The latest PlayStation VR game is a futuristic ninja simulator that manages to stay acrobatic without a hint of nausea.
There’s a peculiar dearth of games that put you in the soft shoes and black pyjamas of a ninja. Not that it’s as rare as cowboy games or titles that seek to inspire emotions other than rage and greed, but it’s still sufficiently unusual to make Sairento VR stand out. It even goes a step further by making you a techno ninja with blades, throwing stars, bows, and a selection of shotguns, automatic, and plasma weapons.
It’s also not shy about getting you moving, something many VR games do their best to avoid. Rather than sitting around waiting for enemies to come to you, in Sairento you’ll be making liberal use of your character’s multiple jumps and wall-running – or wall-plodding if you’re being ruthlessly honest. Experienced VR players will find the motion, turning, and leaping aren’t even remotely vomit-inducing with the game’s optional blinders turned off.
To introduce you to its controls and weapons systems, there’s a 10-mission single-player campaign, which kicks off with a tutorial to show you the basics. That includes both parkour and weapon handling, in which you dual wield swords and guns, so you can have two blades and two pistols or a mixture of both. Or you could opt for submachine guns and a bow, or swap your katanas for plasma swords, sniper rifles, or shotguns.
This lets you adapt your loadout and play style to match the challenge you face in each level. In practice it’s not that complicated, and you’ll find your natural mode of attack and favourite weapons, whether ranged or melee, are usually fine. But the variety and player choice is welcome. You’ll also find all weapons are unlocked from the very start, so you can experiment to your heart’s content right from the off.
Your key offensive and defensive move, though, is manoeuvrability. Your continual jumping allies with an optional slide along the floor on landing, during which you can slash or shoot enemies nearby for extra style points. There’s also a short distance dash you can use to wrong-foot opponents or to get behind someone about to unleash hell in what used to be your direction.
Level design respects your leaping abilities, so platforms and bridges abound, giving you ample space to hop and dash around enemies variously armed with swords and projectile weapons. You’ll need to make full use of each level’s verticality, because waves range from a scattering of lightly armed antagonists to groups of extremely fearsome ones, which, especially at higher difficulty tiers, force you to do more than just stand there waggling your sword around and emptying guns at them.
After each mission you’ll see how you scored and also what relics you’ve earned. Those act as buffs and are added to individual weapons and pieces of armour. As you level up, you’ll also unlock skills and perks to make your ninja increasingly invincible, the game’s role-playing elements adding a refreshing sense of progression that’s especially useful given its defuse structure. Unfortunately, none of that’s even mentioned in the tutorial, so you’ll have to work it out for yourself.
Alongside the five-ish hour campaign, there are individual missions, challenges, and multiplayer modes, although we found the latter very hard to find populated matches. Each level also has five difficulty settings in addition to its tier level, with escalating rewards for the harder ones – giving plenty of reasons to go back and play them again. And while you’ll eventually see all the scenery the game has to offer, the randomised selection of enemies helps keep things fresh.
With so much going on, it’s inevitable that Sairento (it means silent in Japanese) would have its weak points, and these are mostly down to its limited budget. Everything looks fuzzy and light on detail, even on a PS4 Pro, its graphical style evoking fond memories of PlayStation 2 and its voice acting reminding you of the earnest ineptitude of a sixth form drama society.
The accidental comedy doesn’t stop there though. In combat hilarious volumes of gore spring from the bisected corpses of your victims, and you’ll regularly find bloodied torsos being flung around its arenas as you tear through enemies with twitches of your trusty plasma sword. Maybe it’s the sheer quantity of blood or the lo-fi graphics, but it looks amusingly unrealistic rather than disturbing.
With its heady profusion of half-explored ideas, incorporating loot boxes and daily login bonuses like a free-to-play, along with role-playing style upgrades, first person shooting, melee weapons, parkour, a campaign mode, and multiplayer, Sairento’s saving grace is that it still feels fantastic to play. As you power up your ninja warrior and get used to the game’s controls and acrobatic style, you’ll find yourself pulling off spectacular, completely un-scripted John Wick-like bullet time multi-kills, prevailing even when catastrophically outnumbered.
Sairento VR is a diamond in the rough, but because the action is so engaging the lack of polish never takes centre stage, its many distractions, mission types, and upgrade trees conveniently diverting you from its technical shortcomings. If you’ve ever wanted to feel as though you’re in The Matrix, dodging bullets and laying waste to dozens of would-be assailants with a nonchalant flourish, this is the nearest current technology allows.
In Short: The world’s only cyber ninja simulator is distinctly rough around the edges, but never lets that get in the way of some gory, chaotic fun.
Pros: Wide choice of guns, swords, and throwable weapons complements an abundance of level types, and some of the finest and least nauseating parkour you’ll find in VR.
Cons: Muddled structure, PlayStation 2-esque graphics, and sub-Resident Evil voice acting are clear signs the game was made on a shoestring.
Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Mixed Realms
Developer: Mixed Realms
Release Date: 5th July 2019
Age Rating: 18
By Nick Gillett