so damn entertaining and the same reason that gives us hope in our own endeavors. Size doesn’t always matter and a spunky little guy named Ninja has his own adventure to prove it.

Today’s game needs an eye-catching gimmick and I-Ninja has it. He’s a cocky bastard and he’s not afraid to let everyone know it. Watching him in action reminds me of those prancing little poodles in the Westminster Dog Show. You know you can tear it to shreds if you wanted to but there’s something so sinisterly arrogant about it that you just can’t help but fall in love with it. I felt exactly the same way about Ninja, his showboating persona was just what the doctor ordered.

He can run up walls, run along walls, race along tracks, jump off of walls and run up the sides of half-pipes. These moves seem a bit overwhelming but their implementation is made simple thanks to some ingenious tutorials. On the first level of the game you’ll be introduced to each of these facets. If you have trouble figuring them out you can push select and watch a demonstration of how to perform them. After you have an idea of how it works you can successfully utilize them throughout the game’s levels. As you progress you’ll also gain access to special moves which allow you to go on rampages and regain health.

Level variety plays a key role in the manner which I-Ninja pans out. While Namco bills it as a traditional platformer it features a number of varying mission types. One moment you might be chopping through a horde of Ranx (the enemy soldiers) while the next has you rolling around atop of an explosive gunpowder-filled keg. Variety acts as a dual-edged sword in this manner though because most of the elements lack balance and some types of gameplay are crafted better than others. While I welcomed the Monkey Ball-esque sequences and the on-foot sequences I found myself loathing some of the other game types.

Some of them are really neat and will keep you entertained. When you fight the first boss you’ll hop into a giant mech and step behind the controls for some good old-fashion Punch Out style combat. It’s pretty fun and beating up on a giant garden gnome gets a thumbs up in my book any day of the week. Sadly not all of them are quite this entertaining. There’s a gun game that really irked me to the point that I had to leave the game for an extended period of time. In it you’re forced to defend a beach from an onslaught of enemy ships. While it’s pretty fun to begin with it draws on for far too long and ends up being nearly a 10 minute affair. This frustration is multiplied by the fact that failure comes quite easily and doing so will force you to start over from the beginning.

Some of the combat elements are flawed too. You’re very limited in your methods of destruction and some of your moves don’t do very much damage, leaving you wide open to a counterattack. You’ll have a standard slash, a circular slash, aerial attacks, a rising attack and a jumping smash attack. Initially I was under the impression that the rising attack would hit enemies up into the air where I could juggle them a la Devil May Cry. Instead it just causes Ninja to hit them with such little force that he doesn’t even knock the enemies back as he jumps into the air, usually while they pummel him with attacks. There are problems with the spin attack as well because it doesn’t knock enemies back or stun them. He just sort of swings through them while they carry on as if nothing happened, yet again leaving you open to attack.Perhaps the largest problem is the level design and the manner in which they’re laid out. I-Ninja essentially asks you to start at point A and then finish at point B with little to no deviation in between. Some of the levels just seem downright unfeasible and will have you wondering exactly what the designs were based off of. That’s not to say that the level variety is lacking, because I-Ninja is anything but that. I welcomed the barrel levels and some of the I-Ball levels are actually pretty entertaining, it’s just that the majority of the levels failed to deliver in a satisfying manner.

I also despised the belt system that the game employs. As you pass more missions Ninja will earn some notches that will help him move up in belt colors. This would have been a nice feature had it meant something to progress through the ranks. Instead it merely acts as an artificial means of limiting a player’s progress through the game. In order to get to boss battles you’ll need to have a specific color belt, if you don’t have that color belt you’ll have to go back and complete the same missions until you move up in rank. It’s a means of artificially increasing the length of the game but it doesn’t really add more replay value, just more aggravation.

Probably the neatest facet of I-Ninja is the cutscenes. Produced and directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, these are some of the most well-designed cinematics we’ve ever seen. It doesn’t hurt either that our lead character is voiced by Billy West, the same man responsible for the voice of Fry on the popular cartoon Futurama and the voice of Doug, if you can remember that far back. While he tries to conceal it little bits and pieces of the old Fry charm poke through, making the game even more enjoyable if you’re a fan of Fox’s cartoon series. You’ll also occasionally hear Ninja speak throughout the levels although he’s usually relegated to a few taunts and grunts.

Ninja himself looks pretty good but the same can’t be said for his environments and foes. Most of the levels look pretty plain and repetitive, lacking any kind of definition to really set them apart. Today’s platformers are doing an excellent job of pushing the technical envelop when it comes to effects and design, I-Ninja does neither and produces a pretty standard-looking game. While other games are rendering individual blades of grass that move and sway in the wind I-Ninja has a flat texture with a grass-like texture. The water looks very plain and most of the textures lack refinement and depth. Not that I-Ninja is a bad looking game, it just won’t be dazzling you anytime soon.

On the aural side of things we have some nice Dolby Pro Logic II effects that do an excellent job of separating the audio. Spoken word comes through clearly and the audio mix was done well enough so that you can hear lines of dialogue over some of the action-packed sequences. The music is an appropriate fit for this genre of gaming and helps engulf you in the chop-socky action.

My major concern with I-Ninja is that it’s just not as polished or entertaining as the competing titles. A number of excellent platformers are available on the market and I-Ninja doesn’t do too much to distinguish itself from its hordes of competitors. I can’t recommend I-Ninja as a top-notch choice this holiday season but it might be a worthy purchase for anyone who’s “been there, done that” and is looking for more of the same.
His game is a bit flawed but we can’t help but adore a tiny little midget with a superiority complex. Throw in the voice of Fry and you’ve got yourself a pretty entertaining game that’ll hold you over for awhile.

Rating: 7.2 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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