Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Akane the Kunoichi (Xbox 360)

Whatever stance you take on the great pirate versus ninja debate, it’s tough to deny the overwhelming appeal of these assassins. While both clans have their fair share of video game adaptations, some are more successful than others. Enter Akane, a kunoichi (female ninja) whose skills are second to none. Her platforming game is not only a solid argument for ninja superiority, but proof that independent developers can craft some of the best titles available on download services already full of quality.

Sold.

Akane’s mission is to rescue her master, Goro, from Hiromi’s group of ninjas. However, Akane also happens to have a crush on her master, providing her with further incentive to save the man. If she wants to express her love, she’ll have to tackle hordes of enemy ninjas and dank environments. Can she take back her man, and then take his hand in marriage?

As one would expect from a ninja, Akane has an assortment of techniques at her disposal. For physical moves, Akane can jump, cling to walls, and even scale said walls via timed leaps. In terms of weaponry, she can toss multiple kunai (multifunctional handheld weapons used by martial artists such as ninjas) in a matter of seconds. Our heroine also has ninja scrolls at her disposal, which activate one of three deadly attacks that are interchangeable at the player’s discretion. Power-ups hidden throughout the stages include extra scrolls, multi-directional kunai, and hourglasses that give Akane more time to complete a level.




Level designs can be tricky, but they’re always achievable if you take things unhurriedly and don’t hesitate when making jumps. While the typical platforming game promotes dashing and hopping through levels as fast as you can, Akane rewards players for taking their time. While stages have time limits, they’re never an issue unless you simply cannot figure out what tactics to use against a boss. In many ways, the game expects the player to become a ninja. This also means that the difficulty will ramp up significantly toward the end, so gamers had best be prepared for some demanding trials.

Akane’s outfit may be tad skimpy, but one would be hard pressed to say the game skimps on content, as it offers 15 levels and five boss battles. In addition, you’re bound to devote at least two or three hours in an effort to acquire all 45 of the kimonos hidden in the levels to unlock the secret ending. To ice the cake, there are achievements that give the player a few extra challenges to attempt. When all is said and done, you can look forward to five to 10 hours with Akane, and most of that time is sheer bliss. For 80 Microsoft Points (roughly $1 USD), the same currency with which the populace would commonly splurge on frivolous virtual items for their Xbox avatar, you’re getting a substantial amount of material.

PSN Mini/ 3DSWare version please

Haruneko did not go out of its way to entice us with superfluous visual grandeur, instead resorting to the age-old 2D sprites. The backgrounds, on the other hand, tend to showcase high quality imagery that easily surpasses what a classic system would be capable of, adding an extra element to the sprites. Whenever Akane utilizes one of her special attacks, the player is treated to a colossal anime-style caricature of the kunai-wielding warrior. This isn’t a title that demands visual prowess, but the developers did go beyond the call of duty.

The musical department is effectively the only factor of the game that fails to reach the same standard that Haruneko set for the gameplay. Akane makes the same noise every single time she jumps. This is initially tolerable, but it can get particularly grating after completing a few levels. The music itself is decent, if a tad lackluster, but it is heavily marred by Akane’s relentless assault of guttural utterances. Due to the lack of an options menu, you’re either forced to endure the kunoichi’s endless cries, mute the game, or play your own tracks. Thankfully the Xbox allows for custom music, so you can put on some ambient tunes or classy J-Pop to get you into the mood.

She grunts with every jump. Heh, heh.

Akane the Kunoichi stands out as a game that could have nearly been a budget DS release, but is instead available for the price of a can of pop (yes, that is the Americanism you're seeing there - ed). If you have an internet-equipped Xbox 360, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid this. Why? Akane defines what a downloadable title should strive to be: loaded with content, affordable, and genuinely fun.

- Clark A


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