‘Ronin is not a stealth game,’ the help popup tells me. ‘Just kill everybody.’ So I do. Leaping from floor to ceiling, I sweep across the room and back again, cutting through enemies. An entire room full of gun-wielding guards, now dead—and all in the equivalent of about 15 seconds.
Ronin is about visiting violent vengeance upon your enemies. Your targets are, one by one, circled and then crossed out on an old photograph. The implication is that you are the little girl pictured, but your motives remain unclear. It doesn’t matter why—Ronin is about simple, uncomplicated, satisfying revenge. You must kill these men and women, no matter the cost.
The fifteen missions to eliminate the five targets follow a similar formula: two levels of murder-fun and computer hacking, and then a level of murder-fun and target execution. And what glorious murder-fun it is. During the turn-based combat, a combination of leaps, grapple-swings, flying kicks, and pauses allow the protagonist to dodge between the storm of bullets and cut down the armed guards one-by-one. There’s a rhythm to be discovered: dodge, kill, dodge, kill. Leap between bullets, kill an enemy. Leap away, throw sword into another foe.
At their hardest, the encounters take on a puzzle-like quality; finding the safe spots and avoiding the various types on enemy attack while maintaining a feasible position from which to attack is not always easy. But the satisfaction gained from pulling off an impressive manoeuvre—intentional or not—cannot be overstated. A dramatic leap turns into a lethal sword toss. The landing, precariously ducking under machine gun fire, gives me an opportunity to use sword recall, which—somehow—makes my sword fly back toward me, skewering a second guard. Pop a decoy, grapple-kick another guy out a window. Ronin is full of moments and combinations of moments that fill the player with a sense of dominance.
‘Hint: you can’t turn off the hints,’ the game tells me. Beneath the mass murder lies a peculiar wit and sense of style. Indeed, Ronin is billed as ‘stylish’ and the futuristic, dystopian setting only lends credence to the sense of power: the motorcycle helmet-wearing, leather-clad, ninja girl protagonist delivers (presumably) justice in a future-punk setting before cruising off on a motorcycle. But perhaps the most pointed example of developer Tomasz Wacławek’s sense of humour is the elevator sequences. Riding in the elevator, jingle-playing, as you pass the bodies of the slain only reaffirms the sheer talent and determination of the heroine.
Perhaps the biggest downside is its length. My playthrough of Ronin clocked in at just over four hours, including a few particularly difficult sections that slowed my progress considerably. It is, however, not sparse; Ronin certainly doesn’t feel unfinished or skimped on.
Ronin is not a stealth game. The self-confessed Gunpoint rip-off is a frantic, physics-defying, blood-spattering, minimalist tale of revenge. It culminates in a superb final level, offering two equally powerful endings. And while its length might leave you craving more murder-fun, it does offer a new game plus: go destroy your enemies all over again, in style.
This review was originally published at Impulse Gamer.