Devolver Digital, the publishers of Hotline Miami and the recent Titan Souls, are now publishing a new indie title by the name of Ronin. Developed by Tomasz Wacławek, Ronin has you playing the role of a vengeful ninja lady who is trying to assassinate the five top members of a powerful corporation. In addition to having a misnomer title, Ronin is a turnbased 2d action platformer with minor stealth elements that feels incredibly satisfying to play. Despite the game being in early access, Ronin seems like it is almost complete in its mechanics, level design and enemy variety.
Since Ronin's paper-thin story can be boiled down to "This person is one of the heads of this corporation, I must kill them," what makes separates this game from the rest is its mechanics.
Movement is limited to moving with the left thumb stick or WASD and jumping with the mouse or right thumb stick. When out of combat, the player can move freely in real-time. When combat begins, the game becomes turn based. The turn order always remains the same: Player's action is first, then each all the enemies attack together.
The combat in Ronin is completely based around the player's position relative to their opponent. Where the next attack will be is revealed before the player moves, so the challenge is using jumps or the grappling hook to avoid enemy fire. Jumping and grappling are done in arcs, adding a bit more difficulty in knowing exactly where the player will be when shots are fired. The player must re-position themselves until they have closed enough distance to strike an enemy, most of which die in one hit.
Enemies do not necessarily fire at the player and often don't come close to actually hitting. Most of their shots are actually designed to cut off points where the player might move to and end their turn. This makes the actual positioning difficult when closing distance between enemies, as it is fairly common to reach an enemy only to find three lasers pointed at where you would land if they kill them.
Ronin's combat system does an excellent job of taking something that would be difficult to do in real-time and putting it into a turn based system. As is common with many games published by Devolver Digital, Ronin gains its difficulty from its one hit kill system. Having a one hit kill platformer where all the enemies attack at the same time would be much harder to make work smoothly. The battles become extremely tense as groups of enemies increase in size in the later levels of the game, as does the level of satisfaction in defeating them. Because of well placed shots, the player must survey their options to find a spot where they won't get killed that turn, which is not always possible.
Right now there are four types of enemies: regular gunmen, machine gunners, future samurai and civilians. Regular gunmen fire one shot per turn, and reload after several shots, which takes them two turns. Machine gunners lay down a barrage of fire for two turns in a row and then must reload. This fire also continues during movement periods, making them the most predictable enemy type but also cutting off paths of escape. Samurai have a dash attack and no guns, but must be hit twice before they die. They also will kill the player if they jump too close to them. Finally, civilians add a stealth aspect to the game because they can cause the player to fail two bonus objectives – do not kill civilians, and do not raise the alarm. The only time that stealth is even considered necessary is around civilians, as most attacks tend to begin with the player breaking through a window.
Ronin's objectives are virtually the same in each level. There are two main objectives – either "hack X amount of terminals" or "kill X target." There are also three bonus objectives – "do not kill civilians," "kill all enemies" and "do not raise the alarm." The bonus objectives in Ronin are very important because to get a skill point, the player must complete all three bonus objectives in a level. These skill points can be spent on upgrades that can be found on a skill tree between levels.
Because of the one hit kill system, none of the upgrades are passive "add X% of Y to Z" type upgrades but are new abilities that can be used in battle. These abilities range from decoys to stealth kills, to throwing and later recalling your sword. The addition of these add a whole new layer of depth to the combat, as well as adding possible ways to even the odds before the battle begins. The only problem with the upgrades is that some of them can be extremely unbalanced to the point of being broken at times. An example of this is the stealth kill ability, which I managed to take out entire floors of guards unnoticed at one point without really trying.
One important thing to point out is that Ronin is short and lacks level variety. There are a total of fifteen levels with two separate endings, "sad" and "happy," which depend on whether the player makes it through the final mission alive. After beating these five sections, the player unlocks new game plus, where they have access to all the abilities if they didn't have them already. I was able to get through the entire story line in around five hours, and at least one to two hours were added to that time due to my lack of skill. However, a game being short does not necessarily make it bad. Even though the game only took five hours to finish, it was a good five hours that felt well spent. Ronin's mechanics managed to keep me interested the entire time and I felt satisfied at the end of the game.
The real problem is the actual level variety. There are five sections of three levels that all amount to the same thing – levels one and two involve hacking into X amount of computers to locate the boss, which is killed in level three. The only replay value that can be found in Ronin is its new game plus mode, which might not be enough to satisfy people who purchase the game.
As of the writing of this preview, Ronin is a game that completely relies on its mechanics and level design. Its plot is nothing more than "These people betrayed me, I must kill them all," and none of the characters are particularly interesting. However, where the game begins to shine is in its combat system. The turnbased, position-focused system is reminiscent of games like The Last Federation. Both games play out pre-made combat choices to make real-time battles, which makes combat into intense turnbased battles. This game comes recommended to those who are into mechanics-based strategy games more than story driven ones, as the back story is pretty much non-existent. The real drawback can be found in its length and variety of objectives, as fifteen fairly short levels with almost identical objectives might not be enough to satisfy all players.
Ronin is currently in Early Access on steam and is set to release for $12.99 sometime in June 2015.
Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the developer.