Never steal a ninja’s carrots
There’s nothing worse than a gang of samurai thugs who appear in your peaceful rabbit village and abscond with your stockpile of carrots. Seriously—rabbits like carrots! So if such an unthinkable horror were to actually happen, the good of your ninja rabbit clan at stake, what would you do? Why, you’d unleash the coolest sword-wielding cottontail since Usagi Yojimbo, of course. The ruthless Shogun Moe is to blame for the robbery of your beloved vegetables, and over five stages packed with plenty of enemy types, an exciting array of weapons to suit differing play styles, and tons of upgrades, Ninjin will stealthily slice its way into your heart and parts beyond.
The story of Ninjin is presented with lovingly crafted cutscenes courtesy of Brazilian developer Pocket Trap. The story is straightforward to the point that we don’t actually need them, but they’re a welcome addition to the overall package. Pocket Trap obviously has respect for ninja traditions and heritage (you even turn into a log when you die!) and has done a wonderful job in conveying the magnitude of the situation. In other words, there is no worse fate to befall a clan of rabbits than the loss of carrots, and for whatever reason, Shogun Moe is really serious about putting everything he can in your way.
Though early stages provide lots of frustrating moments as you adjust to the enemy patterns, gameplay mechanics are easily learned and unbelievably smooth once mastered. A virtual joystick allows the player to pitch up and down the playing field, while a virtual button handles your equipment: the sword and shuriken. A tap of the button slashes with your blade while a slide throws your razor-sharp projectiles. Perhaps the coolest part of this “button” is the ability to aim the direction of your swipe which translates into which direction your star will fly.
Enemies come at you from all sides, and a well-aimed ninja star is sometimes your best friend. The more you play, the more blades and throwing stars become available. New swords can cause elemental damage or even heal, and the new shurikens are particularly handy. Some automatically home in on your target while others explode. These upgrades and equipment differences not only serve to add variety, but they drastically alter the experience and encourage experimentation. Even better is that no matter how you choose to equip your character, the balance remains intact.
The charming, cartoony style of Ninjin perfectly accentuates the light-hearted fare. Not that the loss of carrots is anything other than tragic to a rabbit, but the bright art provides plenty to look at from the pixely backgrounds to the diverse enemy types. This melding of 8-bit awesomeness and kitschy toon art provides yet another in a long list of assets that all but announce Pocket Trap’s intense love of gaming. Indie developers often push boundaries and/or operate with profitability as an after-thought, thereby allowing them to create games that are truly special. Ninjin reaches the title of special within moments and then skyrockets past it with ease.
It is worth mentioning that Ninjin isn’t actually 100% free. It’s free to download and try the game out, but in order to unlock the whole thing, you’ll have to pony up that 99 cents. This may seem like a less than forthright means of hooking players (because it is), but really, the minimal price is well worth it when we consider the other modes that become available. Endless mode does just what it says by combining the same run-n-slash action of the main campaign with a healthy dose of the ever-popular horde-type gameplay and endless running. Boss Endurance mode pits you against the brutal masters of the Ninjin universe and is not only fun, but is good practice for the story mode.
Even after completing the game, there are still mini-objectives and achievements to unlock, all of which provide hours and hours of play. Ultimately, there is a whole lot of value here and it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see more games provide demo-like downloads. It’s a great way to see if a title is your type of experience and limits risking your hard-earned money. To be fair, we’re only talking 99 cents, but this may be disappointing to younger gamers who need parental permission or even just someone who picks up the title unaware that the bulk of the fun is locked behind a fee.
By lumping popular old-school elements such as enemy patterns and boss battles in with endless-runner style action and varying sword and shuriken combinations, Pocket Trap has wrought something special with Ninjin. This is all the more impressive when we consider it was developed by only two dudes with a serious love for indie gaming. There are many reasons to jump in your ninja suit and bring justice to Shogun Moe, not least of which is the curiosity wrapped up in what Pocket Trap might do next if given the chance. On top of that, you’ll have an excuse to play one of the most charming and well-executed family friendly games currently available. Though not without minor flaws, Ninjin is jam-packed with content and variety, and you definitely you need this.