‘Shadow Blade’ review: precise platforming with the worst ninja ever (iOS)

January 30, 2014
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If you're looking for a real ninja game—where you sneak around in the shadows and chuck deadly ninja stars at unsuspecting enemies—go play Mark of the Ninja. Shadow Blade has none of these things. The title is only half right; you'll use your blade plenty, but there are no shadows to hide in here, and Shadow Blade's protagonist ninja seems incapable of being the least bit sneaky.

What Shadow Blade actually is is a polished precision platformer that will provide hours of entertainment for skilled perfectionists and be over much more quickly for anyone else.

You're a ninja with an important message for your sensei, and there are 32 levels of obstacles and enemies between you and him (plus nine extra "hardcore" levels of slightly increased difficulty). You'll run and jump, slide down walls, dodge among spinning blades, and pounce on enemies from behind, above and every other angle to get past them.

One on-screen button is for jumping, and the other for attacks. If you tap the attack button at the right time you'll plow right through an enemy; otherwise they may push you back or require a few swipes of your blade to dispatch. The ones with guided rockets and wide-reaching flamethrowers require more strategy to defeat. There's a double jump, too, and a helpful air dash.

As I mentioned before, there are two very different ways to blade Shadow Blade. The average tablet gamer will simply run through each level, slashing about willy-nilly and missing most of the dozens of glowing orbs that are required to get a perfect rating on each level. For these players Shadow Blade will flash by like a ninja in the night, maybe taking an hour or so to complete, and hardly be worth the price of admission.

But if you're like me, and you enjoy replaying levels over and over again to get them just right and achieve those perfect scores, it will last two or three times longer than that. Granted, that's still not very much game. But in general Shadow Blade tends to be polished enough that precision fans will enjoy what there is.

There is the problem of difficulty, though. Precision platformers demand a high level of challenge to keep players engaged, and I found that Shadow Blade's challenge is minimal until the last few hardcore levels. Granted, this is coming from a guy who fully completed the first two League of Evil games and Rayman: Origins, so obviously I'm into this sort of thing. The average player may have a much different experience, and may very well find Shadow Blade's difficulty more than sufficient.

My other big complaint, besides with the game's brevity, is with its halfhearted support of MFi controllers. The virtual button controls are fine (and preferable to the swipe controls), but being able to use a controller means greater precision, which is obviously important here. Yet when I tried to use the SteelSeries Stratus with Shadow Blade I found no way to customize the nonsensical button assignments—made even worse by the fact that one essential move, the downward air dash, was for some reason impossible on the controller.

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There are of course other, smaller gripes. The camera sometimes pans to the wrong side of where you want to jump, there are occasional glitches with clipping through the environment, and the game never tells you the target time for a given level—only whether or not you achieved it. Plus a few unfortunate stand-your-ground type levels in which you must defeat multiple waves of enemies cause only annoyance.

Nevertheless Shadow Blade is an attractive and smooth platformer that fans of these games will get some enjoyment out of—as long as you know what you're getting yourself into.

  • Shadow Blade
  • Developer: Crescent Moon Games
  • Platform: iOS
  • Price: $1.99
  • In-app purchases? Yes

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