Ninjas and video games go a long way back, and the common theme has always been that such games will be universally challenging. From the classic Shinobi to the more contemporary Ninja Gaiden and even The Messenger, the action will test your abilities to no end, so it makes sense then, for Ametist Studio’s Within The Blade to carry that torch forward when it comes to action platformers.
Finally making the jump to consoles, Within The Blade wears its inspirations proudly on its sleeve. The use of pixels and the general art direction invoke the aesthetics of the 80s, where colours are strikingly presented and pop off the screen, with animations for both player and enemies a particular old-school delight, and now enhanced by moderns techniques to make things even more smooth.
In terms of level design, a collection of different environments make for some interesting levels. However, once you have seen one, you have essentially seen them all. Forest levels are straightforward affairs, while outposts are always chocked full of traps, more differentiation would have kept things fresher.
On the gameplay front, Within The Blade does better, offering players flexibility in trying to save Japan from demonic forces. For those preferring a full-on and combat-heavy experience, the litany of combos and combat techniques will keep you occupied throughout the 25 levels in the game.
Otherwise, you might skew toward the more stealthy approach, picking off each and every foe without being detected. In fact, you could even rush your way to the end if you wanted to. Within The Blade does extremely well in providing players with the agency to overcome obstacles whichever way they want.
Players will be killing demons and utilising several skills to get past the different levels, all while collecting coins, items, and experience. At the end of every stage, you can purchase more helpful items, weapons, gain new skills, and learn recipes for crafting. For those looking to push themselves further, there is even a Permadeath mode that will make you an ultimate ninja worthy of saving Japan.
That is, if things work as advertised. Both movements and button inputs are not exactly tight, and this will definitely affect how you play and enjoy the game. Trying to figure out how to double jump correctly constantly is not fun, neither is attempting a stealth kill within a small input window.
Then there is the issue of movement momentum, with the hero requiring some runway to come to a complete stop even if the player has stopped moving on their end. This may be somewhat of a legacy feature, but it adds little to the proceedings and becomes yet another niggling issue for players to get used to.
It is perfectly fine for Within The Blade to be a challenging adventure, especially if we are talking about platforming designs or combat with devious enemies. However, if half the battle is about managing the controls, then the uphill climb becomes much more difficult to stomach. With the variety of foes that stand in your way, it is a waste to not be able to enjoy that due to factors such as these.
There is also an issue with replayability, especially when you consider the different approaches one can take in each of the levels. If you missed an objective or two in a previous level, there is no way of going back without replaying the entire game and getting up to that point. When the additional Challenge levels provide the options of selecting levels, this is a huge oversight for the main campaign itself.
For what it is worth, the blend of fast-paced action-platforming with some stealth added in allows Within The Blade to shine when things work out. Repetitive level design and finicky controls take away much of the gloss, but at its core, this ninja adventure is still worth a look, especially for those looking to prove they are the best ninja of all time.