When I think of the word ‘ninja’, my mind evokes certain ideas and associations. I think of stealth, shadows, darkness, subterfuge, deception, and silent kills in the middle of the night. Let’s be clear at the outset, this is most definitely not what Ninja Legends is about! In Ninja Legends you are an unstoppable one-man army, severing limbs and delivering death on an almost industrial scale. If Rambo was set in medieval Japan, it would look like this game. Ninja Legends is a wave-based melee combat game that sees you taking on hordes of oriental assassins and warriors with a variety of weapons and special ability power-ups. There is a story of sorts, but you really won’t care, basically, there is a singular goal, and that is to just kill, kill, and kill some more.
So this game won’t score any points for plot, originality, variety or for crafting exciting new ideas. But in this case, it simply does not matter. Do you like the idea of standing in a 360-degree arena with multiple enemies attacking you from all sides, all at once? Would you like to be able to parry their attacks and retaliate by slicing them in half, or removing the scalps of their heads? Would you like to do it at such a pace it rivals playing Beat Sabers BSMG’s Workout With Fantastic Flow music playlist on expert+? If so, then read on, because this game is for you!
Immediately upon playing this, I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the TV show Spartacus, where our eponymous hero is confronted with a host of heavily armored Roman soldiers, personal guards to an arrogant legate called Glaber. Here’s the scene below;
If you enjoyed that clip and would like to relive it well then rejoice as that essentially IS this game!
Before I get to the preparation a little bit about the gameplay. This is not a realistic physics-based sword game like Blade and Sorcery. In execution, it plays a lot more like Fruit Ninja or Katana X, in that you are slicing wave after wave of enemies, although here, unlike fruit they can fight back! When it comes to building an atmosphere I get a lot more pumped up fighting armed samurai than I do pineapples and watermelons so this visual choice works well for me. There is a lot of gore but it’s heavily stylized and certainly less disturbing than Blade and Sorcery, or even Asgard’s Wrath. Despite the blood, it’s fairly tame, although not completely child-friendly.
Combat is simple but satisfying. Enemies attack according to patterns, which you can parry, and then counter with your own strikes. Initially, it feels more like wild flailing but after a few goes you understand the rhythm more and it becomes a wonderfully choreographed dance of death.
The official trailer below provides a decent indicator of the action and how it plays.
I’ll discuss the mechanics more as we go on so let’s get to the playtest!
When preparing to play any VR game I always advocate for caution when setting up your playspace and guardian system. That is especially true for this game! Make sure you are well clear of televisions, mirrors, glass tables, etc as this game really will have you facing off in every direction, and once past the introductory levels the pace is both intense and relentless. You will be swinging, lunging, slashing and stabbing wildly so make sure you’re in a safe place and your pets, spouse and children are safely out of the way. I’d hate for you to kill a beloved family pet or black eye your wife and both scenarios are far less far fetched playing this title than anything I’ve played so far in VR.
You’ll certainly need to be sweat prepared. I’ve got a wipeable VR cover to replace the stock internal foam and I also wore a headband. I kept some water to hand, although safely away from my play area, and I recorded my session with my Fitbit Charge 2. For the first time, I also used the YUR fitness/calorie tracking app, available for free on the Oculus Quest via SideQuest, and that monitors all the calories you burn in a session. Check out our brief article here for information on YUR. If you’re interested in tracking your VR use for exercise YUR is going to be a very useful app for sure.
Ninja Legends vs BoxVR playtest scores
- Calories burned: 259 vs 226
- Calories per minute: 8 vs 7
- Average heart rate: 151 vs 147
- Max heart rate: 169 vs 161
- Steps:2534 vs 2718
- Active Minutes: 32 (9 mins Cardio 23 mins Peak) vs 32 (16 mins Cardio 16 mins Peak)
Let me say from the outset the intensity of the game really surprised me. I’ve played tons of swords and archery combat games in VR and indeed have reviewed several for this site. Ninja Legends is by far the most active and intense of them all. What it lacks in gameplay variety it makes up for in sheer consistency of action. If you’re looking for a hard workout for 30 minutes that you can scale to your own fitness level and skill ability this is by far the best weapons combat game I’ve tried so far that allows you to do precisely that. As you can see from my playtest results above this game got my heart rate higher than BoxVR which for me is the gold standard against which all fitness games on the Quest are currently measured. Aside from The Thrill of the Fight and Holopoint with a weighted vest, no game has got my heart rate up this high before.
YUR estimated my calorie burn at exactly 200, rather less than my Fitbit but still impressive. This may be because YUR doesn’t measure heart-rate but just movement, and my light body-weight of 140 lbs probably comes into play. If you are heavier you will likely burn more calories.
