Within the Blade has the foundation of a solid stealth/action ninja adventure, the 16-bit visuals are nicely detailed, and each stage can be completed in just a few minutes, ensuring fast gameplay. Unfortunately, several small issues damper the entire experience which is a mega bummer because I really wanted to sink my teeth into being a stealthy ninja.
The speed of Within the Blade is both this game’s biggest blessing and curse. It is refreshing being able to plow through a stage with haste, only stopping if you want to carefully plan an attack or leap. Simply moving back and forth feels like being a 2D ninja and leaping over ledges with wall jumps instantly makes you a badass. On the other hand, the speed can wind up being your biggest foe as it is easy to jump off ledges, land on spikes, and simply fall off the edge when performing a 3-hit combo. The unruly control is exciting but also a detriment if not controlled with the most skilled hands. Good luck trying to zip around using the grapple hook too. Again, super cool but very difficult to control with any sort of accuracy and watch out for some blind jumps.
There are also tons of items to collect and craft but the game never explains how or why you need/want to do this. The crafting screen is confusing at best and even if you make something, there is no description as to what the item actually does. For example, I placed some circle things in my inventory, used the item button, and threw one on the ground. Not knowing what I just did, I walked over it only to kill myself with an explosion. It was land mine of some kind and had no clue. The inventory screen is composed of a 14×6 grid which means there are over 80 items to collect/craft, all without any explanation as to what they are and what they do. The high inventory number is impressive but it doesn’t mean anything if nothing makes sense.
Each stage can reward the player with extra monetary incentives for completing optional objectives. Examples include objectives like not being seen, completing X amount of executions, killing all enemies, etc. Since enemy placement is random, it is often difficult to complete these objectives. Properly preparing for each mission is also difficult and I actually ran into a game breaking bug. I encountered a boss with only a sliver of durability left in my sword. On the first strike, my sword will break, leaving me to fight with my bare hands, a form of attack that does little damage with limited reach. This boss, with his large HP bar and fast moveset, is basically impossible to defeat bare handed. There is no option to return to the village and restock either, leaving me stuck without a way to move forward unless I take the time to truly master unarmed combat against a difficult boss. The only way to remedy this is to start a new save file, which I had no will to do.
I really wanted to like Within the Blade and had high hopes. The trailer makes this game look so awesome! But actually playing it is a different story. If you have patience, there is a lot to like. If you get easily frustrated, be weary of Seppuku.
Also available on Switch and PS4/PS5.
Not As Good As: the trailer seems
Better Than: Tenchu DS
Wait For It: the upcoming TMNT beat’em up