Everyone loves ninjas. Don’t love ninjas? Well, I’m sorry to say it, but a ninja has already killed you for thinking negative thoughts about it and you don’t even know it yet. Luckily, those of us who do love ninjas are not only rewarded with the sweet joy of not having our head severed from our spine, but also with the latest must-buy DS title: Ninjatown.
If Ninjatown looks familiar, that’s because it’s created with the same art style as the popular toy line created by former gaming journalist Shawn Smith, Shawnimals. Much like Shawn Smith himself, though, don’t let the cuddly, friendly exterior presentation of Ninjatown deceive you, because inside lies a pure cold-blooded killing machine which won’t hesitate to end you for the simplest mistake.
Alright, it’s not quite that dramatic. In fact, if you’ve played any tower defense game in the last two years, chances are you’ll be right at home playing Ninjatown. The game is a straight up DS variation of the new genre – only with ninjas.
As you could probably ascertain, the purpose of the game is to keep monsters from getting from Point A to Point B by building ninja huts (aka towers) along their path in order to impede their forward progress. Starting out, you’ll have only the most basic of ninja troops: the Wee Ninja. These ninjas are the lowest form of ninja in Ninjatown, and are your most basic line of defense. As you advance through the game, new ninjas become available for use, and new monsters show up in the fun-filled waves. Each ninja in Ninjatown has a specific role; the Anti-Ninja is the bruiser, Sniper Ninja takes down air forces, etc.
Unlike most tower defense games, all of the fighting action on the map is conducted between your ninjas (two per hut) and the monsters. Ninjas are brave, proud people; they won’t hide in towers flinging arrows and fireballs at enemies. Despite the appearance of the game and the fact that it’s on the DS, seemingly attempting to reach out to casual gamers, Ninjatown is by no means an easy game to beat. The later levels are as hard as anything you’ll find in similar titles, and often more so. You’ll need plenty of cookies later on to build your defenses to ward off the monsters.
That’s right, cookies.
In case you didn’t know, cookies are the main form of currency among ninjas, and replace the cliché and tacky gold-as-currency format so many games employ. In this game, though, cookies are so much more: they’re the MacGuffin of the entire game.
Yes, the gameplay in Ninjatown is fun and addicting, but the true stars are the characters, the writing, and the story driving it. It seems the town is under attack by Mr. Demon, who wants to invade Ninjatown to steal the ninjas’ valuable cookie recipe. It’s up to Ol’ Master Ninja to save the day by foiling his plans, so off into his hot air balloon he goes to organize and strategize against the invading demon forces. It’s a simple story, but as you clear stages and are introduced to new characters and bits of dialog, the game’s charm really starts to grab you.
There’s plenty of humor in the writing and in the characters. From Zombie Ninjas to Business Ninjas (and that cowardly Mayor Ninja), there are types of ninjas in this game that I didn’t even know existed. The best part? They’re all awesome. The people behind the writing aspect of the game did a tremendous job delivering a humorous product which goes just far enough to not topple over the edge of trying too hard to be funny.
Beating the game’s single-player mode won’t take too long, so it’s a good thing the multiplayer is a fun and refreshing take on multiplayer in the tower defense genre. Instead of pitting players against each other, you’re each given a town to defend and a wave of monsters to stop. The player who stops the wave first wins; the losing player loses a heart of their life. Run out of hearts, and it’s time to say sayonara. It’s a simple format, but an effective one which adds substantial longevity to the title.
Oddly enough, while the presentation is the strongest aspect of the game, it also houses two of the weakest: the level of graphics and the DS’ top screen. Looking at the game is fun and the art design is fantastic, but the fact of the matter is that Ninjatown could have come out on the NES and looked exactly the same. A lot of handheld games look dated, but this looks it even more than usual.
As for the top screen… It’s just perplexing. One half is filled with a mini-map showing the action going on in the battle below, and the other is just a picture of Ol’ Master Ninja floating in his hot air balloon, watching. It offers nothing in terms of gameplay, and taking up half of the top screen results in the map being squished and often times too crowded to read. It would have been a much better choice to use that space to expand the map, but it’s too late now, I suppose.
Even with those two issues, there’s no denying that Ninjatown is a fantastic and refreshing game. Underneath the sickly adorable exterior lies one of the most entertaining strategy games on the handheld market. It features memorable characters, engaging gameplay, and a fun multiplayer mode; do you need more? Your friends may laugh at you when they see the screens on the back of the box, but hand them your DS and I guarantee they too will fall in love with it. For fans of strategy games, tower defense, or ninjas, Ninjatown is a must-buy addition to the DS library. Now I can only hope that the game manages to make it to its target audience despite the overly cute and deceiving cover art…