Is anything more satisfying than sneaking around as a ninja while stealthily taking out guards? Probably not so here's Within the Blade.
Within the Blade has you play as Hideaki who's on a mission to rid Japan of an evil warlord and his underlings who just so happen to possess demonic qualities. However, if you're playing an old-school ninja game for its story then you probably enjoy the Fast & Furious films for Vin Diesel's abilities as a thespian so let's move on to the gameplay. Thankfully, Within the Blade is action-packed stuff that may look retro but it has plenty of modern elements so it doesn't really feel like a long-lost 16-bit game. I'm actually happy about this because far too many indie games try to emulate classic games and few of them actually succeed so playing something that's unashamedly fresh is exciting stuff. Plus, the combination of stealth and action is spot-on so Within the Blade should easily appeal to fans of either genre.
The core gameplay of Within the Blade will have you running and jumping around while using your currently-equipped weapon to take down enemy guards. With that in mind, there are a ton of additional controls to consider, especially after you spend a bunch of points on the upgrade tree to unlock more moves. Although controlling Hideaki is responsive and tight, it certainly takes a long time to get used to how he moves as well as how to execute his more specialized moves. For example, after running up a wall, he'll automatically dash in the opposite direction unless you hold down and you're likely to forget that in the early goings so you'll probably end up falling into a spike pit by accident. Also, certain attacks make you lunge forward a lot which can be problematic so you'll have to practice a ton.
With all of that being said, if you have the patience to become comfortable with the intricate way that Hideaki controls, you'll be in for one satisfying adventure. The campaign consists of 5 areas with 5 stages in each which is fairly lengthy considering how difficult it is. Therefore, I imagine speedrunners will have a blast with this one. Plus, each stage has a list of optional missions to complete and you'll be graded as well in order to earn extra cash and experience points. If you'd like more after completing the campaign then there are also 23 extra challenges that are brutally tough and require a great deal of precision to master. It's a solid amount of content overall.
The campaign's structure is unique in that you can visit the village after most stages in order to purchase items, unlock more of the skill tree, and redeem found materials to craft your own equipment and items. Oh, and swords eventually break so you'll have to get some new gear sooner or later. What makes all of this distinct is that you take on the levels in order and can't revisit them. However, you can load saves from earlier levels of the campaign. Because of this, you'll want to try your best in every single stage because if you don't earn enough experience and cash, you'll end up being far less powerful than if you retried each stage until you perfected it.
Some may appreciate this campaign structure but I personally found it to be kind of frustrating, especially when I reached certain bosses as they overwhelmed me while I could barely scratch them. So, loading a previous save in order to become more powerful ended up making the campaign feel rather tedious at times. After beating a level, it feels great to see that you actually performed well although simply earning any experience or gold in some stages can prove to be a steep challenge on its own so retrying the same stage over and over again only to settle for a modest reward can be a disheartening experience. Again, all of this relies on practice and patience.
Within the Blade will definitely make you feel like a ninja and by that, I mean you'll have to tirelessly train in order to become a master of your craft. Once you do, the reward of stealthily slaying hordes of guards is a nice payoff but it's a steep climb to get there.
- + Tight and responsive controls that are made for intense 2D action
- + High degree of challenge is rewarding
- + Satisfying upgrades / fun extra content
- - Controls take a long time to get used to
- - Bosses can be huge difficulty spikes
- - Campaign structure can get frustrating