There's a game in here somewhere that I like quite a bit, concerning ninjas working for military task forces, trying to destroy alien monsters in modern Tokyo. Unfortunately for Ninja Blade, that game is buried underneath a dodgy combat system, and that's buried under several tons of quick-time events.
Ninja Blade is Quick-Time Events: The Game, and plays like something you'd use for aversion therapy. Roughly two-thirds of any given level are cutscenes liberally punctuated with QTEs, which the player must get through to advance through the stage; killing a boss once and for all involves a series of QTEs, which may or may not result in several more QTEs to escape the boss's death throes, reinforcements, or wake of destruction. I imagine when Ken, the ninja protagonist, wakes up in the morning, it takes him six QTEs to get out of bed, brush his teeth, and tie his shoes.
I probably wouldn't have as big a problem with this if Ninja Blade didn't also make the decision to make its QTEs actively difficult. God of War II did this too at times; by the time you register that it's time to push a button and your brain identifies which button you should be pressing, you've already failed the event. The only way to consistently pass a QTE right every time, even on the easiest setting, is to anticipate which button it's going to be... which isn't always consistent from one attempt to the next. I'd imagine there are caffeine-fueled thirteen-year-olds with the reaction time to pull this off, somewhere, maybe, perhaps bred by the government, but here in the real world, this crap is ridiculous.
The production values are really high, especially for a company like From; the voice acting's decent, the graphics are good (if a little infested with bloom), and Ninja Blade is capable of producing the occasional jaw-dropping moment of sheer awesomeness.
Firing a helicopter's door gun against a giant worm that just burst out of the Tokyo skyline? Hell yes. Wall-running away from a mutant helicopter as it tries to blow you in half with missiles? Sure, that's pretty cool. There's nothing wrong with Ninja Blade except playing it.
When the QTEs give it a rest for a second, Ninja Blade settles down into an action game that takes more than a few cues from the recent Ninja Gaiden games. Ken has about a thousand moves, and is one of the most agile protagonists in recent memory; he moves like the genetic splice child of Ryu Hayabusa and the Prince of Persia.
The problem with the combat, really, is that it doesn't take the most crucial element from Ninja Gaiden, and that's its exacting sense of fairness. Ryu Hayabusa can do almost anything in his arsenal at any time, so you can go immediately from the middle of a combo to a dodge roll. If a brown ninja shows up behind you and sticks an explosive shuriken in your ass while you're trying to bisect one of his buddies, he did it because you didn't see him or you didn't react quickly enough. He didn't do it because you were stuck in mid-combo or in hit stun or you got your guard broken.
That limitless fluidity of motion is not in Ninja Blade, and its absence is fairly obvious. Half the fights you get into will be won or lost because enemies managed to get a hit in on you while you were attacking another one, because you have no ability to move in mid-swing or attack multiple enemies at once. Being surrounded by mutants with shields isn't a death sentence, but you're going to take hits, and it's frustrating.
Another few months in development or some more thorough testing could've saved Ninja Blade. When it lets you play it, it's annoying; when it doesn't, it's annoying. I want to take the game's visuals and premise and transplant them into another title with a much less irritating combat system.