Now You See Me, Now You Die!

(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played. Since then, one or more major critiques have been addressed by the developer. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original review score at the end of the article.)

This is the stuff memes are made of. It’s pretty easy to figure out why Immunity Studios decided to create a game about a ninja trainee with an overdone accent, who takes orders from a beret-wearing cow: it’s ripe ground for some of the most hilarious one-liners ever delivered on iOS. The skeleton-bashing, hog-skewering, pumpkin-carving exploits of Ninja Guy (Free Trial, $1.99 IAP Full Version) don’t make the least bit of sense, but that won’t stop a cult following from springing up around the lisp-infused Engrish pouring out of his mouth as he rushes around proving his ninja-ness.

While Immunity let only the finest cheese make it into Ninja Guy’s impressively voice-acted plot, the game itself still has a lot of maturing to do. The UI design and cel-shaded environments easily draw comparison to last year’s Samurai II: Vengeance, which proves a decisive disservice to Ninja Guy — not because Ninja Guy is too similar, but because it doesn’t match the previous title’s strength. Ninja Guy sandwiches light platforming and exploration around its monster-filled arenas just as Samurai II made use of puzzle-like gauntlets to break up combat, but beyond that, these titles part ways entirely.

For better or worse, Ninja Guy’s most enjoyable moments are spent hopping platforms and rushing up spirals that soar to some pretty impressive heights. When Ninja Guy reaches a path juncture and the arena gates close him in with a gaggle of beasts, the player’s motivation to survive is the hope that a funny one-liner and another platforming segment are waiting on the other side. Ninja Guy’s combat interface contains three buttons: one for a normal attack, one for a super spin attack, and one for jumping. Tragically, these aren’t used to anywhere near their full potential because there’s no way to combine them — there’s no jump attack, and the spin button loses its sole use if Ninja Guy’s special attack meter runs low.

And run low it will, because the player will be tempted to rely on the one fun context-sensitive maneuver Ninja Guy can pull off, a sort of human torpedo rush that draws on the same meter. Hammering on the normal attack button otherwise prods Ninja Guy into a clunky set of kicks and slices that are slow to take down adversaries. The coolest thing Ninja Guy has going for it in the combat department is the player’s ability to cast ninja stars by swiping toward enemies. Combination of virtual buttons and swipe controls is something I’ve seen very rarely in iOS action games so far, and it works well enough here that I’d love to see developers explore this concept further.

Ninja Guy sports an Arena mode in addition to its Story mode, but this is neutral at best — fewer one-liners and little platforming to look forward to, although arena structure does vary. The player’s goal in Arena mode is to destroy as many enemies as possible in a certain time span, but unless combat improves in updates or Arena results are made to interact with Story mode, it’s something players will get little use out of. Ninja Guy’s interface proves reliable in terms of sensitivity, but the player must take care to keep its hold-anywhere movement joystick a comfortable distance from the edge of the touchscreen. Ninja Guy’s awkward, feather-light float when he’s descending from jumps also cuts into the enjoyability of its platforming segments.

Ninja Guy’s increasingly expansive cel-shaded environments and models definitely leave the player with an appreciation for the amount of work Immunity put into its first iOS offering, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s got a rockin’ soundtrack. At times, the textures become a bit too flat though; there are a few sloped outcroppings that the player needs to get a running start to jump over, but they don’t signal their shape appropriately and leave Ninja Guy with a penchant for getting caught against walls. Weighing in at five adventures in addition to a live training mode, Ninja Guy should last for about three hours at release. Immunity has hinted at a few more episodes yet, so count on content to stretch beyond that in the long run.

iFanzine Verdict: A commendable first effort with plenty of work pumped into it – especially in the audio and humor departments – Ninja Guy is nevertheless under-served by a lackluster combat system. View it as you would a deliciously cheesy B-flick: there are lots of laughs to be had, yet there are also much more polished and satisfying offerings in the same genre. At the introductory price of free, this one is worth the download for the hilarious one-liners alone, if you’re into that sort of thing.

[xrr rating=3/5]

Addendum: Battle system improvement — jump attacks added