I-Ninja is the story of a little ninja named Ninja (I wonder if that trend will catch on in other professions: “Hi my name is Banker and I’m a banker”). Ninja sets out at the beginning of the story to rescue his master–who we only know as Sensei. In the process of executing said rescue, Ninja accidentally executes his sensei, Sensei, by accidentally beheading him once he takes hold of a Rage Stone. But all is not lost as Sensei can still communicate with Ninja in an ethereal Obi-Wan Kenobi sort of way. Ninja learns that there are many more of these Rage Stones and he needs to gather them before the evil Master O-Dor and his army of Ranx.
Though you play as a ninja, the gameplay leans a little more toward a platformer than any sort of hardcore fighting game. So when you go off to find the remaining Rage Stones you can expect to do some jumping, some rolling, some rail grinding, and some other platform standards. Of course, you also get some ninja style action with swords, shurikens, and a belt–as in a yellow to black grading system.
First off, you’ll notice that Ninja has an enormous melon of a head on a tiny body. This is part of the lightheartedness that I-Ninja represents. Although Ninja may be small in size he certainly makes up for it with confidence. When attacking he will often be taunting his enemies with little phrases like “You want more? I got more!” His vocabulary isn’t the strongest, though, so you’ll start to hear the same taunts repeated fairly soon, but luckily there are enough variations so that it won’t drive you insane, and several of them will at least warrant a smile.
The game is split into four main areas, with an additional final showdown set…on the moon. The environments are your fairly standard mix of jungles, beaches, mountains, and a somewhat original bay area. Within each of these areas you may, or may not, have access to certain mission doors depending on your Belt Ranking. For example, if Ninja is only a yellow belt, then Sensei will not allow him to pass through a green door. See, even though you cut his head off at the beginning of the game, Sensei is still looking out for you! In each of these areas you’ll need to complete several missions in order to finally have a chance to recover one of the Rage Stones via a boss battle. For example, on Robot Beach you’ll need to embark on missions in order to assemble the pieces to a broken robot. Once you’ve gathered all of the required robot parts together, you then repair the robot and then take him out to sea for a giant robot boxing match!
At time, I-Ninja’s graphics are amazing, with complex lighting effects to make the whole 3D environment seem interactive and alive. And, for the most part, it is–you can smash boulders and cut leaves off plants, etc. When you are very close to objects there is no pixilation whatsoever, now you might say “well, there shouldn’t be”, but believe me, some developers like to keep the frame rate as high as possible by cutting back in the graphical environment. That’s not the case here I’m pleased to announce.
I mentioned that I-Ninja is at least part platformer and part fighter. What I’m talking about is that while embarking on any given mission, you will be asked to perform tasks of both types of genres. In the Bomb Bay area there is a part where you will man the ‘Kiss Me Deadly Defense System’, which is basically a big gun turret, to fend off several waves of attacking Ranx as they storm the beach. There are also several occasions when you have to jump on a really big ball and roll it through some obstacles–along the lines of Super Monkey Ball or Marble Madness. These are certainly not fighting elements and they can be thought of as mini-games, if you like. But the truth is that they are just part of the game and it was these little distractions that really kept I-Ninja fun for me. This is a game that does not take itself seriously, and in a way that doesn’t detract from the gameplay. I actually laughed at one cut-scene where Ninja got into an elevator and you could hear its cheesy music playing in the background. Good times!
The gameplay did remind me of some old-skool action, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Imagine Rayman in a ninja suit, and a few weapons and special moves, and that’s basically what you’ve got with I-Ninja. It’s easy to pick up the game and get stuck in, or if you’re like me and love to sit down with a game, then you will find that it’s very immersing, too. It does give a sense of satisfaction when you cut through sways of enemies like a hot knife through butter. And the sound effects will have you “wuuuuuutahhhing” long after turning your Xbox off.
I-Ninja is certainly an above average game. The main character’s voice over can become a little annoying at times, but the flexible playability and sideline mini-games make it a laugh to play.