Games Review: Aragami: Shadow Edition rewards patience with deeply satisfying stealth

Aragami: Shadow Edition is a rather clever blend of modern stealth elements and old school action-adventure. Its most obvious mechanical influence seems to be Tenchu: Stealth Assassins with a little of Splinter Cell‘s shadow cover thrown in for good measure. It adopts an animated look reminiscent of Okami. Indeed, like Okami, Aragami is steeped in Japanese folklore, leaning into the fanciful, supernatural tales attributed to the real spies of the Sengoku period.

It doesn’t lean on these influences, however, merely wears them on its sleeve. What I like most about Aragami is that it isn’t afraid to pare things way, way back. Stealth games, especially ones about ninjas, can become a mechanical quagmire if not handled properly, too many things happening at once. Aragami keeps things simple — you’ll be seen if you’re standing in the light, and you’re concealed if you’re in the dark. The shadows provide the energy you need to wield your ninja abilities, but you can only use a few of them before it will be depleted and you’ll have to wait a moment for them to recharge. Patience is a virtue — waiting for your moment, motionless, as a ninja might, is encouraged. New skills are drip fed to the player over the course of the campaign, keeping things from getting too complicated too quickly.

Aragami’s main ability, and by far his most useful, is a short-range teleport that allows him to leap instantly from shadow to shadow. It provides a massive boost to your overall speed, allows you to nip behind enemies for a quick stealth kill, and provides leverage for climbing to higher ground. It’s a cool mechanic and developer Lince Works makes the most of it. It never stops feeling useful or relevant the entire campaign, even as my moveset was fleshed out. If you’re clever and you’re patient, it’s the only move you need.

Levels start small and get progressively larger as the game goes on, gradually ratcheting overall complexity as the player becomes a more efficient ninja. Points and a rating from D to A are awarded at the end of each level depending on how well you did. The overall goal is to snatch your objective and depart the level without ever being seen. If you’re especially tricky and you can get out without being seen or killing anyone, your rating will be much higher.

Each level is designed in ways that let the player find their own path to the objective. It’s a quiet, disguised kind of linearity — there are a finite number of ways to get where you’re going, but you’re free to pick and choose between them. Those who like to poke around and find the most efficient way to complete any given level will find a lot to like there. Biomes move from Japanese forests to monasteries, full of winding paths and angled roofs that will keep you looking for places to land your shadow teleport.

My only real gripe with Aragami‘s transition to the Switch is that its controls in handheld mode feel a little uncomfortable. This has more to do with the Joy-Cons themselves and less to do with the game, but trying to get Aragami to perform his shadow step move in a hurry with that control config got me killed several times. I didn’t have any of these problems using my Pro Controller so if you have one available, I highly recommend it.

Aragami is a neat little package. Like its ninja protagonist, its approach to the stealth genre is practical and measured. When it works, it is as tense as it is satisfying, and embodies the best elements of its inspirations. Strongly recommended.

Highlights: Solid stealth; Compact level design; No Kill No Detection runs present a significant challenge
Lowlights:
Objectives sometimes unclear
Developer:
Lince Works
Publisher: Merge Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Available:
Now

Review conducted on Nintendo Switch with a pre-release retail code provided by the publisher.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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