RONIN snuck up on us this month with a rather confusing premise. “Turn based action platformer” its little badge said proudly. At first, thinking perhaps there had been a mistake, we came over to politely explain that the very concept would never work, but RONIN defended its genre and thankfully so.
It’s an action platformer but with a unique twist; It’s turn based. When not engaged in combat the game plays out in real-time where you can run, jump, climb and use a grapple hook on almost any surface. This is mechanically like most platformers except that you use the right analogue stick or mouse to aim the arc of your jump, but RONIN’s real difference is in the combat. Once you are spotted by an enemy the game pauses and you and any enemies in the vicinity take turns to attempt to shoot at or stab each other. This means that the focus is less on reflexes and skill and more on tactical thinking and memorising enemy patterns. While this concept sounded interesting on paper it is much less so in practice. Fights are frustrating and often result in a long, drawn-out stalemate – and the conclusion isn’t always that satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, it was certainly relieving to finish a fight but not satisfying.
Ronin seems to be at war with itself over whether it wanted to be a stealth game. On the one hand, you can hide in shadows and bad guys will only spot you if you step through their laser sight or into the light, triggering lockdown. Lockdown means that if you fail to kill all the guards tweeting about the ninja to their friends before the timer reaches 0 you fail one of the objectives and your character won’t level up. This becomes troublesome as it prevents you from gaining skills; so you really don’t want to fail objectives too often. On the other hand, if you don’t kill every enemy in the game you also fail an objective and once you are spotted every bad guy and their gran will know where you are, regardless of how perfectly you execute the takedown. This means that you have to race around the level tackling enemies who are trying to initiate lockdown and never get the time to actually kill anyone. Removing either the lockdown mechanic or improving the stealth mechanics would have improved my enjoyment of the game immensely.
As far as story goes, RONIN is pretty much Kill Bill: The Video Game. You play as a katana wielding, motorbike helmet wearing heroine out for revenge against 5 people who have somehow wronged her. The plot is delivered entirely through loading screens so it is quite unobtrusive but also pretty scarce. The story exists as a framing device and no more, a fact cemented by the lack of any dialogue .
To give it its dues, RONIN is fairly detailed and attractive, featuring fluid movement that makes characters feel alive. Civilians check their hologram phones and chat, enemies scan rooms and adjust their weight, and when struck their bodies spread out as they fall. Cutscenes have a Cartoon Network feel to them with characters personalities easy to distinguish from their design and expression . During gameplay however, the overall art style is rather unimpressive. Visually the game is functional, but forgettable.
RONIN tries something new but when put into practice its unique blend of action and strategy becomes slow, finicky, and repetitive. If the combat had less problems and the story was more present then we’d love to recommend this game. Perhaps in future a sequel with tighter gameplay mechanics and enhanced story will take us by surprise.