Overview – developed by Ametist Studio and published by Ratalaika Games, Within the blade is a retro styled action platform title with light RPG elements. Take on bandits, samurai and even demons as you travel through pixel art environments and cut the enemies down with your blade. This title is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox and Steam, links to each version of the game will be at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank PR Hound for providing the copy of Within the Blade that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, I will be skipping the story segment and move straight into the gameplay section.
Gameplay – Within the Blade is an action platformer that feels like a mix between Ninja Gaiden and Tenchu, mixing platforming and combat with precision stealth. The game is made up of 25 stages over 5 chapters, with randomized stages and tough boss battles that add a rogue like element to the experience. This feeling is increased with the inclusion of RPG mechanics, like leveling and quest objectives being a key part of the gameplay loop.
There are three options when booting up the game. The first is the standard game mode, with new game, load game and continue options. Second is the tutorial which provides in depth details about how to play the game, with all mechanics explained in a large playable practice level. Last is the challenge mode, a bonus game mode with 20 stages that can be taken on for the player to hone their skills in challenging levels.
First I want to talk about the general gameplay of the stages. Each stage has a main objective and at least one sub-mission to complete, the objectives can range from killing specific enemies and performing specific actions to making it through the stage with a preset amount of health. To complete missions, players can use a variety of weapons, assassination techniques and tools to eliminate the threats that stand in their way, but be careful as there are many hazards and traps in the way.
There are two main ways to eliminate enemies, melee combat and assassination. Melee combat uses hand to hand Taijutsu martial arts or the Sword, Kusarigama and hook, allowing the player to use a variety of attacks and unlockable skills to deal damage. The attacks can be chained into combos for increased damage, however with each attack there is a slight delay between combos, making each strike important as a missed attack can lead to heavy damage being taken.
Assassination is another valuable skill to take down those in the way. As the name implies, the player needs to be stealthy and not be detected in order to succeed in any assassination attempt. If an enemy spots the player while they attempt to sneak, they will become aggressive, requiring direct confrontation or retreat until a timer signified by a question mark that slowly ticks down. At the start only the sword can be used for silent kills, but new techniques can be unlocked later.
Another thing that needs to be taken into consideration throughout the game is weapon durability. All weapons have a limited amount of strength that is shown by a meter on screen, leading to them being destroyed when the meter is depleted. Weapons can be scarce during missions and careless attacks can lead to being surrounded and overpowered, but there are other options when it comes to approaching the obstacles in the way.
In the different locations that the player will find themselves, there can be chests that hold many possible treasures, including thrown weapons. Since the player is a ninja, they also have access to traditional ninja themed weaponry, including shuriken and flash bombs. These items can be used to eliminate enemies from a distance, sneak up for a quick kill and even escape an unfavorable situation, with additional items having the chance to be dropped by slain foes.
Speaking of items dropped by foes. During the course of each stage, resources can be found in chests, dropped by enemies and even hidden in destructible items. The drop chance varies and most of the drops themselves are randomized from attempt to attempt. The resources that can be collected include money, raw materials and even tools that can aid the player through the level. The gold and raw materials are the most useful as they can be used to craft, buy items and even recipes from merchants.
The last elements of the game I want to discuss are the RPG elements and crafting system that the game uses. When taking down the enemies and bosses during levels, players will earn experience that increases their level when they hit specific thresholds. Each time a player earns a level, they get a point that can be used when at the home base to unlock new skills and techniques, including new ways to fight and even assassination skills.
When in the village, the player can enter their home and craft items to use when taking on missions. There are some recipes available from the start, with more that can be obtained later on. Raw materials can be combined creating new items, increasing the options for making new items/weapons. The only downside to the crafting and inventory is the UI since there is no way to see what is being highlighted, but this may be fixed with a patch later on.
Now with the gameplay covered, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – within the blade has a relatively simple layout for all inputs, with a comfortable set up that fits all controller styles. The buttons react well for the most part, but combination inputs and simultaneous presses can be inconsistent, causing missed inputs that can cause issues trying to sneak. These flaws with the controls are more prevelant with the Joy-Cons than Pro Controller and can interrupt the flow of gameplay, but can be adjusted to over time.
Difficulty – there is a total of three difficulty options available when starting a new game, an Easy, Normal and Permadeath setting. The easy choice is pretty straight forward, but normal does feel hard for the sake of it at times, with traps and attacks that can wipe the player out in one or two hits. Permadeath is exactly as described, a single life to complete the entire game, a setting only for the most hardcore players.
Presentation – Within the Blade has a very retro styled visual presentation, using pixel art to create a 16-bit style title reminiscent to classics like Ninja Gaiden. The animations and sprite work are fantastic, with detailed parallax scrolling and a solid frame rate. The soundtrack uses a mix of classical Japanese and modern day instrumentation, including guitars combined with the sounds of traditional Japanese flutes. These create an immersive sound that matches the world that the game tries to build.
Final Thoughts – I have very mixed feelings about Within the Blade. There are plenty of positives but sadly there are some negatives for me. The overall presentation and world building is fantastic, with plenty of detail for the relatively modest sprite work. The game plays well for the most part but unfortunately the combat can be a little clunky, as the instinct to mash buttons when fighting enemies left me open to attacks a lot of the time. The combo attacks are a little difficult too as it can be hard to consistently use them, and the game feels difficult for the sake of it at times.
Aside from the few relatively minor complaints that I have, the game is very fun and sets itself apart from other titles that have the same themes and visual style. I can recommend this release to fans of action platformers and games that use a stealth element. Ametist Studio has done a fantastic job with this title, creating a solid action title with a unique identity that can stand on its own.
In the end, I give Within the Blade a final score of 3.5/5. A strong action platformer that effectively uses stealth and weapon based combat to create a tense yet reactive experience. The presentation is unique and the sprite work is fantastic, evoking a sense of nostalgia with the imitation 16-bit style to the graphics and authentic Japanese instrumentation. If you want to check this title out for yourself, links to each version of the game will be below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation version (HERE)
Link to Xbox version (HERE)
Link to Steam version (HERE)