This weekend I took a trip from Portland to Seattle to visit some friends and family. When it wasn’t my turn to drive, I whipped out my iPad and played Dead Mage and Crescent Moon’s new game, Shadow Blade (out now, $1.99). It taught me some interesting things I hadn’t known, like how ninjas are apparently quite fond of killing people right out in the open, and that they wear eye catching bright yellow and blue while doing it. I also learned that “sorry, I’m working” is not a great excuse when you’re playing videogames and it’s your turn to drive. Still, I managed to finish the main story mode of the game in the hour or so before I got behind the wheel. It’s pretty disappointing, too, because while Shadow Blade is indeed very short, it’s also very, very fun.
It turns out the Amida Clan is rising once again, according to the four second cutscene before the game’s first level, and you need to take the news to your sensei as quickly (and gruesomely) as possible. This involves lots of running, jumping, and taking down bad guys — hey! Sounds like a platformer! Well, it is. Actually it’s very similar to the League of Evil series by Ravenous Games, with its tiny levels and focus on collecting items and speedrunning. That’s not a bad thing, though, as that series (and the first game in particular) is still one of my favorites.
Like in League of Evil you’ll be flying through fairly short levels as quickly as possible using some pretty responsive virtual buttons (the default scheme, which involves tapping and swiping, was almost unusable in my experience — do yourself a favor and switch it in the settings). There are some pretty big differences, though. First of all, the visuals — which are beautiful and fluid — are rendered in 2.5D. You’ll only be seeing three different areas, but they each have their own color scheme and great looking background. Second — and this is either good or bad depending on your predilections — the game is much easier. You won’t be dying in the same sections over and over because you missed a jump by a pixel. Getting three stars on each level, which requires collecting everything and beating an unspecified time, isn’t too hard, either. I actually enjoyed the slightly more relaxed difficulty of the game, because the fun didn’t come from finally beating the clock on a brutal level on the 97th try. The fun came from being a frickin’ ninja.
And what a frickin’ ninja you are. Possibly my favorite part of Shadow Blade is how you dispatch enemies, because for how simple the attack controls are (being one button and all) there are a surprising amount of ways you can murder a person. You can dive bomb someone from a higher platform, or sneak up behind and take them out before they notice you, or do a flying kick, or grapple them Scorpion-style, or — my favorite — just run up and slice ‘em while time slows down around you. I’m usually much too sensitive and sophisticated (read: wussy) for such mindless killing, but the game is so cartoony and over the top with it that I didn’t mind one bit.
There are a few things I’d like to see added in the future, though. Adjustable controls, for instance. I got used to the button placement, but adding the option to scootch them around the screen never hurts. Also, Game Center integration with leaderboards and iCloud would be the bee’s knees. And finally, more. Just more. I mean seriously, I finished the three main chapters in under an hour. Sure, there’s a bonus hardcore mode when you finish, and getting three stars on all the levels will take some time, but still. The game’s fun, I like fun things, and I like when fun things have even more fun things.
iFanzine Verdict: Dead Mage’s Shadow Blade is short, sweet, and to the blood-stained point. If you’re a fan of iOS classics like League of Evil, you’ll feel right at home here as you kill bad guys, collect secret items, and wall jump to the end of each bite-sized level as quickly as possible. Plus, the difficulty is extremely fair, so you won’t want to throw your iPhone through the window in frustration. Yeah, it’s a bit short at launch, with 40 brief levels in only three different environments, and the lack of leaderboards hurts. However, the game is gorgeous and absolutely nails the feel of being a cartoon ninja (I would imagine), and $1.99 is a great price for that alone.