Monday 9 August 2021

Within The Blade Review (Switch)

Written by Dan Gill

As a games reviewer you may expect me to be knowledgeable, have an interest in multiple genres, and be a proficient gamer. You’d be mostly right, I’ve been playing games for well over thirty years (yeah, I’m old), and I dabble in all genres (I’m currently getting into driving and racing sims. Euro Truck Simulator is strangely mesmerising). While I will do my best to see a game through to the end (especially for review), my skills will sometimes leave me short. I’ve tried to get into SoulsBourne games, but spending my precious free time dying isn’t the most enjoyable experience. With this admission out of the way, I can move on to my Within the Blade review.

A throwback to the hardcore ninja platformers of the 8 and 16-bit eras, Within the Blade wears its influences on its sleeve. We’re firmly in Ninja Gaiden/Shinobi territory here, with your character fighting for his clan to restore order to a 16th century Japan destined to be ruled by a demonic warlord.

Rather than being a straight platformer, Within the Blade expands on its forbears by adding stealth, a crafting system, cutscenes and a progress wheel. This adds some meat to the bones, as the initial move set is limited to blocking and slashing. As you progress, you can unlock simple moves (assassinations, spinning blade), health buffs, and more complex moves. The micromanagement side of the game is generous, offering the ability to craft weapons and items from material found throughout, and various merchants in your clan’s village. There’s a lot here to sink your teeth into should you want to.

Progression throughout is linear, so there’s no Metroid style backtracking (you can return to the village to stock up on supplies between levels), and there are optional objectives that can be met to earn a better score on each level, which provides further rewards. As mentioned, initially you’ll be hacking your way through the basic enemies on offer, but it’s not long before you come up against foes who will block, dodge or parry your attacks, so often hiding in the grass and sneaking up on them is the preferred approach, but you can barge in, shurikens flying if you wish. Just don’t expect to last too long.

The game is a challenge, though not unfair. With planning the levels and bosses can be overcome. It’s not as tough as some titles - I remember some of the original NES Ninja Gaiden sections being particularly unfair to the player – but it has its moments. While some of my frustrations through certain sections were down to my own lack of skill, on more than one occasion I felt let down by the controls.

 By jumping at a wall and pressing up, your character will wall run, then bounce off in the opposite direction. More often than not I would inadvertently trigger this, sending myself flying into a pit of spikes. While I may have been able to avoid this by using the digital controls rather than the stick due to the Switch’s button layout (I can’t really get on with the d-pad substitute), it still felt clumsy.

The game has a few other shortcomings in the form of the aforementioned crafting system. Menu navigation is cumbersome, and when attempting to purchase items from a particular merchant there was no indication as to which item I was currently hovering over. As you’ll need to use at least one of these methods to keep weapons in stock (your arsenal wears over time, vanishing from your inventory once its own “health” bar depletes), it really dampens the experience. There are some issues with dialogue too, and I still can’t decide whether this is down to a slightly ropey localisation, or if it’s a deliberate attempt to ape the broken English of games past. However, this isn’t a major issue, it just triggers the grammar policeman in me.

That said, Within the Blade offers its fair share of stylish violence and beefy combat that will satisfy Sengoku shinobis up for the challenge. The RPG-lite systems add some depth to a game that’s let down by a few minor design flaws and uninspired level design. As for me, I’ll be bumping the difficulty down to “Easy” and will continue to plug away at it. After all, it takes some of us longer to git gud than others.

 Overall 7/10

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