It took about half an hour for the catchily titled Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke to get me. I felt okay alighting a train at Kingís Cross, but, standing on the escalator to the Underground, I suddenly found myself convinced that this slow descent was necessary, so that the next me would get down quicker. Not the most stable of thoughts. At Euston a lady got on (normal), sat next to me (less normal), and began to eat a yoghurt (a bit weird). I silently imagined the next her eating the tasty snack twice as quickly, thanks to her hard work (unfathomably weird).
I was losing my mind.
It makes a confusing sort of sense, though. When the princess, Mana-hime, is kidnapped, her father hires the ninja, Shipumaru, to rescue her. Shipumaru possesses a very special skill: he can create shadow-clones of himself every sixty seconds. When the sixty-second period expires, the entire level returns to its original state, the clock begins again, and the initial clone precisely repeats its original actions; there are effectively two Shipumarus running around, then three, then fourÖ
The most basic implementation of this mechanic comes with a simple switch; a staircase appears when the switch is held down but disappears if itís released, making it impossible to climb alone. Shipumaru must hold the switch down and wait (pressing the right trigger enables a cloneís life to be cut short, if theyíve done everything they can do). When the new Shipumaru reaches this switch, the clone will be there holding it down, allowing passage up the stairs. When enemies are encountered the teamwork takes on a new effect. While attacking with Circle will usually only remove 1HP from a boss, with five or six clones hammering away at the same foe, the mightiest of beasts can be slain within a minute.
Suffice it to say that it gets significantly and gloriously more complex than this. The player will need to keep track of seven, eight, nine clones at once, and these must be meticulously programmed to kill enemies, trigger switches, destroy obstacles, avoid traps, all in the right order, all to ensure the end of the level can be reached in time. There is a limit to the number of clones Shipumaru can summon, and the final one must have the ability to run from the very start, to the very end, of the level in one minute; once the clones run out, the mission is failed. This is perfect portable gaming. Got ten minutes to spare? Play a level with a limit of ten clones; itíll take no longer than ten minutes to complete, whether success or failure is the result.
Thereís a gorgeous art style at work, reminiscent of Okami in feel, if not execution. Screenshots fail to do it justice, and while the animation is often fairly basic, it works incredibly well and fits perfectly with the overall style. As Shipumaru travels a floor, the tiles he stands on are removed, revealing more of the beautifully drawn backgrounds. This is not just a nice effect, though, as each tile removed adds one point to a pool that can then be used to initiate special moves by pressing Square (special attacks can be scrolled with Triangle). Fire and wind attacks have their own specific uses, but perhaps of most benefit is a special move that allows a stone statue to be dropped on a switch, enabling the previously mentioned 'impossible' switch puzzle to be solved with a single clone.
The single-player game is split into two comprehensive modes, Story and Mission, the basic mechanics of which are the same. Story mode is where the princess rescuing happens, and offers a surprisingly deep levelling system with experience awarded based on performance in a level. This translates into skill points which can be used to buy extra attack power, extra speed, extra clones, or to power up special moves. With the focus of the mode being on massive bosses, itís occasionally necessary to replay completed stages to earn more skill points, but this is kept to a minimum, and is often an alternative means to defeating a boss rather than a necessary one. Bosses are so cleverly designed that in spite of the player having such a basic set of moves at their disposal, each boss has strengths and weaknesses, and a technique that must be discovered to effectively kill them.
Mission mode offers no opportunity to grind, giving the player a set number of clones with which to complete a level. If it canít be completed in the set number of clones, then somewhere thereís a corner to be cut, a strategy to be found, a weakness to be exploited. There's less emphasis on bosses in this mode (though they're present), and much more on puzzles. With a set number of clones available, levels are designed with the focus on getting the best out of the number of clones you have available to you. Missions are split into areas with seven levels apiece; new traps, enemies, and puzzles await in each new area, offering no opportunity for boredom, and leaving the player to always wonder in what unique way their clones will need to be utilised next.
Thereís one peculiarity in Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke. Due to the nature of the game you can sometimes find yourself in the strange situation of defeating a boss while being nowhere near it in the level. In these instances the death animation plays in your absence, giving the impression of a game that has crashed. Itís the closest thing to a flaw that the game has, but doesnít affect the enjoyment at all.
Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke has a mechanic that initially feels complex, but is actually very basic and easy to get to grips with. This could have led to a simple, repetitive game, but From Software have worked wonders to ensure this isnít the case. With levels introducing new gimmicks all the time, and epic boss fights constantly challenging players to think and use their skills in new ways, the mechanic never grows old, and offers an experience the likes of which hasnít been seen before.