Forget saving the world or surviving post-apocalyptic wastelands: Haven’t you ever wanted to protect the most supreme Ninja Star cookie recipe from the likes of business demons that drink too much coffee? Or would you like to prevent the walls of a Ninjatown from falling so that the Ol’ master ninja can get on with his scrap booking? Then, Ninjatown may be the game for you! Ninjatown is a quirky DS game developed by South Peak games that couples strategy, “tower” building with silly, surrealistic humor.
Combating demons consists of building a variety of different ninja huts with different wee ninja units, ranging from strong, slow anti-ninjas to wasabi-pea-shooting sniper ninjas. These huts are set up along particular paths that demons will attempt to penetrate. A spiritual cousin of the tower defense game, each hut produces one or two ninjas with powers that will automatically engage oncoming threats. Little offense is player controlled so that the element of difficulty and strategy comes from building huts in optimum locations and upgrading appropriately for oncoming waves of enemies. Just these elements alone provide for frustratingly challenging levels and dynamic strategic opportunities.
The stylus is used to move around the map and select and upgrade huts. A larger, aerial view of the map displays on the top screen while the player is forced to navigate zoomed in on the bottom. This is the only issue with the controls: navigating the map with the stylus proves erratic and unstable. For movement, I had to resort to the D-pad and not being able to switch to a less zoomed view proved irritating when trying to see the “big picture” of the battle field. Where the DS really shines is in Ol’ Master ninja’s abilities. At any given time, Ol’ Master Ninja’s staff is gaining power with every demon slain. As his staff fills, any number of abilities can be utilized. One power consists of using the stylus to point an arrow in a particular direction and then blowing into the microphone to generate wind in that direction, successfully forcing demons back. Another power requires you to yell into the microphone to “wake” your ninjas up, increasing their speed and health. These more active, offensive actions manage to increase the variation and quirkiness of the game without being gimmicky. And trust me; you’re going to need them.While the front of the box may scream kiddy, be aware that underestimation kills. The first few levels and districts were no sweat and I started wondering about the catering of portable games to younger demographics. However, shortly into the fourth district, I died for the first time, and soon after, the second time. Not upgrading huts to match the enemy level spells certain doom, and support buildings need to be built to increase the speed and abilities of the ninjas. A growing trend in poorly designed games seems to dictate that as a game goes on, one or two particular strategies will usually work. While a game will boast many different skills and abilities, a gamer will really utilize only a couple to get through a game. Ninjatown specifically forces you to use all the weapons at your disposal to defeat particular maps. That means when they give you a way to stop time, you better be prepared for waves of quicker, stronger demons that you won’t be able to defeat normally.
As a DS game, Ninjatown succeeds impeccably with the fun, on-the-go element of portable play. Over the last couple of years, the DS has become the new “spot” where the older, RPG kids hang out, and though I don’t mind this, I rarely have the time or inclination to sink twenty to thirty hours of game play into a hand held. One of the tricks of a well executed DS game is quick pick up and playability. Games like Ninjatown and Elite Beat Agents create a symbiosis with the idea of portable because at any time, I can pick up the game, play a map or two while in line for the bank, and then return the drudgery of my life’s regularly scheduled programming. Waiting for class to start and need to burn a few minutes? A battle in Ninjatown can range from ten to twenty minutes, depending on difficulty level.
The graphics and animation are superb for the medium and mesh cohesively with the mood of the game. Nothing in the game takes itself seriously. Business demons are owls with brief cases and speed demons wear purple helmets. Because the design of the game is cohesive with the humor and game play, the cartoony characters don’t digress into tedium. In fact, the most alluring element of the game will be humor. In a game like “Portal,” the laugh factor is so seamlessly integrated into story that the game feels ignorant of its own sense of humor. This type of humor excels because it extends from the allure of reality. The environment is still believable; the characters and narrative are still rooted in believability. Ninjatown isn’t that kind of humor. The humor in Ninjatown is very much integrated for the sake of being funny. And it works. Working on a system of increasingly difficult levels to beat a finite amount of enemies before progressing to the next level is a very antiquated design of games; it smells of the sticky, cheetos smeared joysticks of an arcade. For the most part, games have moved beyond that kind of black and white level progression, so you need something else to propel you through levels. Ninjatown makes you laugh. Ninja Cookies are your “resources” to build huts, and you can drop baby ninja poop in strategic spots to slow enemies down. This is the kind of nonsensical, hilarious antics that make the game fun.
Overall, you can’t beat a game like Ninjatown for the DS. The graphics are 16-bit funny, and with elements of strategy and humor, the game doesn’t require more. So often, gamers become preoccupied with how a game looks vs. the overall experience, and Ninja Town blends the perfect arsenal of interactivity, challenge, and fun without overstaying its welcome. If you’re looking for a delicious cookie experience, or a snack on the go, Ninja Town is definitely the game to eat.
The presentation of humor and graphics works seamlessly with gameplay.
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Almost seamless. The inability to zoom in and out of the touch screen battlefield will be the only complaint.
The sound, though ninja-inspired and cohesive, feels a bit tacked on.
The grading system (A-D) for each level may have you trying to ACE the game, but there's little incentive for replayability.
Losing a few points here and there doesn't stop this game from being some of the most fun you can have on the DS.