Ninja Guardian Isn’t The Next Hokage

Review of Ninja Guardian on XBLIG: Try
This interesting fusion of top-down shooter and jumping platformer challenges you, but leaves you wanting more.

Ninja Guardian is an inventive little arcade game. This interesting fusion of top-down shooter and jumping platformer challenges you, but leaves you wanting more.

As odd as it sounds, Ninja (yes, that’s his name—”Ninja, the Ninja Guardian of Earth”) controls like a top-down shooter with gravity.  There’s no jump button once he first leaves the ground.  To continue his ascent, Ninja moves from platform to platform, each one boosting his vertical speed as they fall out from under him. (It’s what the ninjas in Naruto do when they run anywhere.)  Enemies impede Ninja’s progress if hit or provide a small boost if attacked.  The limited-use shuriken shield and double-jump powers provide the last resort for a ninja falling to his doom.

Arcade mode provides 2 campaigns (with 5 and 3 levels respectively) and 5 difficulty levels.  These simple vertical ascents are punctuated by boss fights, which provide variations on the leaping mechanics.  Additionally, there are 6 Endless levels (including a pirate ship), where the goal is to earn a high score.  The gameplay is simple but well-done, with randomized levels and nice touches like a level progress meter.

The game’s downside is that it’s short.  Given the 5 difficulty levels, that’s likely by design.  I blazed through the campaigns on the default “Ninja” difficulty.  I got stuck on the third level of the next difficulty, “Ninja Assassin,” but never felt the “so close—just one more try!” hook most arcade games have.

The art style is interesting, but left me with mixed feelings. The game screen appears as a three-paneled painting with a sliding door animation. It’s a clever way to show a narrow vertical playing field on a wide screen.  The textured reproductions of well-known Japanese woodcuts give it a clean and familiar cultural look and feel. That made it a bit jarring when I found out the story is about a cartoon ninja defending the environment from an evil, chlorofluorocarbon-wielding samurai warlord.  In addition, the heavy use of canvas texturing looks neat at first, but it quickly began to wear on my eyes.

Ninja Guardian gets a hesitant Try.  It felt short and repetitive to me.  (To be fair, it’s in the same way that Pac-Man could feel short and repetitive.)  I found the gameplay solid, novel, and somewhat entertaining, so I can’t justify giving it a Skip. The Trial’s 8 minute time limit will show you most of what it has to offer.  If you want more, it’s a good value for the 80 point price tag.

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