Gunpoint by Tom Francis was a clever 2D stealth game that had a unique stop-start rhythm, and a clever central idea: pause the game and hack stuff to progress without killing anyone. It was of course more complex than that, with surprisingly deep puzzles that could be solved in many different ways, but it was fundamentally a game about avoiding conflict. Ronin might show some similarities to Gunpoint, but developer Tomasz Wac?awek explicitly tells you in one of the in-game tooltips that you WILL have to kill enemies rather than avoid them. “This isn’t Gunpoint” he tells us. And that’s great. Ronin is a different, stranger, and maybe even better game.
The set up is minimal. You see a photo with several potential enemies on it. They look like mobsters. And one of them is circled. It’s clear what you’ll be doing.
The really neat thing about Ronin is that you’ll be fighting against much better armed enemies. A single bullet will end you. But with your sword and your acrobatic ninja moves, you can carve your way through rooms full of opponents unscathed. You do so by clicking the left mouse button, which pauses the action and shows your potential jump trajectory. By jumping into enemies, you knock them to the ground where you can finish them with your sword. Crucially, when paused you can see where your enemies will fire their weapons. Navigating between the shots, you move from enemy to enemy, finding a route through the bullets. As you progress, you’ll fight more powerful enemies with skills to rival your own. Only by carefully planning your move will you be able to find the path through all those opponents to victory.
It makes for a strangely compulsive game that’s also really easy to play. The atmosphere is helped immensely by the synthy, spy thriller soundtrack helps too, which on occasion reminded me of seminal N64 classic Goldeneye at times, and the overall effect is a game that sucks you in and is utterly absorbing. Until you die. At that point, you’ll probably realise you were being too bold, and next time you’ll exercise more caution. After all, while this isn’t Gunpoint, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of stealth between the slaughter.