Did anyone else watch Ninja Assassin? Duuuude! Ninja creeping in and out of the shadows, getting the drop on unsuspecting punks and ruining their holidays with a katana clean through the jaw line. Brutality at its finest!
Not gonna lie -- the movie itself was shit. The action pieces were great, though. Totally makes you want to flip out and kill your entire neighborhood with a twenty-foot boner while wailing on a guitar. Not bad for a film starring Korean pop sensation Rain.
As a result, I've been on a bit of a ninja kick lately. I've been looking around, hoping to find something juicy to slake my fascination with the shadow arts. So I thought to myself, could there possibly be a game starring a kickass shinobi duo that personifies the tenets of ninpo? If that's not possible, can I just get Strider with a pair of tits as a bonus?
OFFENDER: Run Saber DEVELOPED BY: Hori Electric RELEASED ON: SNES, 1993 TASTES LIKE: Strider
I guess I spoiled the surprise, huh?
Run Saber was developed by Hori Electric, a company with an impressive résumé consisting of a vast spectrum of hallmark titles dating all the way back to... pffffft! Naw, I joshin' ya! It only made two games before dissolving into the ether. At least, I think that's the case. I can't find shit about this crew.
In the oddly specific year 2998, Dr. Gordon Bruford develops a miracle mist that, once launched into the atmosphere, will cleanse the Earth of all pollution. Surprising no one, the mist instead turns humans into psycho Hellspawn. Turns out the good doctor knew what would happen all along as he declares himself king of the mutant freaks. Mankind's last hope rests on the shoulders of three ninja-like cyborgs known as Run Sabers... oh snap, one went bonkers and turned evil. Don't you just love sinking billions in malfunctioning techno-shit? So... umm... two! On the shoulders of two Run Sabers!
Better cross your fingers.
HOW SHAMELESS IS IT?
I must admit I never got past the first level in Strider at the arcade. I would always find the machine up in a Pizza Hut or somewhere and pop in a quarter with the misguided impression that this would be my day. It never was. My experience with the game therefore comes from the sequel on PlayStation and YouTube playthroughs of the original.
With that in mind, I feel safe in calling Run Saber the long-lost twin brother of Strider. You run through five levels across the globe, scaling up walls, gripping to ceilings, and sliding across floors while slicing through your enemies with a blade that travels in an arc similar to Strider Hiryu's Cipher. I'm happy to say that unlike some other cases of mistaken identity, this game is every bit as solid as its source material.
There are a couple of minor changes to the experience. You are not allowed to spam the attack button like Strider can but you do possess the ability to jump kick directly beneath you or at an angle on either side. You can also curl into a spinning ball of death not unlike the Screw Attack from Metroid. Finally, each of the two playable characters can cast an ultimate attack with an elemental affinity -- lightning for the male, Alow, and ice for the female, Sewa.
Aside from that, Alow and Sewa differ only in how they perform a basic attack -- Alow swings directly in front of him exactly like Strider while Sewa swings at a slightly upward angle. It isn't a game changer, but I prefer being able to have some range above my line of sight. Gives me a little extra oomph, know what I mean?
The major difference from Strider is the co-op mode. Two players can team up to take down Dr. Bruford and his horde of mutated scumbags in a display of acrobatic finesse and elegance. Unfortunately for me, I had no one to play with. As I wept for my loneliness, I convinced myself that the experience couldn't possibly be that much different with a partner. Besides, now I can play as the woman and stare at pixelated boobies in the comfort of solitude.
What? I'm a very lonely guy! Don't fuckin' judge me!
Let's redirect the conversation towards bosses. Yep, this game has 'em. Some crazy ones, I must say. Right at the end of the first level, you ride atop a fighter jet, battling this tumor-like protrusion that morphs through the hull as the plane spins around like one of the Blue Angels. Totally badass. You also run into Kurtz, the fire-affiliated rouge Run Saber, at sporadic points during missions, just to keep you on your toes.
There are a couple of curiosities that don't break the game or anything but nonetheless made me feel uncomfortable. First to the plate is the run ability. Your normal walking pace is quite decent, but you can speed it up if you're looking to rush things a bit. However, the animation cycles for both are identical, so instead of running you appear to be speed-walking. Sorta reminds me of how I walk when I'm shopping in Walmart and I want nothing more than to grab my shit and get the hell out as soon as possible.
Second to the plate is the direction marker that appears next to your health meter. Run Saber is a very linear game where the paths you must follow are clearly laid out. Regardless, there is a persistent arrow floating overheard that tells you exactly where you need to go. It will even tilt as you are walking up and down inclines just in case you thought you can be clever and clip through solid ground.
