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Paging Dr. Ninja: Another year of training for this warrior



Just like on the mountain, without the liftlines and cold toes.The city is a jewelbox spilled across the night. An alleyway winds across the sprawl. Within its darkness, a young girl lies curled up in a corner of rubbish. Coughing.

A narrow little figure in the suit of a salaryman detaches himself from the passing stream of citizens. Sweat blisters on his brow. A tipsy hitch in his step-or slipshod animation? it's getting tough to tell-he stumbles towards the girl and opens his mouth. Almost instantly he's infected.

He speaks Japanese in English subtitles as she coughs some more and shudders-subtitles on his part, mutation on hers. Muscles stretch through her skin. Her body grows, changes. A purple tentacle erupts from her, a spatter of blood from him. He is left shuddering, coughing on the pavement in the alley in the city in the night.

It's a problem for G.U.I.D.E.-the badass World Health Organization that employs ninjas to battle infections. Like an antibody swarming through the city's bloodstream, a single ninja can take out a green, hulking footsoldier of ooze. He can topple glowing, infected monstrosities. He is the world's last defense against a killer plague that can transform the world into zombies and giant frenzied crustaceans.

Ken Ogawa, the star of Ninja Blade, deals out a continuous stream of health-conscious killing. "Quick Time Events" and upgradeable ranged weapons round out his repertoire. With gameplay that could have been derived from God of War II, Prince of Persia or some of the more recent Zelda games. "Zombies!" "Ninjas!" "Real-time button pushing..." A focus-group's worth of features, available now. They're all popular and successful styles of games, and they're given little more than a ninjafied upgrade.

But the game's slicked-up familiarity doesn't necessarily make it bad. It's full of formulae that have sustained gaming for a long time. They've certainly done worse than come together in Ninja Blade's stylish ninja-noir presentation. The game is generous with the action as well as handing out Achievements. It even flaunts a little interesting gameplay, with well-integrated angle-shifting jumping puzzles.

It's an assortment of styles, and it does pretty well for fun in a season of dull, dead gaming.

THE GOOD: In much the way that Wario Ware Inc. made a game out of rapidly switching between ways of playing games, Ninja Blade's fluctuation between styles enliven it with a kinetic spirit. The influences are top notch, and the transitions are substantial and steady. It's easy to get engaged by at least one of Ninja Blade's clichés, or at least pass the controller around the room as each player's favored style of gameplay comes around.

THE BAD: There are no surprises in Ninja Blade. The gameplay offers a few tweaks, such as changeable difficulty for the real-time button-pushing events. But nothing is seriously developed. And despite the game's ninja-tastic noirish storyline, the cinematics are treated as offhand story developments. If they could just be given the digital equivalent of ninja movie production values, they might be cool enough to inspire a new franchise.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Ninja Blade: Played.

Ninja Blade ★★★✩✩
Rated Mature; Xbox 360


Little Mac Returns

The Wii continues to cash in on the nostalgia factor, resurrecting classic games from '80s and '90s. The most recent revamp is the classic Punch Out!! game that many of us now in our mid-30s remember as the arcade favorite back in the days when there were such a thing as arcades. The new game hits stores May 18, but Nintendo is already starting its marketing campaign with a web mockumentary chronicling Little Mac's training regimen for his comeback. The video features familiar faces such as Mac's nemesis King Hippo and his chocolate bar chewing manager Doc Louis who shares such pearls of wisdom as, "a comeback is like a yo-yo. You gonna' go down, but you come right back up. And you may end up walking the dog."

If you ever cleaned out your piggy bank to pump quarters in Punch Out! You have to check out this minute and a half web video.

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