Review: Akane the Kunoichi (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Akane the Kunoichi
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Haruneko
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 05/28/2011

We’ve made a point to highlight the Xbox LIVE Indie Games service a number of times on Diehard GameFAN. While most people’s image of the Indie Games service are the gimmick apps such as the multiple massage programs or the digital fireplace, truthfully, some real gems surface from the service.

May has actually been very kind to the service, with the retro-inspired Akane the Kunoichi dropping at the end of the month. Taking inspirations from a number of 8-bit and 16-bit themes, does Akane’s kunai hit the target or completely whiff?

Akane the Kunoichi revolves around the adventure of, obviously, Akane the Kunoichi (which would be the proper term for a female ninja for those not in the know). The game’s story sees the object of Akane’s affection, Goro of samurai nobility, captured by the dark Hiromi. Although Akane attempts to thwart the kidnapping, she is struck down by one of Hiromi’s minions. Shaking off the injury, Akane sets off through 15 stages of platforming action to get Goro back.

The story is bare bones and is only told through a short animated cutscene at the beginning of the game, but, given the games retro-inspired roots and its nominal $1 price tag, it gets a pass. In fact, the opening segment reminds me a little bit of The Legend of Kage for some reason, although the gender roles are reversed (speaking of weird retro parallels, the opening crawl graphics for each stage give me Sonic the Hedgehog vibes). Much like a classic platformer, there are real modes to speak of, so players will have to enjoy the title for what it is – a straight-forward platformer. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Getting into the game, the basic moveset available to players mirrors that of SEGA’s Shinobi title. Face buttons are mapped to allow Akane to jump, throw a kunai and utilize ninja magic techniques. To throw in a slice of Ninja Gaiden, Akane can also cling to walls and springboard off them to reach higher places (although, unlike Ryu, Akane slowly slides down the wall as she clings to it). Putting everything together is what makes the platforming in the game so fluid and the concepts on their own are easy enough for any gamer to understand.

Overall, the controls are solid, although the pacing required in getting the hang of wall jumping might put a few players off at first. On nearly every occasion, though, Akane reacted exactly how I wanted, although the hit detection occasionally seemed a bit off when it came to jumping over enemy kunai or jumping up to hit a low-postured guard dog on a higher platform. Once players get all of the games nuances down, though, the gameplay becomes second-nature.

That being said, again, Akane the Kunoichi is a straight-forward platformer. The game offers up 15 stages and nothing more, meaning, the replayability suffers and all of the retro inspiration hardly makes the game original. Still, Haruneko has thrown in a few mechanics to encourage further play. Among collectables hidden in maneki neko sculptures, such as extra health, magic scrolls and power-ups that grant Contra-style spread shots, each stage has three lost kimonos to collect. In “This is Not a True Ending!” fashion, the only way to truly beat the game is to track down all 45 kimono strewn about the levels. The title also features “trophies” which act equivalent to achievements, but unlocking these trophies does nothing of note inside the game.

Getting to the level design of the title, everything masterfully matches the retro titles Akane is looking to emulate. In regard to balance, the game kicks off with a “this is way too easy” design, but by the final two worlds, players will need to put their patience into practice and platforming chops to test. Upon entering a stage, Akane has four hit points and if she loses these hearts or falls into a pit, players are taken back to the stage select screen. Some players might consider the lack of checkpoints as a downfall in the title, but none of the stages are incredibly long.

Still, by world five, even the slightest of mistakes can lead players into the spiral of defeat. This is in stark contrast to the boss fights, which are minimal and hardly challenging. While the bosses are large and include a varied cast such as a samurai identical to the first boss in Shinobi to a floating head reminiscent of one of the boss characters in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, their patterns are simple and these fights aren’t quite satisfying. However, those dedicated to tough, classic platforming will stick to the mission until it is completed.

Regardless of the player’s patience, along the way, the presentation provides much to enjoy. The graphics have a sharpened-up 16-bit feel to them and the usage of color really makes the game stand out (and it makes the more realistic drawing of Akane seen on the title screen a bit out of place). This is further helped by the variety seen in the game’s environments which range from clear skies and blooming sakura to Hiromi’s dungeon, which gives off a creepy Bowser’s castle sort of vibe. The simplicity works here as even though there aren’t huge amounts of detail or variety, the coloring certainly catches your eyes.

The sound effects are minimal, but none of them are really offensive, even though Akane’s jumping grunt can grate the nerves at times when heard repeatedly. The music changes up with each environment and, while it gets lost in the background, it suits each stage fairly well. In the beginning, the music is a little more upbeat, but as players edge closer to the end of the game, the music intensifies accordingly.

The Scores:
Story/Modes: DECENT
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GOOD
Gameplay/Control: VERY GOOD
Replayability: PRETTY POOR
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal Factor: GOOD
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE

Short Attention Span Summary
If you’ve been looking to scratch your retro-platforming itch without busting your Microsoft Point bank, Akane the Kunoichi‘s $1 price of admission should serve you well. Borrowing a number of classic themes, the game controls like the offspring of Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden. Its straight-forward design leaves very little to go back to when your done and the sharp difficulty toward the end of the game might cut some players a little too deep, but it features great, challenging level design and very eye-catching use of color to engross players. With no advertised Xbox LIVE Arcade release this week and a handful of disappointing releases on the service recently, Akane the Kunoichi could certainly hold you over for a few hours.



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