Haruneko Entertainment’s recent Akane the Kunoichi (out now, $0.99) is the port of an indie platform jumping title previously released on the XBOX Live Arcade back in 2011. While the original release was not the most original or creative game ever published, it did manage to offer XBLA users with serviceable game play at a very affordable price. Unfortunately, I cannot say that the game’s controls survived the process of being converted to a format where a touch screen is used instead of a more traditional controller.
The premise of Akane the Kunoichi is that you are a female ninja whose lord is abducted one day, and thusly the titular heroine – herself apparently infatuated with him – sets out on a rescue mission. From there you will travel through five different worlds – with three stages apiece – as you seek out the captured leader, wall-jumping and kunai-throwing your way through all obstacles. Speaking of the kunai knives that Akane can hurl endlessly, she must sound like a bag of coins being shaken whenever she goes anywhere – which isn’t exactly very ninja like – since she seems to have an infinite number of the throwing weapons stashed upon her personage.
The first of many problems in this troubled port is something you’ll encounter before you even start playing the game proper, and that is the long and awkward pauses that occur every time you press a button in any menu. Want to select a sub-menu? Awkward pause. Want to start a stage? Awkward pause. Want to quit a stage? Awkward pause. Want to highlight a different stage on the level select screen? Awkward pause. Failed a stage? Awkward pause before returning to stage select screen. Want to restart the level you’re currently on because you made a mess of things? Awkward pause after selecting quit, and then another awkward pause after you reselect the stage from the selection menu. While there would still be many awkward pauses in the game either way, it would have really been nice if there had been a retry option to eliminate some of the redundancy present.
The controls for this iOS port place all of your virtual d-pad functions – minus an up button – on the bottom left hand side of the screen, and your various action buttons on the bottom right hand side of the screen. The down button here not only makes you crouch whenever you are standing on the ground, it also serves to make you slide down faster whenever you’re clinging to any walls. The special attack button – so long as you have power scrolls remaining – launches a shower of kunai knives, with the specific blast pattern determined by the direction on the d-pad you are currently pressing.
The first problem you’ll start having with the controls, particularly beginning with the first area boss, is pretty much anything and everything related to the game’s wall jumping mechanic. If you are actively pressing either left or right when you touch a wall in the middle of a jump – or even the narrow edge of a floating platform – you will immediately latch onto it, whether or not you had any desire to do so. This will often lead to injury – or even death – as most of the ledges in Akane the Kunoichi that you can inadvertently latch onto will force you to leap off into places you really do not want to be, particularly as the game goes on.
Even worse than being forced to restart an entire jump sequence because a leap that was a few pixels off caused Akane to grab a wall accidentally, is the fact that the wall jumping in Akane the Kunoichi often won’t work when you’re actually trying to do it on purpose. The game will neither let you grab a wall if you were standing right next to it before jumping up, or even permit you to jump away from a wall at all unless you’re actively pressing the direction opposite the wall on the d-pad before attempting to jump. While the game’s awkward wall jumping mechanic was negotiable in the original version released on the XBOX, the inherent lack of precision caused by virtual buttons in general has turned it into the single most frustrating part of the iOS port.
The next problem in this port is that in original XBOX game you were meant to rapidly spam kunai knives mid-jump to successfully survive many of the challenges present, but in the iOS version you can only launch a single knife per press of the throw button. When you add in the fact that the jump and throw buttons are on the same side of the screen, this has infinitely magnified the difficulty of every single boss fight present in Akane the Kunoichi. This is then further complicated by the fact that every stage has a kill timer that fails you if you don’t complete the level fast enough, which eliminates the possibility of compensating by going through things more slowly to make up for the lack of control precision.
Assuming the game didn’t load awkwardly – didn’t turn the wall jumping mechanic into something you’ll probably want to cuss about – and didn’t turn spamming kunai knives mid jump into a hassle, there is still one problem this game would have that it also shares with the original version. Akane the Kunoichi – to not waste time beating around the bush – is a rather pedestrian platform jumping game, and at no point during the title does anything terribly interesting or exciting happen. Environments are bland looking, all enemy types shuffle back and forth like Goombas from Super Mario Bros, and the attack patterns of the bosses can be perfectly understood seconds after you meet them. While this was forgivable on the XBOX where the game was both very cheap and actually controllable, this means that on the iOS it becomes a frustrating game to control that is not even worth bothering to force your way through.
About the only thing that has been done right here control wise is that the developer actually included support for the iCade peripheral that most other games simply flat out ignore the existence of entirely. While I do not personally have an iCade myself, it can probably be safely assumed that the iOS port – awkward pause issues aside – would become just as playable as the XBOX version when the peripheral is used. Still, this feature does absolutely nothing for anyone who either doesn’t have an iCade or would simply like to play Akane the Kunoichi on the go without bringing extra items along.
iFanzine Verdict: Despite the zeitgeist belief amongst iOS players that virtual controls always mean horrendous things are contained within, there have been various games that show how on screen buttons can still work well when handled intelligently. Akane the Kunoichi, on the other hand, is doing its best to further this stigma through its blind copying of the original’s controls with nary a thought being given to the specifics of the new platform. However, thanks to the foresight to include iCade support, those of you out there with the oft neglected peripheral will still be able to enjoy the game despite these shortcomings. Ultimately – though – at the end of the day the fact that Akane the Kunoichi is a bland experience will still remain true no matter how you control it, or the platform you play it on.