Already ported from PC to mobile devices, Shadow Blade: Reload has made its way to the PlayStation 4 to test gamers’ reflexes and ninja abilities. While my initial thought when seeing footage was that it was attempting to lightly tread the same ground as Klei’s excellent Mark of the Ninja, Shadow Blade: Reload is much more of a platformer with occasional combat than a stealth title.
As you’d expect there’s a gracefulness to movement here as Kuro springs through the air with double jumps and dashes, turning impossible jumps into mere child’s play along the way. It’s not always as tight as it should be, however, particularly when springing off opposite to walls to move quickly up a narrow space. Sometimes it’s crisp, but more often than not it feels a little sluggish.
Combat is smartly relegated to the back burner as it’s rudimentary in its execution and frequently seems arbitrary as to the success or failure of your attack. There’s a very effective work around, though, in that jumping above your enemies and attacking that way is almost always successful. The only problem comes when facing ranged foes as the killing animation leaves you vulnerable to projectiles.
In addition to his sword, Kuro can also toss shurikens. You have an unlimited supply but can only throw up to three at once, and they replenish on a cooldown timer so you can’t overuse them. There are times where hitting targets that aren’t at a natural jump height can be dicey, but those are usually traps so missing only costs you time.
Well, Kuro is a ninja, so that’s a good start. The comic book panels that serve to tell the story are surprisingly effective, too. Beyond that, though, the game is visually pretty weak. The levels feature tons of reused elements and obstacles, and enemy variety and design are both passable at best. Shadow Blade could’ve also scored some points by allowing you to “look around” using the right stick, but instead it’ll spring traps and place enemies just off screen for cheap deaths.
There’s some generic Japanese-sounding music that plays in the background, and it’s so unobtrusive I’m finding it difficult to remember if/when it varied during gameplay. Sounds effects are fine and the notes that play when you pick up orbs is a nice (albeit familiar) touch.
To its credit, Shadow Blade: Reload has way more plot than I anticipated. Your guild is attacked by a rival clan, and prior to being captured Kuro’s master instructs him to protect a valuable relic. From there we get some well-written prose, a couple twists and turns and even a reasonably elaborate back story that explains what’s at stake and how it came to be that way.
Although the plot is respectable, it doesn’t shape the gameplay in any way. With the exception of a few boss encounters, the game’s 43 levels have identical goals: make it to an end point as fast and efficiently as you can while collecting as many orbs as possible. There are also three hidden Kanji symbols on each non-boss level to find.
At the end of the level your points are tallied and a letter grade is assigned. You can earn bonuses for finishing under the target time (nearly impossible on your initial run), collecting all the orbs and finding the hidden symbols. On the other side of the ledger, dying comes with a penalty. It’s a harsh system, but since it represents the only reason to replay levels it makes sense to make it tough to earn top marks.
As noted, Shadow Blade is a blend of platforming and combat, and it can challenge your skills. Still, while I easily compiled 200-plus deaths before finishing, I wouldn’t call it a hard game. It’s more of a game that can trip you up with a tough section as opposed to something that demands sustained excellence.
There are two higher difficulty settings that add obstacles and enemies, but it still feels the same, and I’m thinking most will have had their fill by the time they finish the game the first time. There’s also a set of 10 challenges. These are simply bite-sized versions of levels with one particular obstacle featured. I didn’t really care for them.
Shadow Blade: Reload is an eminently playable and ultimately forgettable platform / combat title that’s good for four or five hours of solid entertainment.