Thanks to Ratalaika Games for the review code
Title: Within The Blade
System: Xbox Series X
Release Date: 07/16/2021
In this action platformer, you take control of a Ninja, who must use the power of his blade to stop an evil lord from taking over all of Japan! A very basic tale as simple as time, in yet another throwback to the ninja platformers of the past!
Within the Blade continues the trend of providing a pixel art style, and I’ve already said dozens of times how I feel about these throwback look, and most of that applies here: the overall game looks fine, and the sprites here do have fast, slick animation to them, but generally it’s not something I haven’t seen before, and it actually reminded me a bit of Woblyware games at first, which led me to being surprised when I learned this wasn’t even developed by them!
That doesn’t mean there aren’t parts I find impressive in how Within the Blade looks. For starters, dialogue boxes have animated portraits associated with them, and they’re pretty well made! In blunt honesty, these portraits end up being better than most of the dialogue, since the conversations in this game are incredibly simplistic, almost to the point of parody at times.
Easily the most stunning part of the entire presentation by far comes from the cutscenes, which are also in pixel form, but with super impressive scaling and full-screen animations, basically taking the sort of stuff you’d see in a game like Ninja Gaiden and going all out with it, leading to some pretty epic boss and chapter introductions! I do wish the music had something of this level of impressiveness, since it just uses a lot of typical motifs to produce average music. It’s fine and gets the job done as you pull off your speedy endeavors throughout the stages, but there’s nothing that’ll make you want to look for a tune outside of the game.
Within The Blade is an action platformer, with the main objective of each stage being to reach the end while defeating and sneaking by enemies in your way. You start off with a very basic combo attack and a sword, but gradually grow to gain more materials, subweapons, skills, and other unlockables over time.
This is mainly done by collecting coins and materials from chests and enemy drops, while also working to gain experience points to use in the main hub town to unlock new skills and moves. Experience is gained by completing stage objectives, and while some may be incredibly basic, others will have you try and do various tasks, whether it’s finding a secret pathway in a level, defeating a certain amount of enemies, or avoid detection, clearing the objectives in the top right corner will reward you with EXP, which is key to unlocking the skill tree and getting more abilities.
Luckily the controls are pretty decent, offering a surprising amount of speed! Your ninja moves rather quickly, and it feels awesome using that fast speed in combination with his double jump to zip around platforms, especially as you unlock new abilities such as a dash move. Jumping from platform to platform, slashing down enemies, this gameplay loop isn’t really that bad, but there are some irritations I had, especially when it came to some of the side objectives.
One of the biggest the game tries to push on you is the technique of assassination, where you sneak behind an enemy and then press the Y button to instantly kill them. This is the same button as your block, and more often than not I’d find myself slowly sneaking up on a foe only to end up blocking, and thus wasting enough time that I was detected and had to fight normally. Stealth in general is a bit awkward, as while you can crouch and sneak up that way, going from fast-paced running and jumping to slow stealth for the sake of EXP gain just ends up slowing down the pace. Honestly, I found stealth worked better when it was followed by normal attacks or subweapons, rather than the picky assassination technique.
Another big gripe I had comes from a technique that seems handy on paper, but isn’t executed all that well here, and that’s the wall climb. When jumping towards a wall, your ninja will run up for a bit, and then automatically jump towards the other side. However, you don’t have much control when this happens, and the fact it can be easy to wall climb on accident means that you may end up carefully trying to navigate yourself out of a pit of spikes, only to accidentally wall climb and zip off the wall right down onto them. It kinda made me wish the wall climb was not automatically activated, and rather required holding the back shoulder button to perform, since that would have eliminated the mistakes then and there, and prevented countless silly deaths.
Last but not least, the bosses! Each chapter has some to deal with, and this is where all your blocking and dodging skills are put to the test, with you having to find the enemy weak point and attacking it before it kills you. Pretty typical stuff for an action platformer, and once you find that satisfying rhythm it becomes a lot of fun taking advantage of it. The second boss I managed to completely cheese by finding a good way to stun him with shuriken, ending the conflict by following it up with my sword rather quickly. That being said, sometimes these fights can feel like dumb luck, as the bosses can pull off some nasty instant-death moves, which can be totally infuriating if they happen right as you’re about to win, and it comes from a boss jumping from offscreen right onto you. Thankfully, these encounters aren’t too terribly long, and you can quickly retry after deaths again and again, so the game is forgiving in this regard, and it is still beyond satisfying once you finally conquer a tricky one.
In conclusion, Within The Blade is a decent platformer that does some things a lot better than I expected, while also disappointing in some unfortunate ways. The sense of speed here is just incredible, and if you get used to the controls and movement flow, you can zip through these stages normally in no time and have a blast! On the other hand though, there are a lot of irritants from the awkward wall climbing, the weird stealth mechanics, and some boss fights feeling less like trial and error and more like dumb luck that hold it back a bit.
Still, with a solid combat system, fun upgrade and crafting mechanics, and a great sense of speed, this is still a decent platformer I can recommend for fans of ninja action games, especially those who love fast-paced ones and wouldn’t mind skipping over the optional objectives. Don’t expect it to be the most polished thing ever, but if you just enjoy fast-paced platformers, then this may be one worth considering, even if the price may seem a bit steep.
I give Within The Blade a 6 out of 10.