Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ninjatown Review

Ninjatown is a stealthily deep real-time strategy game, with a kiddy image on the surface. The visuals are simple, and the story is laughable, but once you delve into it, you will find that there are many variables to account for and surprisingly, there is a decent game to play.

The pacing of Ninjatown is almost perfect for beginners, but slow for veteran/older gamers. You start off with the sole ability to build a single type of hut, which produces two ninjas to do battle with the enemy. The next stage gives you a new ability, and the next stage gives you another hut to build, and so forth, with each new stage giving the player a single new ability or object to use, which is done very well and won’t overwhelm the player from the start with all of these options.

Once you’ve played through a majority of the levels, you will have all of the options and items at your disposal. The main items are ninja huts and modifier buildings, each of which can be placed in any empty square on the map. There are 8 different kinds of ninja huts, and 6 modifier buildings. Each different ninja hut produces a different style of ninja, who attacks in a certain way, while modifier buildings enhance the powers of the ninjas whose huts are touching these buildings. These modifications include increasing their attack power or defensive power, or some other benefit. Also, there are two main types of ninjas, which include your basic melee ninja and then your long-range ninja, who uses a slingshot, bow, or snow balls to attack. Each type of ninja has different stats and costs a different number of cookies, the currency, to build, so having a strategy is key, as you can’t just go about building random ninja huts. Also, you can upgrade any ninja hut you like, up to five times, which will increase that ninja’s stats. Once you have built your ninja hut, you can change the rally point of melee ninjas, to place them strategically, and then you can choose which enemies the ranged ninjas should attack first: closest enemy, weakest, or strongest. These options aren’t too important, although assigning rally points helps ninjas get into battle faster, but they have a given radius where they will go to attack an enemy, and they generally will.

Clicking a building or empty space brings up a menu, here's where you choose your task. You can use this for upgrades, seeing a building's stats, how much an upgrade costs, and the benefits it gives inhabiting ninjas.
Once you’ve mastered the building process, you will want to learn about your wand powers and tokens. There is a wand on the top left of the bottom screen, which acts as a meter that fills up as you defeat enemies. The wand is broken into 3 sections, and you can perform some helpful moves if you have enough magic. There are 7 wand moves overall, and they include giving you the ability to blow into the microphone to blow enemies a certain direction and using a magnifying glass to burn your foes to ash. Some of the other wand moves boost your ninjas, but chances are, you’ll find that some are more helpful than others. Then there are your tokens, which should be used sparingly, as you only get one after completely a level. There are 4 kinds of tokens, and they all negatively affect your enemies, from taking off some HP, to slowing them down.

Aside from the three above tools, you cannot control anything, besides a few gimmicks I’ll talk about later. This means that you can’t directly control what your ninjas do, which simplifies things a lot, but also causes some frustration. There have been countless times where you want specific ninjas to attack specific enemies, but because there are so many enemies on-screen at once, they will simply attack the closest enemies, or another enemy type which they cannot defeat, so they end up becoming useless. Also, it can happen that your ninjas go into battle earlier than you would like, resulting in numerous enemies slipping away and then your ninjas won’t go after them, and things of that nature. This generally isn’t that big of an issue, but it would have been nice to have a little more control.

The top screen features an overall map, so you can always what's happening. You can scroll around the map via the d-pad or touch screen. All the action takes place on the bottom, touch screen. Each hut houses two ninjas, and has it's level shown via ninja stars. In the upper left corner is the wand, when click you can view wand abilities. The token would be in the top right corner.
The levels are set up fairly simply, with a path set up through the level. This path starts off very simple, with only an entrance from which the enemies come from, and an exit to which they are trying to go. Conveniently enough, the enemies cannot stray from this path, but your ninja allies can, and the spots in which you can place buildings is of course along this path, or very close by. Levels become more complex and have winding paths and things of that nature, and eventually, there will be multiple entrances and exits from whence enemies come and leave. You start with 10 hearts in each level, and you lose one heart for every enemy that makes it to the exit. The pacing for these changes is a little strange, but fairly on target. The game starts out easy, while slowly getting more difficult and complex, but then has a handful of really difficult levels, afterwards going back to a lot of easier levels, and then getting more difficult, which is odd. Luckily, Ninjatown throws a variety of levels at you, while constantly changing the environment and introducing unique elements.

The game is divided into a variety of environments, each with 4 levels to play through. The environments don’t really change the way in which the game is played, but it does give you something different to look at, and some areas contain unique enemies, as well as some interesting gimmicks. For instance, one set of levels feature cannons, which you can set off whenever you like simply by tapping on the fuse. Other levels feature out of reach enemies which you must defeat via your wand abilities, and almost all of the last levels in each area feature a boss enemy which deals out devastating blows to an area and has a lot of HP. There are some other level types, which require you to protect a structure, and other such things, which are good for a varying the gameplay up and keeping things fresh, which the game also does by giving you those new abilities, ninjas, or enemies every level or so, so there is always something new to explore.

The enemies in the game vary, and include around 12 types, plus those big boss enemies. Every time a new enemy appears, or any new thing, Consultant Ninja will pop up and give you some stats on the enemy/item; you can also check the Consultant Notes at any time via the pause menu to read up on any and everything in the game. Anyways, there are your standard enemies, and then your bigger enemies, and then some flying enemies, some of whom actually attack, and then some unique enemies, like the splitters, zombies, and forest enemies, which do some interesting things, such as splitting once attacked, or poisoning your ninjas and even turning them into zombies!!! If a ninja does die, after ten or so seconds, he will reappear from the ninja hut, and there is no way for the enemies to attack ninja huts, so you don’t have to worry about that. Also, the enemies vary in difficulty, ranging from 1-5, which is told before they come so you can prepare yourself both mentally and by upgrading your ninja huts.

Cannons can be used when your ninjas can't reach certain enemies. There's really cool level that features pirate ships and enemy pirates. Darn ninja/pirate rivalry...
Overall, Ninjatown is a really decent real-time strategy game, especially for younger gamers. There were only a few levels that gave me any real difficulty though, making me replay them countless times, until they said, “You should try easy mode”, and I did; however, once you become better and get more items to use, you can replay levels and go for a higher ranking. There is even some multiplayer you can play around with for more entertainment. The pacing of the game is great and there are lots of ninja and enemy types to use and fight, and because of the pacing, throughout the first half of the game, you will see something new each level, which keeps you interested in hopes of getting something cool the next round. The story is pretty kiddy, but the dialogue gets a few laughs here and there and it most definitely doesn’t take itself seriously. The graphics are simple, but nice, and you’ll love having your wee-little ninjas beat the crap out of everything. If you are a fan of the genre, then this is a great game to pick up for the DS.

Overall Score: 7.9/10

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