Like a great deal of boys, I went through a very intense Ninja period. The adolescent turtles certainly helped my obsession, but everything about the shinobi just screamed cool. From Ninja Gaiden to Wrath of the Black Manta, there were tons of games to help fuel that interest, many of them instant classics. The vast majority of them ignored the stealth aspect of ninja, and instead ramped up the sword swinging and shuriken throwing, blending a traditional action game with a very compelling character archetype. With Aragami – a new ninja game on the Nintendo Switch, both stealth and bloodshed are compelling options, but does the game live up to the weight of the genre expectations?
The game puts you in the role of Aragami, an undead ninja assassin, brought back from the grave by Yamiko – a girl held captive and in need of your help. You are a master of stealth, able to blend into shadows and to control them, to ensure that you can hide from your foes. That shadow control also extends to killing enemies via a variety of interesting tricks, and teleportation – a mechanic that is so damn refreshing in a stealth game, I’m shocked it took this long. You are not a warrior, you can’t stand toe to toe with any of the enemies holding Yamiko, so you are forced to use your wits and your dagger to open a path to move on.
As a premise, this felt very well fleshed out. I will say that there seems to be a bit of a problem with telegraphing some of the later story beats, so I’m not sure if the writers truly trust their audience, but for the most part – this is a compelling tale. I wanted to get deeper and deeper to uncover the small snippets of memory I unlocked, and to see if everything was actually as it seemed.
From a gameplay standpoint, I have good news and bad news. The stealth? Very engaging. The shadow as hiding place is pretty standard for stealth games, but the teleportation to adjacent shadows is fantastic. No more stumbling around an entire level to see what the guards walking paths are. Instead, just jump from shadow to shadow to get a good read of the layout. This is how I spent the majority of my time playing – total stealth/S level Metal Gear-esque, never being seen, never killing anyone.
I can’t express enough how nice that jump is. Slowly inching your way through an entire level, only to find yourself stuck in a dead-end with an enemy walking towards you? In most stealth games, you’re screwed. This opens up a dynamic move that can extend a level, and keep you in the game longer.
The fact that this relatively non lethal path exists is great, as it’s far more rewarding than the kill em all, or even kill some of em style offered. Aragami’s sword/long knife thing is not for head to head combat, so there’s still a great deal of sneaking around. With the enemy able to one hit kill you, and managing to stumble upon every single corpse I left behind, that sneaking gets old quick, as alarms and aware enemies make your shadow jumping far more hazardous.
The other issue I had with the game is that it feels very slow. Not in pacing or in story, as most stealth games err on the side of plodding, but in the actual controls. I didn’t feel like my abilities and agility were up to snuff to what I think of as a hidden assassin. Perhaps a minor quibble, as your undead ninja is slowly creeping through an occupied town undetected, but one that was jarring at first.
Graphically, this game pops. The Switch frame-rate has some moments where it chugs, but the cel shading and art style are all very well done. The graphical indicator of whether or not you’re hidden or visible – is your character in color or black and white – is so simple and easy to understand that there’s never a moment where you’re unsure of your detection level. Also the color choices – a very rich red and black for Aragami himself – makes the otherwise dark toned game stand out.
It’s not perfect, but it benefits by being one of the only stealth games on the Switch, and there’s something very engrossing to stealth gameplay while on the move. It’s a solid entry, and worth the entry cost.