Mobile gaming is a growing and ever present segment of the gaming industry that, despite it’s size and reach, seems to have typically have very polarising opinions from those who consider themselves, “gamers”. Peoples frustrations with the genre of gaming is understandable at times and there’s certainly a conceited effort to just their feelings toward it. It can often be regarded it as a lesser type of gaming that requires less commitment and dedication to the cause than what we consider to be a more traditional method of enjoying interactive entertainment seen on consoles and PC. Though this is typically due to the nature of the, “Freemium,” free-to-play model that many developers of more than just mobile apps tend to employ where much of the ire and disgust seems to be rooted and aimed at. Even South Park had fun at cracking some well deserved critism and jokes at it’s expense, with the usual South Park charm.
Discussing the ideal of freemium is a topic for another day by someone much more informed, but ignoring the model itself, there’s certainly a method to designing a game to be play on a mobile interface that will influence the way in which we interact with it, offering up a different sort of satisfaction. It’s one of much quicker enjoyment, feeding our pleasure center in a more direct, fast paced manner in a bite sized variety. There’s no denying that when done right, these types of games often make for thrilling and more importantly, addicting adventures. When a title intended for release on larger scale devices crafts itself around these mobile ideals it offers up different experience you would typically find elsewhere in a much smaller scale. It carves a specific experience that manages to keep you hooked with this ever present need to complete just one more level, often finding ways of gobbling up much more of your time than you thought.
Shadow Blade Reload does this perfectly, creating a game that is very clearly made as a mobile title first but injected with the blood of a good platforming game to create a very fun little run and gun (or slice seeing as you’re a ninja) type platformer. It’s not without some sort comings so we’ll discuss them first.
As I mentioned, the game certainly feels like a mobile, for better and slightly worse. The story is a very bare bones way of justifying your trek through several different environments. You play as Kuro, a well trained ninja by the master of his clan, facing invaders from rival clans encroaching on their guild. By order of his master, he escapes to protect his clan’s relic from the invaders, returning to find a power play amongst clans and masters and his actions will determine the fate of the world, very basic the hero must save the day stuff. While it is presented in gorgeously drawn comic strips, it will not leave a lasting impression and you’ll ultimately end up not paying much attention to it.
Graphically, it seems to maintain this mix of both large and small scale feel to it. Character models are small and often feel like little toys jumping around these largely crafted areas (more on those later,) with simple but fun designs, with much of your enemies taking on a sort of cyberpunk like aesthetic, adding a rather nice charm. You begin in a wooden based temple, fighting off large brutes with knives, but progressing further leads you to futuristic neon cityscapes populated with thugs and robots all trying to hunt you down. These areas are expansive and tend to reach much farther out than you would expect, but aren’t afraid to throw you into closed, tight spaces with plenty of death traps ready to take your life. Music is serviceable but incredibly memorable, usually fitting nicely with each level and the current theme it’s going for.
Gameplay is where this game shines however. As I mentioned above, this game takes the right ingredients of a solid platformer and addictive mobile platformer and blends them perfectly. Very reminiscent of classic hardcore platformers and games like Rayman Legends, it grabs the player and puts them in a position of always wanting to do better and take one more go. Level design is excellent, which is vital in this game making it’s claim.
Levels tend to be pretty large and open, allowing for a wonderful sense of flow rhythm and speed to the running, with just the right amount of obstacles thrown in your way at the right times to never kill the flow and offering you just the right amount of time to react and keep Kuro ever racing towards his goal. You can jump, dash, climb walls, throw shuriken and attack with factors such as distance, movement, enemy awareness and so on, determine how you attack. Often you’ll find yourself in a furious mix of all manner of attack as you sprint against an ever present timer in order to get the highest score.
The addition of a ranking system is the most devious and excellent addition to the game. The road to a S rank is to beat the level as fast possible, typically within or as close as possible to the timer, kill all enemies and collect everything scattered throughout the stage. This is usually somewhat harder than it seems, as dying not only punishes your score but sets you back to your checkpoint with your current time remaining unchanged, leading to many instance of me rage-retrying a stage in order to get the S rank.
It’s a nice incentive to clear every stage as best you can and taps into quick fire nature it wants to exploit. It’s the type of experience you should enjoy in short bursts but you can often find yourself repeating level after level in aims of obtaining that damn S rank. Finding your groove and following along the flow of the stage is where the game excels, throwing shurikens, dashing attacking an enemy, bounding off walls over a pit of spikes, all the while maintaining a constant speed never ceases to be thrilling.
Shadow Blade Reload is an excellent little high speed indie title. Some may find it somewhat off putting due to it’s mobile nature and there are some aspects where it is rough around the edges but all things considered, it’s great little package, bringing a small screen experience to a large screen gracefully. With plenty of story level and a challenge mode extending the life blood of the game, it easily stakes it’s claim as a title I can happily recommend to anyone looking for a fun little runner with the ability to slice through your free time.