There are many warriors and fighters that have spanned our time, and each has a brutal tale to tell. Every one of them has a strength that sticks in your mind. Whether it’s the weapon they use, their brute force, or their tactics, we admire them for their skills. Ninjas have always struck me as a prime fighting machine, because of their discipline, stealth, and unwavering nerve. Within the Blade allows you to become one of these sacred warriors, who must defend his people while destroying the evil that tries to take over their lands.
Developed by Armetist Studio and published by Ratalaika Games, this is a stealth platform title with a tactical twist. A love letter to the great ninja games from the past, Within the Blade tests your patience, accuracy, and fighting skills as you decapitate your foes. Using a 2D side-scrolling perspective and a pixelated art style, this screams simplicity and old-school action.
Within the Blade tells a traditional tale of power and madness.
I fell for the charms of many older ninja games; Ninja Gaiden, Tenchu, Shinobi, and more. I loved the history and the random stories that made the backbone of their gameplay. Within the Blade doesn’t stray from this path as it uses power, greed, and demonic forces at the heart of everything it does.
The year is 1560 A.D and Japan’s last Shogunate has lost control, causing a mighty civil war between the clans. Battles ensued and blood was shed by the bucket load. One clan in particular “Steel Claw” began seeking the knowledge of old forgotten practices and worshipping dark entities to curse their opponents. The leader, Mamoru, became infected by the spirit of an evil warlord and “Steel Claw” started a reign of chaos that enveloped every nation it touched. This dark army aligns itself with nine demons as they hope to take over Japan. One Shinobi clan, “Black Lotus” stands between Mamoru and victory. They must take down each demon boss otherwise Japan will crumble under this new satanic rule.
It’s absurd and far-fetched, but I loved its madness and fell for its charms instantly. It’s a classic hero story with a dark and magical twist that is ever-present on each level.
Not just a stealth ninja game.
I came into this thinking it would be a simple hack n slash title with some elements of stealth, but I was way off the mark. Armetist Studio has created an in-depth platform game that combines traditional elements with crafting mechanics and an RPG skill tree. Killing your opponents earns you gold and XP, these can then be used for equipment and choosing your ninjas path. It filled me with giddy delight that I could create the fighter that worked for my approach, rather than how the developers wanted me to play it.
Do you want to master stealth and speed or be an expert in handling weapons and projectiles? Whatever route you take is entirely up to you, but you will need to make a rounded warrior if you wish to get the best out of every level. The crafting mechanic complimented the skill tree and ensured that the gameplay and difficulty were balanced throughout. Gaining the relevant materials to fulfil the recipes wasn’t easy, and this prevented you from rushing through stages and steamrollering your opponents.
Objectives and enormous bosses.
Each level you complete has set objectives that must be achieved to be awarded the maximum score. They vary in difficulty and force you to use each of the skills that you have unlocked. You may need to assassinate enemies, annihilate them all, not be seen, use specific weapons, and so on. This was an intelligent move from the developers and added another layer that prevented you from using the same approach repeatedly. If you cannot complete the objectives it matters not, but personal pride is at stake as you see your score being worked out.
As you complete each world, you come face to face with one of the horrendous demon bosses. These hulking atrocities have unique movement patterns and attacks that must be studied. Using different abilities and an array of items will help you overcome each boss. Once you understand their weaknesses you’ll easily defeat them, but finding the chink in their armour can be difficult.
The bosses were another great example of how your skill path and weapon choices impact the difficulty of your playthrough. No matter which ability you picked you can still overcome them, it’s just that certain skills worked better in different scenarios.
Within the Blade uses small but in-depth levels that keep you on your toes.
The pixelated and basic presentation harks back to a simpler era of gaming. The small levels were oddly complex, with many traps, obstacles, and platforms to navigate. The sprites contained enough detail that you can easily identify your foes, and the amount of blood was truly gruesome. Each world has a unique finish that represents the game’s Japanese roots and its dark tones highlighted the demonic bosses you encounter.
The audio also helps to support the theme with a traditional soundtrack that is stereotypical of ninja games. The sound effects were good and made you grimace regularly. The noise of your blade slicing through limbs, or a throwing star hitting its target, was satisfying.
Both the audio and video presentation screamed old-school, but their basic approach was marvellous. I appreciated the nod to games gone by and loved the developer’s style.
Fiddly controls but addictive as hell!
Within the Blade has a fantastic tutorial system that explains all the fine points surrounding movement, abilities, and combat. Yet I still struggled to get to grips with the action early on. It took me some time to realise abilities had to be unlocked, and this was confusing and caused frustration during the early levels. Once I realised the errors of my ways, I found it to be easy enough to play but it was still challenging because of the array of opponents you face. You will struggle to master the combo system and many forms of attack, but a little practise and some patience will turn you into a deadly ninja.
As your warrior gets stronger and more equipment becomes available, you’ll slowly become more addicted to the action. With its absurd story and even stranger bosses, you’ll want to keep playing to see if “Steel Claw” is victorious. It’s quite large for an indie title and its expansive achievement list and many levels offer great value for money. Completionists will need to dedicate some time to get the 100% status, and a full playthrough will take you around eight hours.
Within the Blade is a fantastic ninja game with an excellent blend of mechanics.
Other than its fiddly controls, there is very little to dislike about Within the Blade. Its blend of crazy bosses, fantastic mechanics, and wonderful levels make this an interesting and addictive game to play. Dipping its toes into several genres is a risk but one that has paid off handsomely. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend you to buy it here! Can you prevent “Steel Claw” from running amuck and destroying Japan? Fulfil your destiny and become the best ninja the world has ever seen.