Nintendo Switch – Deceptively Deep 2D Ninja Action
Deceptively deep ninja action game Within the Blade is now on the Switch, with dense gameplay, beefy challenge, and rougher edges intact.
The fresh new port of developer Ametist Studio’s renamed action platformer Within the Blade to the Nintendo Switch from the PC marks a great opportunity for a new wave of fans to discover this hidden gem. On the other, certain irritations and obstacles will doubtlessly confound the healthy potential audience for such a detailed and intricate 2D experience. The game feels worthy of its price tag, but will click most ably with a very specific type of action fan, the same ones who will be more forgiving of some of its messier elements.
Formerly known as Pixel Shinobi: Nine Demons of Mamoru, Within the Blade is a fast-paced ninja platformer, a genre which has gotten considerably filled out by 2021. Some of these types of games go for the basic Sega Genesis-era Shinobi angle, with simplistic controls and abilities and waves of one-hit cannon fodder. Others, like Klei Entertainment’s hand-animated modern classic Mark of the Ninja, focus on more sophisticated mechanics and upgrades. And then there’s Within the Blade, which basically stuffs even more sophisticated mechanics into a welcoming, practically cheery 16-bit pixel aesthetic, opening up virtually ever enemy encounter up to a wide variety of approaches.
Interestingly, stealth – that most ninja-esque of approaches – feels under-emphasized in Within the Blade. Part of that is due to its touchy and robust control scheme, where various inputs complete different combo attacks and moves. To navigate levels stealthily, main protagonist Hideaki can flatten to the floor and worm-walk behind cover. Encountering an enemy unseen allows for a slick execution animation, but the gameplay itself is often so frenetic that it’s just as easy to reveal position and have to resort to fighting these diminutive mobs head-on.
Some of these are fairly easy pushovers, but the majority of the game’s higher-tier fare will usually at least sneak a few hits in, or knock Hideaki into some deadly spikes and force a restart. There’s a block function, but these little guys will pump fakes and zip around to get on top of the player, and it’s a good while before adjusting to their tricks and timing. A truly impressive amount of ninja gear helps even the odds, plentiful items like poison bombs, trip mines, kunai, shuriken, and so on. After a few levels, some purchases, and a dive into Within the Blade‘s unexpected but welcome optional crafting system, players can bolster their weak spots with some handy gadgets and tools. Add unlockable skills and random treasure chests to sniff out to the mix and the real breadth of the game becomes apparent.
For better and for worse, though, all of these features continue to be optional. The basic moves and a few special skills and items can carry a stumbling Within the Blade playthrough quite well. To unlock all the good stuff, though, careful and methodical play is required, as end-of-level bonuses to XP and gold are really all-or-nothing, and the line between returning to the merchant-filled hub village with 1,500 gold pieces or absolutely nothing at all is a paper-thin. Additionally, any given level may sometimes turn over plenty of crafting resources from enemies and chests, other times just a few smoke bombs.
It’s an interesting analogy to the game itself; Within the Blade is as complicated as the player wants it to be, but elements of randomness throw off its pacing. Still, this adaptive potential can be fascinating in its own right. It’s certainly the type of game that rewards skill while offering progress to those who just want to see it through. A set of bosses cap each multi-level area with routines that are fun to figure out, but there’s absolutely no backtracking; the somewhat comparable and much stealthier Wildfire benefited greatly from offering a full overworld map to reattempt previous challenges on the same playthrough, and it would be more than welcome here.
Unlike Wildfire, though, Within the Blade works marvelously on the Switch and seems perfectly optimized for the platform, although the speed of the game does make more sense when docked on a nice TV. Little control and camera niggles – inputs to activate skills are constantly stumbled on Joy-Cons, and orienting the camera during stealth attempts is a pitiful chore – don’t compromise what is a weirdly deep, potentially satisfying low-rez action ninja sim. Elaborate and overflowing with optional content and a snappy narrative, Within the Blade should be a hit with the Sengoku set.
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Within the Blade releases on Nintendo Switch on July 15. A digital Nintendo Switch code was private to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.
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