Devolver Digital brings us a turn based action stealth game by the name of RONIN. Where you play a biker helmet wearing ninja out for everyone’s most favorite of favorite refreshing plots *drum roll* REVENGE.
RONIN kind of apes the gameplay of Gunpoint and Mark of the Ninja and the style of Kill Bill and Klei without making anything too fresh or remarkable on its own. I hate to say it but it’s kind of easy to dress up an assassin in black, obscure their face and say “Okay, now they kill people” while it’s harder to give them any kind of real heart or compelling premise to play the game. The premise promises something cooler than what we actually get. When I say it’s Gunpoint, it’s Gunpoint, breaking into buildings, estimating your angles of attack and jumping in for the kill. Only RONIN adds a turn based mechanic that could work in theory yet fails in its execution.
I’ll put it this way, there’s not a lot going on under the hood of a soapbox car, so when you push it down the hill you generally expect it to work. There’s not a whole lot to RONIN’s controls, you can move with WASD, then select your angle of jump with the mouse. Jumping is the bread, butter and main course of the game, almost every aspect of play is built around leaping from point X to point Y or pouncing behind an enemy for a quick kill, so I would expect the one serious element of gameplay to be the smoothest aspect.
Sadly it isn’t. The controls were a fickle mistress, and I can safely say I lost lives just as much to a glitch in the controls as I did poor planning. The game will transition from real time to turn based if you encounter bogeys, and it was often in that switch the game would feel sloppiest. Sometimes a jump might invert my controls or make them generally unresponsive, which meant I would have to fight with the mouse to get the Ronin to land exactly where I wanted her. Other times my input wouldn’t register at all, or it would register briefly and switch somewhere I wouldn’t want to go last minute, which would often leave me open to enemy attack and a quick death. Even outside of the turn based gameplay, trying to navigate a level could get to be a chore. Having to double click, sometimes triple click, to find your way into a building or atop a ledge, failing, then having to set up your jump all over again made for a tedium that turned me off.
When the game did work there were a few neat things you could do. A skill tree gives you a couple of slick ways to kill enemies or an easy ‘oh shit’ button to quickly clear out of an area if you get caught. Following in the foot steps of games like SUPERHOT and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, RONIN goes with a “one hit and you’re dead” style of gameplay that requires you think a situation all the way through before you even dip your toe in to dance. Red lasers from enemies will show you their bullets general trajectory, and you have to use your next turn to get out or get got. While I wish this made for some complex brain ticklers, with the game’s problems it became more a case of trial, error and luck. Trying a bunch of things until it worked, getting frustrated with the game and controls, and keeping your fingers crossed you could safely navigate a situation without the controls knocking you off your swagger.
There’s a tooltip that explicitly tells you “This is not a stealth game, kill everyone”, and while I understand their tooltips were meant to be ‘comedic’ that felt flat out disingenuous. Stealth is heavily rewarded, while louder approaches are often punished, I felt like it was more punishing to break stealth in this title than it is in games like say Metal Gear Solid, Arkham and Assassin’s Creed. This is because the only way to earn skill points is completing each and every single one of a stage’s optional objectives, and those objectives often require no alarms be raised, which means you have to either be quick or quiet. It was also way more beneficial to silently take down enemies before alerting a room to your premise lest you try to dance through a hail of lead.
There’s really nothing in terms of a story. Just a long list of people to kill. The game attempts to be stylish but, I feel it’s all too easy to go for a stylish assassin aesthetic while also having no real soul or heart. Hotline Miami works because the masks are a metaphor for the lead’s fragmented personality, Kill Bill’s Bride we watch an underdog slowly gaining her strength and confidence. With Ronin I could be anyone, I could be Mario, I could be Sonic, it doesn’t really seem to matter. While that’s fine and characterization does not always a game make, this title is what you call all style and no substance. The style is good though. The graphics are clean, the lighting is nice and it’s got a hip soundtrack.
However with a basic broken control scheme there’s nothing here I can recommend in good conscience. If there was something, anything else worth pulling your attention, a story or truly stunning graphics, more complexity in combat despite the controls, I may just be able to suggest you pick this up. As it is its strongest feature is also the one paid the least attention to. It is possible they could make it better through patches, and then maybe it will be worth your money, for the time being I would say skip this and dedicate yourself to either Gunpoint or Mark of the Ninja.