Ninjamurai Review—Ninja-Ninja Moves!
Ninjamurai can trace its roots to a lot of action-platformer games of the past. The guys from Open Emotion Studios must be SEGA fanboys, because this Mini is something like a combination of Shinobi and Sonic the Hedgehog. Shinobi’s similarities with Ninjamurai stem heavily from, well, the whole ninja thing. Sonic’s influence can be seen mainly from the game’s frantic pace.
However, it would be a disservice to Ninjamurai if I just reduced it to being like Frankenstein’s monster. The game as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The game art itself clearly separates Ninjamurai from further comparisons. Its multifaceted combat scheme is a soaring highlight. Indeed, there’s a lot to love about this Mini, and a lot to hate, too.
The story: you play as an outcast on a quest for revenge against a corporation, with a female voice on a radio (or phone) guiding you. Such a pretty generic narrative backbone, but, thankfully, enough to get the game going. Characters in this game are as flat as its animation, so if you are going to need a good story to have the drive to play the game, prepare to be disappointed here.
You control your ninja-samurai hybrid hero in high-flying action that features levels of nonsensically juxtaposed floating debris. The level design is surrealistic, ridding itself of structural logic. But, this is not a fault, as the level design is excellent. Some people may find it archaic that you don’t have a map for guidance and that the next pit you are jumping to may mean death. But, Ninjamurai is more focused on exploration, anyway, fast-paced exploration.
Combat takes a back seat slightly in this game; though you can, in fact, opt to kill everything that moves, it is better for you to zoom past everyone. The game does feature an achievement system rewarding both approaches, killing everyone and killing none, so it largely depends on how you roll. Again, evading enemies is the better path to take, because of one mediocre gameplay aspect: visual cues. More on that later.
Ninjamurai offers reflexive combat options. By pressing the right shoulder button, you can change your stance; one stance allows you to use stealth (by pressing Triangle), but you are bogged down to slow one-hit blows when you attack (by pressing Square) in addition to slower movement. The other stance allows multiple finesse attacks but at the expense of your energy (if the energy is full, you can unleash some special attacks by pressing Triangle). Pressing O allows you to throw kunai, which are not stopped by any form of solid objects except human flesh.
Returning to visual cues, this game has none. It’s acceptable to me that there are no blinking arrows signaling that the pit I’m about to dive into leads straight to death, but during combat, the only visual cues you have are blinking sprites and the tame blood splatter when your enemies explode upon death. During combat, I have a hard time telling, did I hit the enemy or did the enemy hit me? There are no visual cues. The sprites overlap, and the animations are clunky; thus, you don’t know who’s hitting whom. The game art is incredibly well-done, unique, astounding and detailed. Sprite animation, though, is not impressive; it’s limited and awkward.
The controls are erratic. They’re too slippery, so that you unintentionally drive your character toward spikes again and again on your first playthrough, though you can (and should) adjust as long as you keep playing the game. Some people might find this control scheme irritating. Still, while the game tends to hurt your fingers with its frenzied action, the platforming action and the exploration (there are secrets and such buried in levels) are downright excellent. It’s too beautiful for you not to ignore the suffering.
There is a lot of content in this game, like grades for every level you complete, stats-tracking, sound test (the music is as outstanding as the game art, as you would expect from these developers), and additional content. Completing Story Mode unlocks Survival Mode. Time Attack unlocks levels with your progression in Story Mode.
Ninjamurai is one of those Minis that boast lots of value in such a bite-sized format. Though there are flaws (and bugs), it is such an amazing, original title that it’s irresistible. This game is a great shout-out to the past, but it does have a voice of its own.