It’s like Fruit Ninja, but with less fruit and more ninja.

Quick survival question: You are surrounded by ninjas in a bamboo forest. How do you defeat them? If you answered “Turn them into sheets of paper so I can shred them” then Paper Ninja is definitely for you. Even if that wasn’t your answer, Paper Ninja is still a very fun – though short-lived – experience.

The premise is as silly as all else, but this Fruit Ninja-style game is built with a little more dynamism in mind. All you must do is defeat the onslaught of ninjas before they reach you. Ninjas bounce into the fray as crumpled pieces of paper that unfurl as they get closer. Slash them at the right time and you’ll achieve a critical hit for extra points.

Although the ninjas flying at you are dispatched with a swipe of your finger, you can’t just randomly swipe willy-nilly. The ninjas can block your attacks, leaving you stunned and your attacks ineffective for a second. This added element of strategy adds a much-needed layer to what could have been a basic twitch arcade game.

With their cute beady eyes, these ninjas can block one or two sides of their sheet of paper. If you want that high score, your slash will have to be smooth and flowing like a river to dispatch them in order to achieve combo greatness. Of course, should you be surrounded by far more ninjas than you can handle, your sensei won’t leave you hanging for long.

Paper Ninja

Paper Ninja features some fun and useful power-ups. From stopping time to elemental attacks, these special moves are easily activated using multi-finger gestures once you have defeated enough enemies to fill your spirit bar. What makes this system great is, should you hit a level that is simply too challenging, just keep playing. After you defeat a certain number of ninjas, your sensei will appear (via unlockable achievement) to grant you a new mystical ninja power. This will give you the edge you need, allowing you to beat the level and progress.

Paper Ninja oozes ninja aesthetic. With mysterious pan flute music, paintbrush-style graphics and more cuteness than we can put into words, Paper Ninja definitely has a ton of charm. (Players should note that, on the title screen, there is an icon that looks like a bandage. Tapping this alternates between a bandage graphic and a splatter of blood when a ninja attacks you.)

As you play though Paper Ninja, there are a number of achievements and bonuses to unlock courtesy of OpenFeint. Online leaderboards are a nice motivator too. These are necessary because, as a whole, Paper Ninja is a pretty lean package.

It’s not that the gameplay isn’t fun, it’s just that there’s not enough of it. The Dojo and challenge modes aren’t really that different. The best mode by far is Ninja Salad, a timed mode in which you need to defeat ninjas as a combo without slashing anything else tossed in the air. Otherwise, it’s just wave after wave of the same style of enemy.

At time of review (October 24, 2010) there is a free mini version of Paper Ninja just in time for Halloween, appropriately titled Paper Ninja Halloween! This free download is a funny skin for the game, and a great chance to see if you want the full title.

Paper Ninja is a really fun, high-quality game. It lacks a bit in the quantity department, but for the price, it’s hard to argue against the charm and frenetic gameplay. Just be careful about papercuts.