Ronin – Review
I like the movie Kill Bill (but don’t hate me for it). It features a sexy Uma Thurman as an assassin, dressed in a yellow motorcycle outfit (for part of the movie, anyway), killing bad guys with samurai sword. It makes a cool image for a game, and not those awful browser based click fests you can find online if you search for a Kill Bill Game.
The new turn-based action platformer, Ronin, from developer Tomasz Wacławek and publisher Devolver Digital, has many of these elements (and more). It features a highly trained female martial artist out for revenge. It features a motorcycle outfit, including helmet, and motorcycle. It has style, it has a samurai sword, and it has lots blood. Although I don’t believe it stars Uma Thurman (the heroine keeps her helmet on), you never can tell for sure.
There’s not much in the way of story, but there is enough to give the heroine motivation and put the events of the game in context. Each level is preceded by a screen showing a photograph of a group of people, including a young version of the protagonist and her father. Five other people in the photograph are the heroine’s revenge targets.
Ronin manages to pack a lot of elements into a small package. For a start, I really liked the look of this game. It has really crisp looking 2D art and a lot the background artwork really seems to give the environments some depth. Pretty much all the levels take place in similar looking buildings, and it would have been nice to have a bit more environmental variety, but that’s only a minor niggle. I’m happy to accept this game takes place in a big city and similar industrial complexes.
The controls took a short while for me to get used to, but they work really well. The WASD keys are used to move the Ronin left or right, or have climb up or down walls. Left clicking and then moving the mouse defines a jump target and arc. Positioning the target and shaping the arc become critical skills during combat. Lighting and line of sight play an important part in the game, as enemies will be alerted if you move out of the shadows while they are facing you. Enemies will also investigate sounds, such as shattering glass or the death of one their allies. This really encourages you to look at the environment carefully and take note of where enemies, what their movement patterns are, the positions of lighting, doors, and platforms.
While manoeuvring through the game levels time flows normally, but as soon as you engage an enemy the game switches to a turn based mode. This is basically a freeze frame of the action. Enemies with a line of site on you will generally aim their weapons at you. This represented by a red line. Enemies aware of your presence but unable to see you may have a counter representing the number of turns until they raise an alarm. You then have the opportunity to make a move. If you’re within striking distance of an enemy, you can click an icon to strike, or you may wish to plan a jump. Other options and icons may be available if you’ve unlocked them with skill points earned by completing all a level’s objectives.
The meat of the game is in these combat sequences. You’ll need to plan a few moves ahead so you don’t find yourself in a situation where you can’t avoid being shot. Additional challenge comes in the form of a few different enemy types, with different behaviours. Standard security guards have pistols, but some are armed with machine rifles and can fire a stream of bullets over two turns. Cross a stream and you will die. Enemy samurai have to be stunned before you take them, otherwise they will slice you in twain if you jump past them.
There is no health bar. If you take a bullet, (or die by other means) you start over from a checkpoint. Luckily, the checkpoints save before combat, or after you achieve a non-combat objective (E.g. hack a computer console).
The combat can be quite challenging as you try to second guess multiple opponents while navigating past platforms and other obstacles. Even so, it does get a bit repetitive. You will have met all the enemy types before getting too far into the game. From this point the challenge comes from the mix and number enemies combined with their placement in the environment. I would have liked to see more varied opponents (perhaps guard dogs?), but once again, this is a minor complaint. There were some times when I thought I would be just outside an enemies reach, and died, and other times I thought I had just missed a jump only to make it. The game hints do warn, “the arc is a lie”, so I’ll leave that as a neutral point.
Finally, Ronin is quite a short game. I made many mistakes and had to retry some sequences a heap of times before I worked out a solution, but I think that is part of the fun with this kind of game. It took me just under 10 hours to complete (I died a lot), and there are two endings as well as a new game+ mode.
Overall, I really enjoyed Ronin. It was challenging, interesting and fun to play, and those qualities outweighed some of the minor gripes I had. If you’re happy to part with your equivalent of USD 12.99 (and why wouldn’t you be), you too can be dishing out revenge in style.
Joel Guttenberg hearkens from the motherland in deepest, darkest southern Africa, but now calls Australia home. His interest in games led to a career in IT, both of which continue to this day. He occasionally wrangles electrons into stories that are hopefully fit for (e)print and never, ever, sleeps on the job.