Title: Within the Blade
Developer: Ametist studio
Release Date: July 16, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developed by Ametist Studio, Within the Blade, also known as Pixel Shinobi: Nine demons of Mamoru for its 2019 Steam release, has come to console. This is a game that seeks to blend fast-paced 2D action with ninja stealth. An interesting proposal, and with its console debut, it’s about time that I put my ninja skills to the test.
Within the Blade is a 2D stealth action platformer where you play as Hideaki, a ninja of the Black Lotus clan, tasked with defeating Generic evil McBad guys. These enemies are “the steel clan” who decided to seek the knowledge of dark entities as Japan fell into civil war when the last Shogunate in 1560 died. After gaining the powers of an evil samurai warlord, the steel clan’s leader then summons some demons and forges a big old army, leaving the player’s clan the only one who can stop them.
To put a stop to these foes, you’ll have to complete a whole collection of stages where you’ll use a surprising amount of ninja abilities. Aside from some basic movements, a double jump, wall jump, wall climb, you’ve also got an attack, block, and item action.
The item you’ll use depends on what you have in stock, and you can scroll between them. There are a few weapons, but you’ll be focusing on swords and fists. Swords have a basic combo, but the more important function comes from the stealth factor. You can hide in grass or the shadows and then jump your enemies for a tasty one-hit kill. Enemies drop coins, items, and experience, all of which will assist you later.
Getting assassinations will net you extra coins and experience when you complete a stage, which you can make the most of when you go back to the village between levels. Coins can be used to buy items, weapons, or recipes to craft new items, and experience will level you up and get you points you can redeem at the dojo for new skills.
The skills are the lifeblood for drawing the blood and life from your foes. You’ve got basic stat upgrades that make you harder to kill, give you extra movement options, flesh out your combat options, and generally make yourself a force of nature the enemy speaks about only in hushed whispers (lest your name be a jinx that summons you to strike them down from the shadows). Within The Blade’s pixel art style is quite detailed and very satisfying to watch, especially as you slowly build up your skills and take out enemies faster and faster.
Each level nets you a potential skill, and there are many more skills than levels, even if you are the greatest player to grace this earth. One may look at this and say, “ooh, replay value!” Upgrade your character in different ways to play through the game in multiple ways.
Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case; there aren’t enough options to really give you a variety of ways to win, which means any replay will feel largely the same. The actual item crafting also feels relatively pointless. While you will find a couple of levels where an item or two will help you immensely, you can also buy those items from the store for coins. Ultimately this means you may as well just save those two skill slots for things that will actually help.
The only way you can really shake up your experience is to try an upgrade-less challenge run, which I did accidentally once because I’m insane and didn’t talk to the teacher at the dojo. Please don’t do what I did. This is where you’ll also get the glimmer of the story the game presents, but it’s largely an excuse plot and wafer-thin. Disappointing because the pixel art is really cool.
Action platforming players may find their interest piqued by this, though. However, if you want to challenge yourself further without depriving yourself of the game’s main features, you’ve got two options. Challenge levels, a series of brutal stages where one misstep means death, and the permadeath difficulty, which is exactly what it sounds like. A run through the main game, but you only get one shot. There is an easy mode for less skilled players, but its main function is to ensure that you aren’t one-shot by the stages’ assorted death traps.
Level design is a mixed bag. While there is a range of environments and interesting levels, they tend to drag on because every level design depends on the environment; they’re very similar and all consecutive. Each outpost level is a “platforming between rooms to find keys” level; each forest level is a straight shot, each village level is a death trap-laden environment you need to be fast in. Once you’ve played the first two levels from a particular environment you feel like you’ve played them all.
Within the Blade is an intricate blend of fast-paced stealth and action that we don’t see too often in this genre. While it falters in repetitive level design, it makes up for it in stylish and satisfying gameplay. There’s a high skill ceiling for players who’d like to challenge, and the experience of utilizing the stealth systems makes for interesting bouts of action gameplay.
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