Currently in the final stages of Steam early access, Ronin is a turn based, action platformer brought to us by indie developer, Tomasz Wacławek. And despite what it may look like, the in-game hints reassure us that it’s definitely “…not Gunpoint.”
The player assumes control of a vengeful, helmet-clad heroine on a mission to assassinate five high-ranking members of a powerful (and presumably evil) corporation. If you were hoping for a more cerebral narrative than that, you may be a little disappointed. The story here really only serves as an excuse to break into buildings and stylishly slice up bad guys; but what Ronin lacks in plot, it does at least attempt to make up in gameplay.
Over the course of fifteen levels, you’ll scale the walls of ominous, corporate skyscrapers, string-up armed goons from ceilings, and evade lethal traps set out by your targets, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a stealth-‘em-up. As the title suggests, you’re a Ronin, not a ninja, which means instead of hiding in cardboard boxes and wriggling through air ducts, you’re expected to leave the insides of every building you infiltrate looking like a Jackson Pollock.
By all means sneak as much as you like, but sooner or later, Ronin will force you to break cover, and it does so with alarming regularity. Plenty of mission-critical objectives are tactically placed behind brightly lit floor spaces and enemies who refuse to look the other way, so getting seen is just par for the course, upon which the game’s turn-based element kicks in. Get clocked by an enemy and time will freeze while you decide on your reaction. If he’s within a blades length away, a prompt will appear for you to dispatch him. If not, you’ll have to close some distance before you can take him out.
Holding the left mouse button allows you to specify your jump arc, but as the in-game ‘helpful hints’ remind you: “the jump arc is a lie”, and they’re really not kidding. When moving between terrains at different heights, the engine can get a little confused as to whether or not you’ll actually land on a surface or pass straight through it. And while comically self-referencing the bugs in your game is funny in a fourth-wall breaking kind of way, it doesn’t make the issues themselves any less annoying.
As you jump between alerted targets, red laser sights helpfully indicate their line of fire, and you’ll soon find the screen plastered with a dense crosshatch of sightlines. Historically, dodging bullets isn’t an easy thing to do, but Ronin expects you to do it a lot, and do it well. The trick is to jump and flip through the hail of lead long enough to slip in a few quick kills, and try not land directly in the line of fire.
Build up enough momentum as you dispatch the bad guys, and you’ll be able to use one of your special abilities. To begin with, only the most basic of
ninja Ronin techniques are available, but successfully completing missions while hitting three extra criteria (kill all enemies, don’t set off the alarm, and don’t harm civilians), is rewarded with a skill point to spend on new moves.
While none of these are actually necessary to complete the game, they make for some cool additions to your repertoire. The ability to throw your katana at an enemy mid-jump is one of the most stylish looking moves you can pull, and can be upgraded later on to telepathically call it back to you. Shurikens are useful for stunning nearby enemies, allowing you to land some easy kills, and the holographic projector will redirect enemy attention long enough for little breathing room. The short-range teleport often feels like the most useful though, as you pass through the fire of automatic weapons unharmed and knock down whichever hapless goon you land on.
Unfortunately, by the time you reach Ronin’s midway point, you’ll have seen almost all of what it has to offer. A few different enemy types mix up the formula and require an extra move or two to take down, but the whole experience quickly starts to feel repetitive. The mission objectives seem to consist exclusively of either ‘find some computers’ or ‘assassinate the man.’ Inconsistent checkpoints don’t help the matter, often forcing you to replay lengthy sections, or triggering just before an alarm is sounded and you fail a secondary objective. Such issues can of course be addressed in between now and the game’s final release (helpfully described as “SOON-ISH” on the store page) but no amount of technical troubleshooting is going to fix the repetitive nature of Ronin’s design.
£9.99 is a hefty price tag for something that feels like the kind of in-browser flash game you used to get for free on Newgrounds.com, but there’s enough content here to last players a good five to seven hours depending on how fussed they are about side-objectives.
If the idea of Ronin’s turn-based, ‘pause, jump, kill, repeat’ gameplay has piqued your interest, we’d strongly suggest downloading the demo on Steam, to see if it’s really worth shelling out the cash for.