I-Ninja takes the stereotypes typically used around ninja characters, and exploits them into quite a humorous and enjoyable game. The only hurdle for I-Ninja is the huge amount of platform games already available on the system, but this one does stick out somewhat.
In I-Ninja you play as a young ninja trying to earn his black belt. Having rescued his Sensei, he discovers a rage stone, loses control of his body and accidentally kills his Sensei. You are then informed that these are rage stones and are scattered across the lands, it is also your mission to find them. So along with the Sensei's help for training, you must travel the land gaining skill, capturing the rage stones and generally saving the day.
I-Ninja is pretty much your average platformer, but it does have a few twists. You move from area to area, completing missions before being allowed to move on. Most of the missions are typical platform style objectives where you just have to reach the end of the level alive, but some of the more unique missions show themselves a little way into the game. Missions like having to outrun a fire to an explosives stash, or collecting the red coins. You will visit some levels more then once as their grade will increase. Each mission has a grade level and you must achieve that colour belt or higher to be able to tackle the task at hand. This does lead to some repetition but in missions where you have a timelimit such as with the explosives, prior knowledge of the level is your best chance.
As you progress through the levels you will encounter some really great level design mechanics. In all the levels we played, we did not once get frustrated at the level design and blame it for us not being able to continue. The developers really have done a superb job in designing the levels, they have also made them fun. Sometimes you will come across areas with hooks, and this is where our ninja can swing like a monkey with his chain to get across gaps, this is really easy to do with R1 pressed to use the chain when you are near hooks. Other sections of the levels include a skateboard style ramp where the ninja has to slide down a hill, latch onto the hook in the middle, run around the perimeter and slide down to the bottom before continuing on. This does take a little while to master because it has to be almost perfect, but it never gets repetitive or frustrating when you miss, because its a fun aspect of the game.
There are two things you must upgrade as you continue along the ninjas journey; his sword and his belt. Like real martial artists you can upgrade the ninjas grade to the next level. To do this you have to get token style objects which are given to you once a levels objectives are complete. When you have enough the belt is upgraded and the ninja is somewhat more powerful. The higher the belt, the more tokens it needs to gain the grade. The sword is also upgradeable to more powerful styles allowing you to defeat the basic enemies easier. These two game mechanics really make I-Ninja unique in comparison to other platform games. The developers have taken their source material and implemented some of the real world objectives of a ninja/martial artist and it works incredibly well.
The challenge from the game at times comes from the level design such as the aforementioned skateboard style area, but most of the time comes from enemies scattered throughout the levels. I-Ninja isn't a particularly tough game and you shouldn't find it to hard to progress through the early levels. Its once the stakes change with the upgraded belts that you may find problems such as finding the number of coins, or beating the timelimit associated with the level. One level has you rolling an explosive barrel towards a cell so you can get the token, the challenge in this section comes from maintaining decent control of the barrel as you have to avoid hazards such as fire and thin areas of flooring. The challenge is varied but most of the characters you encounter aren't to tough to defeat, except when they swarm you in numbers. Ninja has a few tricks up his sleeve however. As you defeat enemies three meters build up for things such as health and power. The health gives Ninja back some health whilst power casts Ninja Bezerka, and as the name implies, he is a lot more powerful for a short period of time. It doesn't take to long to build these up, so don't be afraid to use them.
The games levels are set across five different environments such as Robot Beach, Bomb Bay, Jungle Falls and others. Sometimes you will have to back track as to progress past the current level you need a certain grade, and levels which you have completed before may be available again at a higher grade further into the game. One such level at first asks you to shoot down all the incoming enemies, the higher grade asks you to do it and get the highest score. As the level design is done so well back tracking isn't a huge issue and doesn't cause frustration, but it would have been nice to stay within the same section of the game once you had reached there.
Ninja himself looks like he could have been pulled straight out of a kids cartoon and therefore it is no surprise that the game somewhat uses a cartoonish style to render the enemies and environments. It's not cel shaded like Zelda, but it doesn't feature overly realistic graphics either. Ninja himself animates really well as do the enemies he comes up against and the framerate never seems to drop below its stable rate. Sound effects are great with Ninjas wisecracks such as "Feel my steel" and of course Ninja Bezerka and Ninja Revive.
I-Ninja is a surprise packet, it wasn't a game on many peoples radars but the developers really have done a great job with this game. It's not easy to stand out in such a crowded platform game market place on the Playstation 2 but with the unique use of Ninja items such as the belt and sword, they have created a game that any platforming fan will enjoy.