Ronin Impressions: Strike Decisively

We go hands-on with an early demo of Ronin, a turn-based action platformer where you play as a ninja assassin sent to kill five heads of an evil corporation. You have to use the shadows to your advantage, and make every move count, because it only takes one bullet to kill you. Here's how we fared.


In Ronin, you're a ninja in a motorcycle helmet. You have a photo with five heads of a powerful corporation, and it's your job to get revenge one assassination at a time. But there's a catch. They know that you're after them, so they've hidden themselves away in personal fortresses like Bondian villains. You'll have to cut your way through a guards and disable the security measures to reach your target. We go hands-on with an early demo and see how well we perform as a modern day ninja assassin.

Don't be fooled by the minimalistic graphics, because Ronin's gameplay is deceptively deep. It takes quite a bit of getting used to, but the game is divided between real-time and turn-based gameplay. You move around in real time, but you can pause the action at any time, even mid-jump to use the grappling hook. The game also automatically switches to turn-based mode when you encounter enemies. This switch can be a little jarring at first, because unless you're paying attention to the minimal pause/play button on the bottom right corner, it just seems like the game is frozen.

Once in pause mode, you can issue a single command by moving a pointer around, which determines where you'll land when you jump. It's generally a good idea to stick to the shadows and stealthily take out your enemies, but sometimes you have no choice except to step into a spotlight. Unlike some other stealth action platformers, spotlights cannot be destroyed in Ronin.

Leaping onto an guard will knock him over, giving you a chance to kill him. But be aware of your surroundings, and choose your moves carefully, because it only takes a single bullet to kill you. A guard standing above you can get a shot in while you're busy stabbing his buddy in the chest. However, you can see where they're aiming, so you can make moves to avoid being hit.

Icons will pop up whenever an interactive object is nearby, such as killing a guard or hacking a security terminal. Getting a killstreak will add to a meter that enables special moves. The first is dropping a holographic decoy. The second is the ability to throw your sword while in midair. My stealth and game pausing skills weren't good enough to make much use out of the hologram or sword throw, but I appreciate having them.

The game recommends using a gamepad for the "best experience," but I found using the mouse and keyboard to be much easier. Hitting the space bar to pause the action and using the mouse to pick landing points and interact with icons better matched my style of play than using the gamepad's thumbsticks. Selecting landing points can be tricky, because the jump arrow only shows up when you move the pointer upwards. Sometimes you can be more direct with the commands, like choosing to jump towards a guard that's straight ahead of you, but not always. Moving the pointer upwards shows you the arc of your jump, which you then stretch out to reach your target.

It took me a long while and several restarts to get used to the controls, but the game started to flow once I did. I eventually reached my target's inner sanctum, patrolled by armed guards and heavily armored samurai warriors. Samurai can deflect straight attacks and will kill you if you land too close. They can also charge forward or jump high in the air to get to you. Their armor also prevents them from being knocked down. I found that in dealing with them, it was often best to kill them hanging on the ceiling and using a rope to hang them.

After leaving a trail of bodies behind me, I unlocked the room where the Old Man was sitting, then walked in and killed him. Not bad for my first assassination. Then, as I was leaving the building, I was ambushed by more guards and samurai. What were they here for? I already killed their boss. Were they getting revenge for my revenge killing, or just looking out for the remaining four targets? Whatever the reason, there is no avoiding detection, and they immediately come after you. Getting through the ambush is tricky, but possible, and very satisfying.

Then I left the building, got on the motorcycle, and rode off... presumably to find someone new to kill. We'll find out who's next on the hit list when the game releases later this spring for PC, Mac and Linux.

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