Ronin Review

Score 65

There’s a great delight experienced in clearing out a room of eight armed goons, and Ronin does a great job of making you feel like a true ninja.  The game uses an interesting point and drag mechanic for its jumping, and while it doesn’t work perfectly, it does provide an interesting take on side-scrolling action.  Planning out each move, and perfecting a swan song of destruction is rewarding, even if the rest of the game feels as flat as a day-old soda.  Those intrigued by a turn-based action platformer may find their curiosity nicely satisfied with this game.

WHAT WE LIKED
º Swinging through windows and drop kicking enemies never gets old.
º Building the perfect strategy for taking out tons of guards.
º Ronin’s style effectively blends the revenge genre with some noir.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º The inventive controls can also be misleading to where you’ll land.
º A complete lack of story or additional artwork to build the world.
º Very few reasons to return to the game when it’s done.

A rōnin in feudal Japan was a samurai whose master has fallen.  The word translates to ‘wave man’, implying that the warrior is left adrift, free to pursue whatever course they choose.  See, who said playing video games wasn’t educational!?  In Ronin, you play a young drifting warrior looking to avenge her father’s death at the hands of an evil corporation.  You have your eyes set on five people, all of whom had a hand in his death- and their blood must coat your blade.

Normally, I try to not review a game that in early access, but the developer have stated that it’s close enough to being finished that the only thing that’ll be changed is some minor tweaks- so I feel confident in reviewing the game as a full release that could eventually receive some patches.

You’re able to see your opponent’s next move, so plan out your attack accordingly.

Ronin is a side-scrolling turn-based action platformer, one that felt very refreshing after I got used to the controls.  The nameless ronin can jump long distances, climb walls and swing around on a zipline in order to get to her next unfortunate adversary.  The game pauses in between moves, making the game feel more like a violent 1 on 5 chess match- giving you time to see their next move and plan your attack accordingly.  This system really does make you feel like a bad mutha as you jump over a ton of bullets, ready to kick an enemy out of a nearby window.

The gameplay is interesting, with you running around using the standard WASD and pointing to where you’d like to jump to or rappel from.  While this sounds like an extremely accurate way of moving around, you’ll find the projected path will often fall short, so learning the amount to compensate is a must.  When you get close enough to something you can interact with, the game provides a small circle for you to click; whether that be hacking a computer, climbing some stairs or slashing someone with your sword.  You move freely while sneaking around, and goes into a turn-based mode when you’ve been spotted, allowing you to battle one move at a time.

This is actually much harder than you would think- considering enemies are constantly firing at you, and killing an enemy takes the second required for one of them to get you with one of their shots.  There is no health bar, so one mistimed jump or not moving out of the line of fire, and you’ll be restarting the battle.  This can get very tough when you’ve entered a room with five guards, three more entering before the skirmish is over.  You will spend a lot of time on defense, dodging enemy fire, dashing ninjas and other environmental dangers.

Whereas this may be the game’s greatest feature, it’s also the cause of some of its downfalls.  While this system looks tight, sometimes you feel completely at the mercy of happenstance.  For example, you’ll be staring down an enemy in a hallway, him pointing his gun at you.  You jump, landing just under his pistol, easily taking him out with your sword.  The next guy, for some reason, is able to get his shot off in the middle of your jump, leaving you confused on what exactly the rules of this ‘turn-based system’ are.  It kind undermines the idea of planning an attack if you can’t anticipate what the enemies will do next.  I guess I wouldn’t mind it so much, if it didn’t lead to me having to restart a whole battle, just because I was accustomed to an enemy lunging at me in the middle of a jump, only to have them wait until I land to pull off their fatal attack.

You may have to deal with attacks coming from above and below, so watch for windows.

This is a small complaint, because the game is tough, and most of my deaths were due to bad planning.  A few weird timing issues aside, clearing out a room or ten guys is thoroughly satisfying.  It’s an awesome feeling; rappelling through a window, kicking a guy off a two story ledge, while throwing stun daggers at the other guards.  Taking out your enemies piece by piece feels likes you’re composing a song, each bloody note getting you closer to completing your vengeful composition.  With that said, each battle does become a lesson in trial and error, and you tend to use the same approach once you find the best way of controlling the room.

The game rewards you for being stealthy as well- encouraging you not to set off any alarms, harm any of the civilians or leave any guard alive.  Completing these requirement yields a Skill Point, which you can use to new abilities, such as creating a hologram of yourself or hanging an enemy from the ceiling.  In huge levels, this is a mighty big task.  Leaving any guard or civilian alone for 7 seconds will yield the building going into lockdown, and keeping you from your new ability.  Sometimes the areas are huge; meaning you’ll be jumping back and forth between a long room just to prevent this from happening.

There was a section of the game where I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to solve it.  There’s a computer you have to hack, and there’s a civilian just standing there next to it.  They never move, and there’s no way to distract them.  You have to hack the computer, but you also can’t let them see you; otherwise you’ll end the mission without your Skill Point.  I still have no idea how I was suppose to win that Kobayashi Maru scenario, and reluctantly relinquished my new skill.

There are some levels where stealth feels great; with you jumping onto ceilings to avoid detection, waiting for a civilian to stop looking at a guard so you can string him up.  However, some levels are so linear there doesn’t feel like any choices being made.  This is a real shame because the opportunities where you do plan your surprise assaults are some of the most engaging moments.

The upgrade system is a nice touch but feels very shallow given the possibilities there could’ve been.  There’s nothing to speed up your characters, increase the zipline’s reach or even how long you can jump.  The moves are nice, but considering this game has a bit of an RPG feel to it, it might’ve been nice to see some more customization when it comes to the Ronin’s overall strength and abilities.

The story is paper thin.  If you don’t mind that- then this is the Quentin Tarantino samurai revenge game you’ve been waiting for.  All you’ll get is an old photo of you and your father, surrounded by the people who you’re planning on killing.  Some vague, ominous words fill in all of the story that was probably written on a cocktail napkin.  If you’re someone who needs a grand backstory to get invested, this game will leave you disappointed.

The art style is interesting.  Harsh lines making up dreary environments, all emphasized by glowing white neon (even your sword seems to glow).  Only working at night, the only light comes from workstations and spotlights, with bright vivid colors emphasizing actions or blockades.  There is a severe lack of artwork, with the aforementioned photograph being the only real look at any of these characters outside of their tiny in-game models.

The music is a slow, basey kind of fare- only picking up during the slow-mo battles.  There are only a few tracks, but these songs fit in nicely.  Some feature a female singer occasionally coming in with an almost pleading voice, chanting a word before the Matrix-esque electronica seeps back in.  It does loop, but you’ll hardly notice as you focus on the objects ahead of you.  Tribal drums take over when you enter battle, adding to the tense and chaotic conflict.

Overall, despite its flaws- I genuinely had fun with this game.  It is a short game, and I’m not sure it’s worth the asking price, but fans of this genre shouldn’t be disappointed.  Completionists should expect about a 6-hour playthrough, but you could probably run through the game in 3 hours.  There is a new game plus, but I doubt there’d be a ton of reasons to return to this game once you’ve gone through it once.  Revenge is oh so sweet.
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