For Bulwark Studios’ first outing they have presented us with yet another endless runner game for the iOS, but this one has a feudal Japan theme to all of the randomly generated endless action. In Rōnin (out now, $0.99) you take control of a masterless Samurai as he endlessly roams the countryside, helping out the local peasantry and slashing down random ne’er-do-wells along the way. As a delightful change of pace from what is the common order of business for 99% of endless runner titles available in the mobile market, Rōnin is – in fact – absolutely devoid of IAPs to heckle and harass your trials and tribulations.
The game’s controls couldn’t be simpler with a sideways slash for striking out at your enemies, an upwards slash for leaping, a downwards slash for sliding across the floor, and a double tap for activating a special move after you’ve collected enough spirit orbs. All of these controls are flawlessly implemented, such that you will never find yourself believing that your defeat was due to Ronin refusing to correctly register your touch screen input. It’s a good thing too, since many of the enemies in Rōnin – in order to be safely defeated – require two-step snap-reactions that need to be carried out practically a split second after they appear on screen.
With this array of moves you will slash away the more run-of-the-mill trouble makers, slide under the attacks of archers and armored samurai, and leap upwards to slice open the throats of Japanese ogres. During all of this feudal dicing action there will be random tasks assigned to you by the villagers that you pass by, with bonus points awarded if you can successfully complete said request. For the most part these boons asked of the hero will either take the form of collect this item, avoid that item, slash some specific object, or – most annoyingly – lose the ability to use your special skills for a while (no, seriously, they simply lock it).
As you run about endlessly forward – cutting down everything that dares to step in your path – you will slowly gain experience points, eventually leveling up when enough are collected over the course of multiple play throughs. Leveling up will not increase any stats in a typical RPG fashion, but it will instead award you with a single skill point that can be used to unlock different special attacks – of which only one can be active at a time – or to purchase passive enhancements. As the various skill purchases generally cost more than one skill point to unlock/upgrade, and there is no feature to ever unpurchase an option once it has been taken, players will have to be judicious about which order they acquire skill menu enhancements.
Speaking of the game’s menus, Rōnin has an extremely high tendency of crashing back to your iOS device’s desktop whenever you’re trying to do something in any of the game’s various menus. Thankfully this crashing doesn’t carry out to the gameplay proper, but it still very frustrating when an attempt to spend skill points involves having to restart the game three or four times before you are successful. Do remember that I was conducting this review on an iPod Touch 4th Gen device, this issue may not exist on all supported iOS platforms that Rōnin is currently available for.
The look of the game itself is appropriately rendered in an art-style that intentionally pays homage to classical Japanese art scroll designs, except far more vividly colored, and contains a variety of very detailed backgrounds for the hero to run by. The game’s animation nicely compliments the theme of fast paced one-hit kill Samurai swordplay, although on the flip side this does mean there’s only a split second warning before the opposition itself strikes back. A particularly nice – although purely cosmetic – touch is that a random note is played on a Shamisen every time you navigate through any of the pages in Rōnin’s menu system, or make any selections.
Now for the less than happy to deliver news that must also be stated, as competent as the design of Rōnin is – the constant menu crashes notwithstanding – the novelty of the game wears off rather quickly. After a few run throughs you will have experienced everything there is to see in Rōnin, and the game is lacking that certain spark – which the truly great endless runners have – that makes you desperate to try it again. The key culprit is probably the extremely harsh difficulty that starts out the second you begin the game – done intentionally to keep in line with the split-second reaction samurai swordplay theme – that means no matter what skill options you purchase you will almost assuredly die brutally fast every time you play Rōnin, usually to one of the archers that can attack a split second after they appear on the opposite side of the screen.
iFanzine Verdict: While it’s nice to see a beautiful looking endless runner – with competent controls – be released completely free of an IAP scheme, Rōnin’s charm quickly wears out shortly after you start playing. This is largely because of the extremely quick speed with which every single enemy in the game can attack – especially the archers – resulting in it being far too hard to make any progress, even if you do get the ‘Slow Motion’ passive skill as the developers recommend. Add on top of this the constant crashes that will happen every time you try to navigate any of the game’s menu systems, and you have a game of massive potential that didn’t quite make the cut.