It’s a known fact that ninjas make for incredibly cool videogame heroes. In comes Ronin, the newest game to make you feel like a complete badass stepping into the boots of a cunning and silent helmet wearing killing machine that’s out for bloody revenge.
Ronin could be called a turn-based stealth game, but that brings the wrong notion to mind. The combat parts in it are dependent on turns, tying your character’s leaps to the enemy’s attack patterns, but the stealth action isn’t. It’s a seemingly simple concept that one man developer Tomasz Wacławek puts to great use throughout Ronin.
As soon as you’re spotted, time freezes, giving you the chance to jump out of the way of their blades and bullets in order to sink your sword into them in return. Your jump’s trajectory is represented by white lines, while the enemy’s attacks are red. Crossing their line means your death and a retry.
Luckily, there’s a little more to it the further you get in the game. As you spend skill points, more special skills are made available, like the ability to instantly kill an enemy while you’re in the air by throwing your sword at them, or stun an entire room with a flash bomb.
Each of these new skills gives you more options to survive within the game, and help flesh out what your opposition will throw at you as well. The game starts out with handgun enemies that attack you on sight a shot at the time and can be easily tackled and dispatched. But later on, things get more complicated with spread shot enemies, rival swordsmen and other more resilient foes that take a little more work getting rid of.
Getting the points to spend for those skills I mentioned before come from finishing levels without failing any objectives. There’s three core objectives you’ll want to look out for in each of the three levels per chapter: killing all enemies, sparring innocents and not triggering alarms. Ronin is a little funny with how it names these objectives as optional, because if you don’t complete them in one run, you can’t progress your character at all. They’re anything but optional.
So it’s a good thing then that these are really fun to go after, even if you get stuck failing over and over. That’s mostly because the game’s pacing doesn’t hang its hat on trial and error. It’s just unpredictable enough to have you pulling off seat-of-pants narrow escapes that are more thrilling than anything approaching annoyance.
While there’s little actual frustration with the level design in the game, which usually gives you more than one option to tackling a mission, I couldn’t go on with this review without making a note on how movement is sometimes a little finicky. Given how zoomed out your character is in regards to the camera, it’s easy to overlook obstructions that might get in your way and curb your rhythm. There’s also a few instances of special attacks not being available when it feels like they should, which is a tad troublesome. And while I didn’t run into these problems too often while playing the game, they popped up from time to time just to remind me they were there.
Nagging issues aside, Ronin is just flexible enough to be fun and make you feel like you just barely made it with your wits, all the while throwing a stone or two to let you know you aren’t all that. It might feel too simple for anyone looking for deep stealth action experience, but as a game to play in quick spurts, it’s fantastic.