Unbalanced and chaotic
Whether you’re into the “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” fighting approach, or you’re perhaps more of a “crouching tiger, hidden dragon,” it’s safe to say that when it comes to being a ninja, your fighting style needs to be swift, controlled, and tight. You’re not going to be around for very long if you can’t dodge a simple shuriken to the face.
Mobile ninja-em-up Nakama fails miserably to provide the sort of control that is required of a Shinobi warrior, while also piling on a rather confused difficulty curve, and action that is more a rambling bar fight than a well-implemented meeting of blades. There’s style here for sure, but the gameplay itself needs a massive overhaul before it will approach anything that can be deemed entertaining.
You are the last Shinobi of your village, and nasty enemy ninjas are looking to make sure you don’t survive much longer. As you run to the right, each level consists of a couple of screens of generic ninjas to take out, before a slightly more tricky boss battle.
Nakama‘s controls should be relatively simple. You’re provided with A and B buttons – A slices, while B jumps. Hold A and you’ll get a mega slice, while double-tapping B makes you rush through the air. You can also use a combination of A and B to slice through the air too. Sounds great so far – but in practice, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Enemies will run at you, while flinging their shurikens and ninja powers in your direction, and the game quickly degenerates into a button-bashing fiesta. The main move at your disposal is to hold down A, wait a second for the move to charge up, jump over any missiles heading in your direction, and then release A as you approach an enemy. In fact, this is pretty much the only move that is worth bothering with, and even this doesn’t completely suffice in many situations.
The problem is that as enemies come into contact with you, they’ll instantly start knocking you back and hurting you over and over again. You’ll actually get stuck inside them and have to keep hammering the jump button until you manage to break free, at which point you’ll have lost most of your health. It’s not too big of a deal at first, but by the time you get to the later levels, death-by-stickiness is really frustrating.
What makes the situation worse is that it’s incredibly difficult to make out who you are at times. You save companions at the end of each level, and they will battle alongside you until they die. This is fine, except that suddenly there’s a flurry of four, maybe five ninjas jumping and slicing all over the place, and suddenly you’re dead because you had no idea who you were.
The difficulty levels go up and down wildly too. I had massive issues with the fourth level, and had to restart it over and over again. I then proceeded to blast my way through levels five and six rather easily. Hilariously, I realized that if I simply hid at the side of the screen and let my companions do all the work, grabbing health every now and again to keep them alive, I could beat the game a lot more easily. Indeed, not playing Nakama is the best way to play Nakama.
So the main spectacle handles badly, is poorly balanced, and just not much fun at all – plus, it’s rather short, with a single playthrough lasting 30 minutes if you’re lucky. The Ghost Forest mode has the potential to raise Nakama above this noise, but this too has its own issues. It’s an endless battler in which you and the companions you’ve saved in the main game take on dark creatures for as long as possible. You’re able to collect cash from dead enemies and use it to buy upgrades and health, potentially keeping yourself alive for longer.
This is a lot more fun than the main game, as it becomes more of a hack ‘n’ slasher, with mayhem and destruction going on all around you. Unfortunately, since the level itself stretches off the screen, you can barely keep track of which of your friends need help, and getting to the shop in time to save some of them is nigh on impossible. Once one friend falls, they all begin to drop like flies rather rapidly – and the difficulty curve is extreme, meaning that you’ll last no longer than two minutes at best.
What you can say for Nakama is that it has style. The pixelated visuals are pretty, as are the whooshing blade swipes and varied backdrops. The soundtrack is pleasant enough too.
Nakama‘s issue is with its unbalanced gameplay and awful controls. It may well be possible to turn this title around and fashion it into something enjoyable, but that would require massive overhauls to a number of the game’s core mechanics. As it stands, Nakama isn’t an experience I can recommend.