Sadly, actually playing it opens up a couple of different opinions. Straight up, if you’re a fan of the intricate combos and gritty close combat of a God of War or Ninja Gaiden, then there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed by the system on show in Heavenly Sword. There are combos to learn, and there is a certain degree of strategy in the fighting, but for much of the game it’s a button-masher’s dream. You block and parry automatically providing you’re not actively attacking, and pummelling the square and triangle buttons is usually enough to unleash a constant wave of spectacular thrusts, cuts and slashes on your hapless foes. That doesn’t mean that there’s no complexity. Once you’re wielding the titular blade itself, the game opens up a range of stances – range, speed and power – which, when accessed via the shoulder buttons, enable you to hold enemies at bay or smash through the defences of your beefier opponents with relative ease. What’s more, specific enemies start doing attacks that can only be blocked when in a certain stance. The more the game goes on, the more crucial this becomes.
All the same, it’s hard to deny how repetitive and uninspired a lot of the action is. It’s not quite as dozy or formulaic as, say, a Dynasty Warriors or Ninety-Nine Nights, but there is a lot of battle this collection of goons, then move along a bit and bash the next stuff to wade through, and while it’s always absorbing, it’s not always all that thrilling. Some enemies or combinations of enemies demand a different approach, but these are relatively few and far between. Puzzles, meanwhile, are limited to opening doors by pulling levers, winding pulleys or throwing swords or shields at handily placed gongs. We’re not talking Tomb Raider standard, let alone anything more elaborate than that.
Somebody at Ninja Theory clearly realised that there was some potential here for monotony, so the hack-and-slash stuff is interspersed with some canon-firing missions featuring Nariko herself and a series of sniper challenges featuring Nariko’s archer chum, Kai. These, and many of the aforementioned puzzles, make copious use of ‘aftertouch’ – a first-person view of the fired or thrown missile where you can steer it to its objective by tilting the Sixaxis controller. Some will find this gimmicky or unnecessarily difficult and reach for the analogue stick steering option instead, but – personally – I thought it was a hoot. There’s just something about taking on a whole regiment of archers on your tod when you can take each one out in slow motion through a series of impossible, snaking shots.