Survival gameplay grows up in our review of Ninjatown: Trees of Doom

The survival genre has provided iPhone gamers with great fun over the past few years. Whether we’re talking about early releases like Doodle Jump or Canabalt or recent successes like Superfall and Above, traversing great distances until you just can’t go any further has become a staple experience on the iPhone. But while all of these games are precious, they’re also incredibly simple. Success is dependent less on skill and more on luck. Come across the wrong obstacle or miss the right platform and its game over. But what if the survival genre could be something more? What if it could be built on challenging gameplay instead of luck and repetition?

Ninjatown: Trees of Doom retains the ‘how far can you go?’ nature of the survival genre, but it doesn’t do so at the expense of quality. So many other survival games prefer speed and simplicity over actual gameplay that it’s frankly astounding that we’ve never questioned it before. Ninjatown takes things a little slower, and in doing so gives you a chance to encounter a variety of challenging obstacles that rely on skill and timing rather than quick reflexes alone.

 Trees of Doom  Trees of Doom

Wee Ninja is looking to impress Ol’ Master Ninja, his mentor, by scaling a pair of trees. The little ninja can start on whichever tree he chooses and jump to the other whenever it’s warranted. Come across an impassable purple sap? Jump to the tree on the left. See a mushroom you’d like to bounce off of on the other side? Jump to the tree on the right. The basic mechanics in Trees of Doom should take no more than a minute to master.

Things get more challenging the higher you climb, with new obstacles and resources appearing the further you go. On the lower levels you’ll encounter the occasional devil floating between the trees or a few purple sap flows here and there. After a few hundred feet you’ll find devils hiding in the trees with muskets. Higher up than that, you’ll face some that are looking to poke you with spears, and then you’ll encounter fireballs from a volcano. At regular intervals, Ninjatown: Trees of Doom throws new challenges your way so that you’ll always have something new to work around.

Learning the different patterns and timing of enemies is one thing, but you’ll often encounter a variety of obstacles clustered together. You may use some mushrooms to bounce through a sap maze only to land in the path of a floating devil. Or you could be flinging yourself from branch to branch only to end up in the middle of a pack of spear-carrying devils. None of these situations are unavoidable – you’ll just need to play smart if you want to get through them.

 Trees of Doom  Trees of Doom

The visuals live up to the Shawnimals style, offering not only cute and cuddly characters but great animations and lively environments. If you’ve ever experienced the Shawnimals brand in any fashion, you won’t be disappointed by what you find here. The style may be too saccharine for some, but we’re head over heels with the adorable designs of Shawn Smith.

The controls are simple to learn, but they can also be a little uncomfortable to hold. The game is played while holding the iPhone vertically, and you’ll tap your thumbs on the left and right sides of the screen to make the Wee Ninja climb and jump. If the screen were horizontal it wouldn’t be a problem, but when vertical you need to scrunch your hands up a bit to hold things correctly. Most vertical games only require one hand to play, but you need to wrap both hands around the device to make the best of Ninjatown, and it just feels awkward. It’s not a major issue and it shouldn’t lead to hand-cramping, but it’s definitely the one weak spot that Ninjatown: Trees of Doom has to offer.

Survival games are as addictive as they are simple, but sometimes we want something more. Ninjatown: Trees of Doom fills that void nicely. If you’re into game like Doodle Jump but desperate for some deeper gameplay, Trees of Doom is the next game you should put on your shopping list.