Remember the good old days of running along 2D platforming rooftops, cutting down everything and everyone who stood in your way with the might of your razor-sharp katana and your equally-sharp skills? Dead Mage remembers, and those days are back in their newest Android release, Shadow Blade.
Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!
At its core, Shadow Blade is classic 2D platforming that places you in the role of the coolest new ninja on the block, a young warrior named Kuro who sports a rather nifty look which is largely original, yet still seems to have a pinch of classic characters thrown in. Armed with only your sword and your wits, it is up to you to deliver the message to your master that a rival clan appears to be on the rise once more. Incidentally, if all the guys standing between you and the head of your clan, then delivering the message is going to more or less take care of the problem in itself.
Nonetheless, doing so has Kuro traverse numerous levels spread across three individually themed chapters, along with a fourth “hardcore” chapter designed to test your metal’s mettle. You’ll run, jump, double-jump, and wall-jump along to the end of each course, avoiding deadly traps and cutting down a variety of foes using a number of deadly techniques. These range from the simple (slipping up behind a foe whose back is turned before sliding your blade into his back) to more elaborate techniques (air-dashing slashes, downward sword thrusts, and even hooking them on a sickle and pulling them over in Scorpion-like fashion before getting personal with your sword).
Differing from your classic ninja gameplay and bringing things more in line with the mobile age is the scoring system. Each chapter is comprised of numerous individual stages, and each stage scores you according to how quickly you complete it, how may fireflies(?) you collect, and whether or not you collect both kanji hidden throughout each stage. For each task you complete successfully, you receive one shuriken– or “star” of the throwing variety, to make the subtle pun. Fortunately, in our experience, you don’t need to worry about getting the stars so much as just making it to the end of the stage to proceed.
At the end of each chapter, you’ll find that the last two objectives are the easiest– there are none to collect, as your goal becomes a matter of survival against multiple waves of enemies.
Gonna Rock the Town Without Being Seen
Shadow Blade features smooth animation combined with clean designs, though it can sometimes be difficult to immediately identify an enemy type (grunts, snipers, flamethrowers, etc.), or even spot them against the darker parts of the background. Granted, that is true to the legends of ninja and maintaining the art of invisibility, but whether it makes for good game design is another matter altogether. In any case, it’s nothing a little trial-and-error repetition (made possible by unlimited lives) can’t solve, though dying doesn’t reset your timer.
When facing the enemies and cutting them down, there’s a fair bit of blood which erupts forth as your foes grunt, stagger, and fall before you. It’s nicely illustrated, though largely unnecessary; that is, if you’re the type who might be squeamish about handing a gory game off to a younger gamer, this one factor may unfortunately be the tipping point for keeping it out of their hands until they’re a little older.
The music is nice, too, conveying a mix of rock that reminds us a bit of some SEGA Genesis titles with a nice twang evocative of what you would expect to hear with the telling of an ancient Japanese legend. Interestingly, the latter seems to be tied more to the gathering of the aforementioned fireflies, each one giving the sound of an individual pluck of the instrument’s string.
A True Ninja is a Master of Himself and His Environment
Shadow Blade is rather accommodating for players with two control schemes to choose from. One is more touch-based, wherein you press on the left or right side of the screen to move, and tap accordingly to attack in a given direction, with swipes being used for jumps and aerial maneuvers. On the other hand, we preferred the second method, which gives you a two-directional virtual Dpad and two buttons (one for attacking and the other for jumping), which feels fairly reminiscent of many classic 2D platformers. The controls are tight and generally responsive, though jumps are fairly committal.
It’s that last part that can make maneuvering around fairly tricky, as the game doesn’t really do half-measures very well. With some traps, it feels like they’re timed specifically to spite the player; similarly, taking down enemies tends to feel inconsistent, as they sometimes go down with a single blow, other times with multiple, and there are even times when you’ll think a guy is finished, but is still kicking and ready to take you down. None of this is too problematic, however, and by learning the ins and outs of the game– or at least trying to accommodate certain x-factors like whether an enemy will fall to your attack or not– you can survive and ultimately thrive.
It’s Ninja Time
Shadow Blade is a game of positives and negatives, and fortunately, the former far outweigh the latter. Even in the cases where it feels like a negative can be a problem, the game’s tight design usually allows you a way to figure out how to get around a problem, perhaps even turning a negative into a positive, as each failure becomes a lesson learned. With that said, you should definitely give this one a try.