There is plenty of evidence that platformers on mobile devices that use on-screen buttons will never feel totally right. There will always be times when you miss the button or the placement of them just feels off. But I’m happy to report that the action-platformer Shadow Blade manages to pull it off impressively.
Though Shadow Blade is yet another ninja game, it probably won’t feel like the host of others you’ve played recently. Instead of attempting to squeeze acrobatics, stealth, in-depth fighting and magic abilities all into the same game, Shadow Blade focuses squarely on nailing the feeling of being a feather-light ninja whose running and jumping rarely follows the laws of physics. The good news is that they mostly succeed in making you feel like the super smooth ninja that you’ve always wanted to be. Jumping off the walls and double jumping is seamless.
The combat in Shadow Blade feels a little inconsequential—thugs are flung like ragdolls as pools of blood spurt out. Most of them don’t even put up a fight. But again, the emphasis here is on the silky smooth movement and the fast-paced kills. A number of different attacks are at your disposal, including behind-the-back assassinations and deadly dashes—each are fast-paced and fun to perform. However, because the goons don’t offer much of a challenge to your ninja prowess, the enemies won’t do much to slow down your wrath of destruction and gravity-defying acrobatics.
The stage design is where Shadow Blade underwhelms. The levels, which are split into three “worlds”, don’t have much of a difficulty ramp (aside from a few frustrating spikes, of course) and most of them blur together and become indecipherable from one another. Furthermore, the ninja theme often seems to be thrown out the window in favor of spikes, saws, trampolines and whatever other generic platform elements the designers can think of. The stage design is really what separates a game like Super Meat Boy from the Shadow Blades of the world. It tries, but it is just not of the same caliber.
Part of that has to do with the fact that again, returning back to the touch screen discussion, any of the precise movements and jumps from a game like Super Meat Boy would be incredibly frustrating on a touch screen. Instead, Shadow Blade compensates with a fantastic sense of speed and physics that is more Sonic than Mario. Yes, Shadow Blade still would be better with a controller with physical buttons. But the last time I checked, I didn’t have one of those on me at every waking moment of my day.
Luke Larsen is the tech editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @lalarsen11.