Ronin wears its influences on its sleeve. On the one hand it is a revenge story against the five that killed the motorcycle helmet wearing protagonist’s father; a boss from what we can only assume from the minimalist storytelling to be a Yakuza gang. On the other we have a 2D platformer with similar mechanics to Gunpoint, with a mild focus on stealth, crashing through windows and killing all who stand in the way of vengeance. It’s an appealing concept, but sadly it doesn’t quite have the polish needed to deliver on its promise.
Ronin describes itself as a turn-based action platformer. In practice, this means that when in combat, every second of action takes the form of one turn. This could be jumping to a new location to avoid bullets, jumping on top of foes to disable them for a time, or stabbing them in the face. Combined with the mouse controlled jumping mechanics of Gunpoint, this should make for a refined platforming experience.
Across the fifteen levels, the visuals are sharp and vivid, using a futuristic Japan décor to pop out of the screen. Backgrounds are full of detail, while each character has a simplistic look that complements the style gone for. While the sound design isn’t anything to write home about, the music fits the aesthetic well, but sadly becomes too repetitive over the course of the game.
Each level has a main objective or two, usually gathering intel or assassinating a particular target depicted on an old childhood photo. They also have bonus objectives that stay the same in each level: killing all enemies, sparing the civilians and not triggering the alarm. This can get somewhat difficult to pull off as the game progresses, meaning that loading from checkpoints could be a frequent occurrence.
The rewards for beating levels with all bonus objectives completed are skill points that unlock invaluable tools and abilities. While the limit break automatically triggers after hitting/killing foes, other actions range from throwing the sword mid-air or deploying decoys to confuse foes in the more difficult later levels. For those wishing for a more silent approach, there is a rather unsatisfying hanging option. As the game frequently tells us, it isn’t a stealth game.
That is probably Ronin’s design flaw. It sets itself up for being a decent stealth game by having you scale buildings, swing across gaps, and hack computers for intel, but wants to also be an action platformer where taking on enemies head on is unavoidable. This means that latter levels, particularly one boss fight, become aggravating, time-sapping experiences that erode the fun completely.
Unfortunately, Ronin also has its fair share of bugs. Within the second level I found myself stuck within the floor, unable to get out, while at another point, a weird warping bug sent me from leaping towards my bike to a part of the level where an insta-kill electricity cable was right below me. The jumping controls also are finicky at times, leading to unwinnable situations. Combined with the steep difficulty curve, the bugs only lead to more frustration.
With a little more refinement, Ronin could easily have been an enjoyable romp. It certainly looked the part and in the initial stages was a slick action platformer, but by the time the game reaches its conclusion, there’s little motivation to continue. It may be short, but finishing Ronin feels like running a gauntlet by the skin of your teeth. The only kicker is, there’s no moment of euphoria afterwards…