You know, there have been "keep moving" arrows in previous games that only pop up when you have cleared a room of enemies and are granted permission to progress, but it isn't a constant event. It's not like the game is holding you by the hand, leading you every step of the way. That's how playing Run Saber feels like; I find it very condescending. Christ, it's as bad as when your GPS tells you to keep driving straight down the interstate for the next 300 miles. Well, no shit! I've only been driving on the same road for the last four hours! Big fuckin' mystery!
All in all, Run Saber is a fairly simple game. It may not be easy by today's standards but it is a lot easier than Strider, and that's despite how the game throws you into the action without a full bar of health. I've never been a big fan of games that give you a big-ass health gauge but don't bother to top the thing off before handing you the reins. However, it doesn't seem to be much of a deal here once you grow acclimated to the controls and start picking med kits and 1-ups all over the place.
There doesn't seem to be much else to say about it. It's a nice Strider wannabe that unfortunately ends way too quickly, but during that time you are treated to some decent slicing and dicing. I wish I could say it was a steaming load of shit balls, but it isn't. It satisfied my ninja fix. What more could I ask for?
Since I still have space to fill, I might as well spiel more about ninja. More specifically, I wanna talk to you about the greatest ninja the world has ever seen.
When you really think about, Strider and the Run Sabers are totally not what shinobi are all about. Oh sure, they satisfy the cinema and video game ideal of badass ninja killing machines that run around and wreck shit, but they lack that one oh-so important cornerstone of ninjutsu -- STEALTH. These cats are not stealthy at all.
Check out that motherfucker above. You think he's a good ninja? He is a terrible ninja! Running around in broad daylight, severing limbs and leaving a mess wherever he goes? Shinobi are supposed to act discretely, are supposed to drop in out of the shadows, leave their mark, and get to steppin'. Ryu instead makes damn sure that people know he's around. He attracts a crowd just to show off whatever bloodstained toy he happened to pick up in his travels.
This isn't ninjutsu! Are you kidding me? It's an ostentatious display of bravado that has no place in the world of espionage and assassinations. Thank God he at least wears black and not something loud and attention-grabbing like an orange jacket and golden blonde hair.
Yeah, like that. This guy would do well to shut the fuck up now and then. It's kinda tough to get the jump on your enemies if every time you step into a room you start screaming, "I'm here! Look at me! I'm gonna save the day! I need attention! I need third-party acknowledgment! I need my Ritalin!"
I've always been impressed by real-world kunoichi who rather than skipping across rooftops would don disguises to fulfill their duties. One would dress up as a seemingly harmless geisha or servant, get close to their targets, and fill their cup with poisoned wine. Nothing like the big-breasted sluts you see in anime and manga, mind you.
That got me thinking -- men would be far more effective ninja if they appeared deceptively non-threatening. Maybe one could be a heavyset, bumbling man who employs visual gags to mislead his enemies. Unlike Narutard above, he would be seen as fat comic relief rather than an obnoxious loudmouth who needs to be silenced as quickly as possible.
Then I remembered this guy and that thought of mine went right to shit:
Just look at Robin Shou over there, ready to beat the bejeesus out of his agent for fixing him up with a supporting role under Chris Farley. Really, I think Robin Shou should beat his agent on principle. The man is far too awesome to be continually cast in half-assedvideo gameadaptations.
No, if we wanna find the greatest practitioner of the art, we'll have to look elsewhere. We can't look to film, we can't look to games, and we can't even look to history. No, we'll have to look to literature to find this model of excellence. This is a man whose skills in deception and stealth are second to none. He is so elusive that most don't even believe he exists.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the greatest ninja of all time:
YES! Yes! Don't fucking look at me like I'm crazy! You know it's true! Yes, you do!
Look at that guy, so pimpalicious. You just know he's concealing a sword in that cane of his. And that outfit! His clothing may not help him sneak in the shadows but it allows him to vanish into any crowd of colorful characters in the blink of an eye. Blending into any environment is a far more impressive feat than lopping off limbs with an oversized reaper scythe.
Oh, you think you found Waldo? You think you found him? Are you forgetting a particular scenario in a certain book in which he visits a land populated entirely by doppelgängers? Perhaps you need reminding. Gaze upon absolute futility and despair:
He is also a man of many names. Here in the States we know him as Waldo, but around the world he is known as Wally, Charlie, Walter, Willy, and so on and so forth. His myth is so awe-inspiring that each culture has assigned a different title to his persona. He is not a man but a motherfuckin' force of nature.
Your God has failed you. You will never suspect his arrival. You are no more prepared for his divine justice than a fly is prepared to be caught in the spider's web. He is the lion and you are his prey. Don't fight it. One day he will come for you. Make peace with your earthly relations because your Deity has already severed His ties with you.