For most of the tenure of modern electronic entertainment as we know it, ninjas have been a staple theme. Though I-Ninja, Argonaut's new third-person action game, features a ninja protagonist who fights swarms and swarms of evil ninjas, the ninjitsu is not taken terribly seriously. Even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles present a more somber take on the hidden art, and this Namco-published game has more in common with the likes of Super Monkey Ball and Ratchet & Clank than something like Tenchu. The quality of the game is largely dictated by its influences, though, luckily for I-Ninja, it chose some good games to imitate.
I-Ninja may look like it's for kids, but its challenging gameplay makes it accessible to all.
The story in I-Ninja doesn't make very much sense. The game starts off with our hero (known only as Ninja) as he discovers a powerful "rage stone." Ninja then flips out and beheads his sensei. The ghost of his sensei shows up shortly thereafter to let Ninja know about an evil scourge of synthetic ninjas who must be stopped. Following this revelation, Ninja is off to save the day. There's a little bit of humor tucked into the corners of I-Ninja, such as the inclusion of the sensei's quirky habit of mixing metaphors to confusing effect. Aside from a few laughs, the story doesn't offer much else. The narrative's pacing is manic and disjointed, and it introduces and discards characters in the same breath. There isn't much time spent dwelling on character backgrounds or motivations either. This, coupled with the game's already isolated mission structure, sort of gives you the feeling that you're playing through an episodic adventure, and you're missing a few chapters.
Though each level of I-Ninja is punctuated by a boss fight that introduces some proprietary control scheme, I-Ninja plays pretty much the same from start to finish, thus presenting you with the rudimentary challenge of getting from one end to the next in each level. The means to success, however, can vary greatly, as Ninja is a versatile guy. When you need to fight, which is pretty often, you can get up-close-and-personal with your sword, or you can take out enemies from afar with shuriken or explosive darts. You'll also happen upon cannons of various shapes and sizes, which are handy not only for dispatching large groups of enemies but for knocking down doors and destroying various obstacles.
Aside from being handy with a blade, Ninja is quite nimble too. He can run, jump, double jump, and use his sword as a helicopter for a slow-descent glide effect. Also, when the situation calls for it, he can run along walls for short distances. Additionally, he can run straight up walls, he can triangle jump between two adjacent walls, and he can use a grappling hook in some usual and unusual ways. These skills are all contextual and can be executed only in specific situations, but the game is handy with the visual cues, and it's rare that you'll be unclear as to what skills you'll need to use to pass a certain area.
This is mostly stuff you can pretty much expect from a third-person action game these days, but I-Ninja has some tricks up its sleeves, too. As you progress through the game, you'll find yourself rolling along narrow platforms while clinging to a giant sphere, you'll control a giant robot in a boxing match, you'll balance atop a wooden keg that's full of explosive black powder, and you'll defend a beach from a fleet of attackers. Looking at the game from a pure gameplay perspective, I-Ninja has a lot to offer, and the majority of it is adeptly executed. But for all it has to offer in terms of gameplay, the experience is over pretty quickly. Fortunately, you could easily play I-Ninja for several hours beyond the game's final length.