This is a guest review by Moz.
Ninjas have always been a popular subject with gamers and game developers since electronic entertainment was first created, here developers Argonaut and producers Namco are continuing the tradition with the rather unusual I-Ninja, their latest third person platform game. However do not get taken in by the title because I-Ninja is no cut and thrust blood fest and has in fact more in common with Super Monkey Ball than Onamushi. Also, at first glance you may be deceived into believing that I-Ninja is aimed at the younger end of the market. This also is not the case as the game has a very steep learning curve and what starts off as childs play will soon have you calling on all of the patience and dexterity you can muster.
Because of the way the game is structured, the story line for I-Ninja is not crucial to the game play and doesn't make very much sense anyway. The cinematic intro shows our hero who is known only as "Ninja", jumping from platform to platform as he makes his way up a mountain to a cave. It appears that he is on his way to rescue his "Sensei" (a teacher of martial arts) who has been chained to some rocks and held captive by an army of evil ninjas called "The Ranx". The Ranx are under the command of the even more evil O-Dor. Just as our hero has sliced and diced his way through the baddies and cut through the chains to release his Sensei he is attacked by what looks like a very large, shadowy, wolf like creature with yellow glowing eyes. Needless to say Ninja quickly defeats the evil brute with some nifty blade work and a swift knife through the head. As the beast lies dying a stone appears from its mouth. As Ninja goes to take hold of the stone, Sensei shouts to tell him to stop, but it's too late, with the stone in his hands Ninja goes berserk and flies around uncontrollably with rage and ends up accidentally beheading Sensei in the process. As Ninja comes to his senses and realises what he has done, the ghost of Sensei appears and tells him that the stone he touched was a "rage stone" an ancient object of great power. He then goes on to explain that there are more of them to be recovered if the world is to be saved from the evil O-Dor Ranx. Sensei then tells Ninja that he can find the first stone on Robot Beach but it is under the control of a boss called Kyser. They reach Robot Beach by walking through a nearby porthole.
This is where you take over and you play as Ninja. On arrival at the beach Sensei tells you that your training will continue by completing a number of missions for him. For each mission that is completed Sensei will award you with a Grade. When you have gained enough Grades you will then be issued with a coloured "Belt", thereby showing your mastery of the ninja way. What this actually means is that you start out as a novice white belt. Therefore you can only complete missions that are behind doors with no force field in front of them. As you gain experience you will be issued with a green belt, which gives you access to green doors etc, etc. Sensei then tells you that in order to defeat the "Kyser" Bosss you will have to rebuild the broken robot "Tekayama" who was the guardian of the beach. Your first three missions are to retrieve Tekayama's two eyes and heart from the clutches of the Ranx who have them guarded behind the three "white" doors.
It doesn't matter what order you decide to complete your missions. Just approach a door and Sensei will appear and give you a brief description of that particular mission, you will then be given the option of accepting or dismissing it Once a mission has been accepted the door will open and Ninja will automatically enter. The "beach" level is relatively easy and serves really as a tutorial for the rest of the game, which very quickly becomes increasing difficult. This, in conjunction with the game's isolated mission structure can make you forget the game as a whole as you focus all you attentions on the rudimentary challenge of just completing the mission you are on.
The missions themselves are many and varied. I-Ninja will have you running up walls, ridding barrels filled with gunpowder, swinging on grapple hooks and clinging to giant sphere's as you traverse narrow platforms to name but a few. Dexterity and patience is the key to this game. I-Ninja has everything a good platformer should have and then some. There are times when I-Ninja will purely test your reflexes and your steadiness of hand, but the game has enough strategically placed save points and extra lives to keep the game fluid.
It also has the obligatory bad guys to destroy. Ninja doesn't have a vast array of weapons, the main one being his sword, which can be used in a "fast" or "spin" attack. After defeating a set number of enemies a flashing sword icon will appear on screen, at this point by hitting the appropriate direction button, Ninja will call on his "Deranga" special powers. These powers enhances the power of the sword, but this effect only lasts for a very short period of time and is best kept for when you are being attacked but a number of assailants or particularly difficult ones. The sword can also be used a kind of helicopter blade which allows Ninja to glide across to otherwise distant locations. For distant enemies Ninja can use explosive darts or "Shuriken", which are those star like knife blades that you see thrown in Ninja movies.
In each challenge there are also a number of coins you can collect. These can be in plain sight or hidden in objects such as boxes, barrels etc, which can be destroyed with your weapons. This is not an essential part of the game but collecting the coins can serve two functions. Firstly they can give an indication of the direction you should be heading, as this sometimes is not obvious. Secondly at the end of each mission the number of coins collected are converted into a "highest score", which means that should you choose to do so you can retry a challenge to improve this score.
If I-Ninja has a fault it's that the main game is actually very short, but the fact that there is the opportunity of replaying challenges to improve on your "high score" means that you can play I-Ninja for several hours beyond the game's final length. Argonaut, unlike other developers, also made the rather unusual decision to create a very simplistic world for I-Ninja. There are not the sprawling landscapes or attention to detail that you find in other games of the same ilk. It is a good, honest, straightforward game and doesn't need this peripheral paraphernalia to make the game sell.