Ahh, another ninja game, they seem to be coming out of the woodwork these days. From Ninja Gaiden to Shinobi, it seems we can’t get enough of the acrobatic “men in black.” Now enter I-Ninja from Namco. At first glance, I-Ninja appears to be a simple little third-person action/platform game designed for young kids. But after a bit of time with it, you’ll find that while it does appeal to younger players, it offers a lot of variety for gamers of all ages.
In I-Ninja, you play as the aptly (and so creatively) named “Ninja”, a little ninja with a very large head on his shoulders. During the game’s intro, Ninja rescues his Sensei from four of evil Master O-Dor’s guards, defeats a dragon and obtains a “rage stone’. After touching the rage stone, energy courses through his body, and in a fit of rage, he unintentionally decapitates his Sensei. Not to worry though, as this Obi-wannabe Sensei will be around throughout the game to give you advice, encouragement, and stumble over cliché after cliché.
I-Ninja’s character animation is very good, and the plethora of moves Ninja can perform are executed very well. He can double jump, kick jump, chain swing from one location to another, swim, hover with his sword, and grind like a skateboarder on rails or pipes. He can even run along the sides of walls (or straight up them in some cases) like that other infamous ninja, Shinobi.
The little Ninja has plenty of attacks to complement his stylish moves. He can attack up-close through a variety of combos with his Katana sword; including uppercuts, spin moves, and even a vertical chop that slices his enemies in half. If he is taking on multiple enemies, he will even do a “no look” stab at an enemy that is behind him. Ninja can also attack from afar with Shurikens (throwing stars) or my favorite, high-explosive darts through a blowpipe. These darts make a nice little sniper weapon indeed. Just so you don’t think this game is totally about combat, there are a few stealthy moments that require you to sneak around the bad guys. While they’re not Splinter Cell caliber moments, they certainly spice up the overall hack-and-attack gameplay.
From the innards of a giant robot, to a dark and dense jungle, this game is full of creative level design and decent graphics. Within the levels themselves there are quite a few variations of gameplay. One moment it’s your typical platformer – jump, chop and slash, and the next moment you’re riding a big eyeball bowling down your enemies. New missions open up in order of completion so it’s a very linear style of gameplay. You do, however, have the opportunity to play mini-games (if you collect enough coinage). These mini-games will help you to earn bonus grades to get you to your next belt. Ah yes, grades and belts – I-Ninja’s reward system. Ninja is awarded new grades from his Sensei after completing a mission. Earn enough grades from the Sensei, and he will award you a new belt. Each time you earn a new belt, a new world is opened up to you.
While the level designs are creative for the most part, they can get a little tedious. Especially after you have completed one and are later forced to replay it. Yes, you have to replay the same levels at times. The second time around you may need to complete it under a time limit, or you may need to make sure all the enemies in the level are dead, it’s not what I’d call the best way to boost a game’s replay value. One of the tougher “repeat” rounds has you rolling a ball across a tiny little zigzagging pathway with moving platforms, all within a limited time. Heck, it’s difficult enough the first time around without the time limit!
The sounds in the game are adequate enough, though there’s nothing outstanding, and the voice acting is well done. The soundtrack is a good mix of hip-hop, rock, and techno, which helps to keep the game moving along. The cut scenes also help progress the storyline and flow nicely. Filmmaker-animators Don Bluth and Gary man helped with the cut scenes, and their touches, I am sure, helped the scenes to blend smoothly into the rest of the game.
All in all, I-Ninja is a fun game. The humor used throughout is good for a chuckle and gameplay-wise, there’s enough variety to keep you interested. It can be a little simplistic though, and also a bit tedious at times. Younger gamers will probably get a bigger kick out of it than gaming veterans. It’s also a pretty short game, a fact emphasized by the developers’ attempts at increasing its length by forcing you to replay levels. The experience as a whole, however, is an enjoyable one, and I do recommend that you give it a try.
- Gameplay: 8
- Graphics: 8
- Sound: 7.5
- Replay: 6
- Overall: 7.5
- A sometimes tedious, but mostly fun action-platformer.
— Michael Alexander