This is a great arm workout. The intensity of combat remains constant with no dips or downtime. All weapons are dual wield, or in the case of the staff requires both hands to use, and the workout is fairly symmetric. Unlike most sword games I’ve played this works both arms equally. The weapons variety allows for a variety of different motions, stabbing, slashing, punching, slicing, throwing, it’s all here and you can switch it up by changing weapons each level if you wish. It’s one of the most well-rounded arm and shoulder workout games I’ve experienced. Strikes require powerful swings to do damage as well, the more powerful you slice the more damage you do, resulting in quicker kills, essential when fighting multiple enemies at once. This is great as it forces you to work hard, simple finger waggling won’t cut it!
This is a standing room-scale game in which you are constantly lunging, parrying, dodging backward and turning in a full 360-degree range of movement. Your legs are constantly being utilized but I feel more could have been done here. Last year I reviewed Battle of Red Cliffs, a game stylistically very similar to this, and although the game overall was not as active as Ninja Legends boss fights often involved fighting giant enemies whose sword swings you had to duck underneath as they were too strong to be parried. This provided a great leg workout and I’d have loved some of that here. Nonetheless, provided you have the play-space you will be moving about a lot so a better leg workout than most sword games.
Core and Balance 7/10
Thrusting, lunging, parrying and slicing all work your core, especially as you need to activate your core muscles to stop your momentum from toppling you over when swinging your arms. Add to this the constant changes of direction and you’ll get a decent workout of your core and midsection.
Time Perception 7/10
Like all games, the game-play mechanics won’t be to everyone’s taste. But if you enjoy this type of combat time will go really quickly. It’s fast, frantic and intense and backed up with a great soundtrack and visual effects, with shouts of ‘double kill!’, ‘triple kill!’ etc, to motivate you. I found the time went by quickly. It’s tiring though so you unless you’re fit you won’t’ want to play for hours.
For such a simple game there is a lot of variety here and reasons to replay levels already completed. The various weapons, katanas, staff, claws, gauntlets all have a unique playstyle and you can replay any level with any weapon as often as you like. This mixes up the action and stops it from getting stale. Each level is scored and you can unlock stars, based on your performance. A perfect performance will get you three stars for a level and with 18 levels, multiple weapons and four different difficulty settings it will take a lot of hours and sweat to fully master the game.
Fitness Scalability 9/10
There are four difficulty settings, novice is easy enough that your gran could clear a few waves, whilst at hero level, even Chuck Norris would struggle to get all the stars! The harder the setting the faster the enemies, the more damage it takes to kill them and the quicker they can dispatch you. Honestly at the highest level for me, it was often a blur and I felt like a human helicopter so rapidly was I turning around whilst swinging to face my enemies.
This is most definitely a game that can grow with you as you get fitter and better at it, and therefore, much like Beat Saber, the core game-play retains appeal over time, being easy to pick up but difficult to master. By some margin, it’s the most fitness scalable weapons-based game I’ve played so far.
Lack of Nausea 10/10
There is no locomotion in this game, it’s a pure room-scale experience, therefore, you should not suffer any motion sickness at all.
Social Competition 7/10
The game is played single player but there are global leader boards and daily challenges that you can take part in. Considering how far down the leader boards I ranked on these it suggests the game is being played by a lot of people so plenty of competitive challenge if you want to rise to the top.
VRFI Fit Score 8.5/10
As a Quest title, I really like this a lot. Whilst I enjoy playing a range of active games in VR, the only games on the Quest I currently play specifically for a workout are Beat Saber and BoxVR, (at least until Thrill of the Fight gets released later this year!). This is because they are the only titles that can really get your heart rate up and keep it there for 30 minutes or so without a break. Well, now I can add Ninja Legends to that list. I love what developer Coinflip Studios have done with this title. They have kept it simple, focusing on the essential game-play mechanic and then added different weapons and challenges to keep it feeling fresh and exciting each time you play. If you want a sword-based fitness game this is currently the best available on the Oculus Quest.
Nonstop combat action gets your heart rate up and keeps it there.
All the weapons feel different to use and utilize different movements and muscles.
It truly takes advantage of the Quest’s untethered freedom.
Lasting value thanks to the range of difficulty settings, weapons, secret modes, and challenges.
Those wanting true physics-based combat may look down on the game’s simplified mechanics.
You need a LOT of play space to really enjoy it and appreciate it fully.
Ninja Legends is available priced $19.99 or £14.99 for both Rift and Quest on the Oculus Store, as well as for all PC VR headsets on Steam VR and Viveport. For Oculus users the game supports cross-buy.