Every now and then we as gamers need to take a step back and ask ourselves why did we get into gaming? Hopefully most of us answer to have fun, as opposed to saying something like “The Army won’t take me and I need to keep my aim sharp for the revolution.” Those in the latter group scare me. But for those in the “Gamers just want to have fun” group let me introduce you to a gaming offering by Namco called I-Ninja…
I-Ninja is the story of a little ninja named Ninja. (I wonder if that trend will catch on in other professions: “Hi my name is Banker and I’m a banker” or “Hello, I’m Quarterback and I play quarterback.”) Ninja goes off at the beginning of the story to rescue his master who we only know as Sensei. In the process of the rescue Ninja accidentally beheads his sensei, Sensei, once he takes hold of a Rage Stone. But all is not lost as Sensei can still communicate with Ninja in an Obi-Wan Kenobi sort of way. Ninja learns that there are many more of these Rage Stones and he needs to gather them before the evil Master O-Dor and his army of Ranx can. While you play a ninja the gameplay leans a little more toward a platformer than any sort of hard-core fighting game. So when you go off to find the remaining Rage Stones you can expect to do some jumping, some rolling, some rail grinding, and some other platform standards. Of course you also get some ninja style action with swords, shurikens, and a Belt, as in Yellow or Black, grading system.
First off you’ll notice that Ninja has an enormous melon on a tiny body. I’d think that you would have to go through ninja training just to be able to balance that sucker. This is part of the lightheartedness that I-Ninja is all about. Although Ninja may be small in size he certainly makes up for it with confidence. When attacking he will often be taunting his enemies with little phrases like “You want more? I got more!” His vocabulary isn’t the strongest so you’ll start to hear the same jaunts over fairly soon but luckily there are enough variations where it won’t drive you insane and several of them will at least warrant a smile.
The game is split into 4 main areas with an additional final showdown on the moon. The areas are your fairly standard mix of jungles, beaches, mountains and a somewhat original Bay. Within each of these areas you may or may not have access to certain mission doors depending on your Belt Ranking. If Ninja is only a Yellow belt Sensei will not allow him to enter into a green door. See even though you cut his head off at the beginning of the game Sensei is still looking out for you! In each of these areas you’ll need to complete several missions in order to finally have a chance to recover one of the Rage Stones with a Boss battle. For example on Robot Beach you’ll need to embark on missions in order to assemble the pieces to the broken robot. Once you get all of the needed robot parts together you repair the robot and then take him out to sea for a giant robot boxing match!
I mentioned that I-Ninja at least part platformer and part fighter. What I’m talking about is that while on any given mission you will be asked to perform tasks of both types of genres. In the Bomb Bay area there is a part where you will man the “Kiss Me Deadly Defense System”, basically a big gun turret, to fend off several waves of attacking Ranx from storming the beach. You will also have several times when you have to jump on a really big ball and roll it trough some obstacles, along the lines of a Super Monkey Ball or Marble Madness. These are certainly not fighting elements and they can be thought of as mini-games if you’d like. But truth is they are just part of the game and it was the little breaks like those that really kept the game fun to me. This is a game that does not take itself seriously but does so in a way that doesn’t take away from the gameplay. I actually laughed at one cut scene where Ninja got into an elevator and you could hear the cheesy elevator music in the background. Good times!