Ronin is a 2D single-player platformer developed by Polish independent game developer Tomasz Wacławek. It was published in June 2015 by Devolver Digital, which also brought us great indie blockbusters such as the two iterations of Hotline Miami, Broforce, and The Talos Principle.
Since the start of the we are not presented with much about the story of the protagonist of Ronin but rather with some facts that are gradually revealed in dribs and drabs. We know that she’s seeking revenge against five prominent figures of a powerful corporation, that she is skilled in martial arts, wields a katana and rides a motorcycle. And that she won’t stop at all until she’s had her revenge.
The scenarios are 2D-cutaway labs, skyscrapers, and secret bases and our nameless heroine will have to infiltrate them in order to complete a series of objectives. The game is divided into five chapters. Each chapter consists in three stages. Two of them consist in gathering info about the next boss and the last stage always consists in facing said boss.
While the developer Tomasz Wacławek claims Gunpoint as his main inspiration for this game, Ronin is a distinctly different game. The similarities reside in the 2D-cutaway scenarios, the neo-noire atmosphere and the heavy use of physics, but everything else is radically different. While Gunpoint is more puzzle-oriented, Ronin is more about killing and violence. Another similar game is Mark Of The Ninja though that one lacks the turn-based battles’ action.
The protagonist moves through the 2D stages using WASD controls. She can jump at varying angles using the mouse buttons and the mouse movement to aim. She also can use a grappling hook to reach further walls or ceilings or to swing from one building to another. Secrecy is the key to success, so you will have to try to avoid spotlights or getting sighted by guards. There is an issue when jumping from one platform to another, the player character may end up landing in an altogether different place, completely passing it by. While the game acknowledges that “the jump arc is a lie“, I still don’t know whether this was intentional or a programming hiccup. There is no pleasure having to replay a stage because you missed a carefully calculated leap.
When the moment to fight comes, the screen freezes and you have to plan your next move along with countering your enemies’ actions. These turn-based battles are what set Ronin apart from other games in the genre. All it takes to kill our heroine is a single bullet or sword strike, so dodging enemy attacks is crucial. While assaulting a single enemy may be simple, engaging many enemies at once becomes a struggle for survival. You will have to carefully decide your strikes and your dodging actions in order to be successful. This form of combat is totally refreshing and hasn’t been seen before.
While the main goal consists in gathering intel about the next boss or facing them and killing them, there are also three optional objectives that consist in not triggering the alarm, sparing the civilians and killing all enemies. One may be tempted by simply completing the main objective and neglecting the others, but each stage in which the secondary objectives are completed will yield precious skill points that can be spent to increase the arsenal of the protagonist’s abilities. Completing the stages thoroughly will equip the protagonist better in order to deal with the tough enemies of later levels. Abilities such as throwing the katana and calling it back and raining shurikens on your enemies are fundamental in later levels against hordes of vicious enemies. I found an issue with the way of leveling up the protagonist. In later levels, it’s nigh-impossible not sounding the alarm, let alone killing all enemies. Having more weapons on the arsenal means deadlier, stealthier ways of dealing with your enemies. But at first you have to make do with jumping and slicing. That makes Ronin into an excruciatingly difficult game. Another issue is the lack of a manual save feature or the ridiculously low amount of checkpoints. While in some parts the game encourages us to take out enemies silently and one by one, messing up during one battle means we will have to fight all of them again. This leads to heavy frustration.
The 2D graphics and minimalistic visuals were perfectly developed and look great. Ronin features some neo-noire cyberpunk-ish aesthetics that somewhat reminds me of The Matrix or other futuristic science fiction films. The enemies look great too, they range from generic looking agents wearing suits and ties, carrying pistols and earpieces to samurai robots and SWAT police officers. I only wish they had devoted more creative work on the protagonist in order to give her more personality. She looks like a washed-up version of Beatrix Kiddo or “The Bride” from the Kill Bill films. The sound effects are OK though they tend to get rather repetitive on longer gameplays. The music alternates from smooth to frantic according to the situation you’re into and it sounds… perfect.
The secret formula of Ronin combines several ingredients well-liked by gaming fans on their own, but that are rarely seen put together. The cyberpunk-ish visuals, the gorgeous minimalistic 2D graphics, the good ole’ revenge story, the stealth action and the turn-based battles put together an enthralling game that can reward us with several hours of fun. While it still has its issues, they are nowhere near to being deal-breakers. Definitely go with this one.