- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Ninja Blade (from Microsoft Game Studios, for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99).

A hero trained in the ancient Eastern combat arts finds himself in a war for survival in this dazzling third-person action game. Plunged within nine episodes of cinematic action, a player is part of a Hollywood special-effects spectacular as he must contain a plague threatening to ingest humanity.

What’s the story: From press materials - In the year 2015, high atop the towering skyscrapers of modern-day Tokyo, Ken Ogawa and his G.U.I.D.E. (Global United Infestation Detection and Elimination) team deploy to destroy the infected monster horde and stem a spreading disease. Matters quickly take a turn for the worse as Ogawa and his team are betrayed from within their own ranks.

Play the role: In control of acrobatic Ken Ogawa, the player scales rooftops and explores deserted areas in search of carriers and massive beasts spreading the ALPHA Worm virus. Ken wields ninja-style weapons, climbs and runs along walls, has bursts of super speed and uses ninja vision to view attack points on enemies.

Get to the action: The player uses core martial-arts maneuvers along with twin falcon knives, an oni-slayer blade, Stonerender sword and Shuriken to succeed in hack-and-slash combat encounters. He also occasionally controls a mounted machine gun turret on vehicles. Additionally, the action very often demands watching the screen to match button sequences to attack, endure, dodge, jump and land through various scenes. Mistakes in the sequencing stop and reverse the action (in black and white) back to the miscue point and give the player another chance to succeed.

As enemies die, they leave globules that are absorbed by Ken and used to restore health, reload Chi power and trade for upgrades to his moves and weaponry. Especially impressive is a flaming upgrade to his Shuriken that allows it to act as a missile launcher.

Memorable moments: I have never seen a game so overloaded with insane stunts. Even folks watching the action will nervously giggle at the incredible routines the warrior easily performs.

Violent encounters: Blood spills and occasionally gushes from a variety of ferocious, pus-filled mutated zombies and multitentacled monstrosities as Ogawa stabs, slices and rips his way through the mutations.

Read all about it: An entire prequel story is available in black-and-white manga format online at the Stop the Infected Web site (www.stoptheinfected.com). The five-chapter saga can be read online or as a PDF download.

Pixel popping scale: 8.0 out of 10. Encounters with exploding winged ants, plague snails, a three-headed hydra, a behemoth leech and a multistory-tall pox monster all pop from the screen in high-definition glory.

Extras and unlockables: Our hero has access to a full line of clothing changes helped by a free, downloadable costume pack from Xbox Live.

The bad: Fairly predictable, repetitive boss battles hurt the game. However, they are somewhat salvaged by slick cinematic realism verging on a sci-fi blockbuster.

What’s it worth: Borrowing liberally from games such as Ninja Gaiden, God of War and Prince of Persia, Ninja Blade never attains their brilliance, but is still quite the condensed spectacle. It’s a solid rental with little replay value, much like seeing “Clash of the Titans” once is more than enough.

* Visit Zadzooks at the The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks).

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