Xbox made a huge splash at last year’s E3 when they announced Ninja Theory would be joining them as a first party developer. Although Ninja Theory has proven themselves to be a great third person action-adventure developer, they were never able to put out a game that would give them exposure beyond their passionate but niche audience. That was until Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice came along about a year and a half ago. This console generation has had a great rise in indie development. Because of it, we are likely to see a AAA quality 3rd person action-adventure game from Ninja Theory with top-tier gameplay, platforming, and cinematic quality.
Ninja Theory was founded back in the year 2000. Before their work with PlayStation, the studio developed Kung Fu Chaos, a party fighting game exclusively for the original Xbox. It featured an isometric camera angle and a full story mode about filming scenes for a kung fu movie. Afterward, Sony stepped in to keep the studio afloat by helping fund Heavenly Sword, a hack and slash game exclusively for the PS3. Although a good game and beautiful for its time, the PS3 was far from the powerhouse they were at the end of the PS3’s lifespan. Thus, the game had a steep hill to climb in order to meet sales expectations. Unfortunately, they were not met.
From then on, Ninja Theory went multi-platform. Their first game after Heavenly Sword was Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, an endearing 3rd person action-adventure game that followed the story of the unlikely pairing of Monkey (a human with monkey attributes) and Trip, a woman with a knack for electronics. You take control of Monkey as you fight your way through a vibrant post-apocalyptic Earth using your staff and parkour abilities. As with Heavenly Sword, this game also fell under the radar. Next up was the DmC reboot. Although impressive from a technical standpoint, Ninja Theory garnered a lot of flak for making Dante near unrecognizable. Thus, the DmC was scorned by the gaming community. After doing some work with Disney Infinity 3.0 and putting out their own mobile game titled Fightback, Ninja Theory published Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Finally, a game of theirs was both a critical and commercial success for them.
HOW DO NINJA THEORY GAMES PLAY?
A traditional Ninja Theory game plays similarly to the God of War games before the reboot. The key differences are a closer camera angle and more deliberate button presses to pull off moves. You will fight hoards of enemies and the occasional boss to progress the story. One thing the studio gets right is establishing a unique tone for every game. Even though I played the game nearly 10 years ago, I can clearly remember Nariko’s tough demeanor and concern for the well-being of those around her. The bosses in the game were kind of weird-looking too, which was awesome. I found her so cool that I decided to sketch her from a reference way back in the day for fun.
As for Enslaved, the dynamic between Monkey and Trip is the best part of the game. The way their dependence on each other translates through the story and gameplay is enjoyable and even ingenious at times. The one thing holding Enslaved back was technical hiccups such as a poor frame rate a noticeable lack of anti-aliasing in some parts.
Finally, Hellblade is one heck of a ride. This game has Ninja Theory’s most simple fighting system, but it’s tense and satisfying. The games audio and visual representation was phenomenal. I wish the live-action performances within the game were animated as I find the shift in artistic expression a bit jarring. Other than that, the game is great and well worth at least one playthrough.
EXCITING FUTURE PROSPECTS
Ninja Theory currently has all the momentum on their side. They have progressed from a studio on its last legs to a developer with the financial support of Microsoft, one of the biggest companies in the world. On top of that, they get to retain their creative freedom and focus solely on creating an amazing game for us to enjoy.
When you sign up for a Ninja Theory game, you are going to get character, excellent gameplay, emotion, and a type of overwhelming sense of immersion usually attained from Sony 1st party titles. It is a possibility that this year, Xbox will be showing off a trailer for Ninja Theory’s next game that is finally going to make fans of Sony’s first-party games want an Xbox or PC assuming Xbox Play Anywhere continues to persist in the future. I wish Ninja Theory continued success; they truly deserve it.
Images captured on PS4, owned by Ninja Theory
Sketch based on the likeness of Nariko from Heavenly Sword, IP owned by Sony