What could possibly be more awesome than ninjas or dinosaurs? How about smushing them together into a…Ninja Dino Showdown!? (Out Now, $1.99) Once again an indie dev has acted on a stroke of genius, bringing us a great Tower Defense title as a result. Ninja Dino isn’t without some weaknesses, but it looks like Binary Rebellion have the beginnings of a popular franchise on their hands.
All that stand between waves of marching dinosaurs and a do-not-cross line here are three ninjas under the player’s control. The ninjas start off as basic trainees, and the player evolves them on-the-fly with money collected from felled reptiles. The ninjas attack with throwing stars, their bare hands or a short-range weapon depending on their class; some have special attacks you can trigger by tapping on them. Maybe that doesn’t sound too different from your average genre title, but Binary Rebellion take things to the next level with positional effects: the fact that you’ve got five lanes to defend and only three ninjas means you’ll be dragging them around frantically in your bid to maintain an effective defense. Setting evolved ninjas next to trainees gives them a higher attack rate, so the question of whether to evolve all your ninjas ends up being delightfully murky.
The first question on the player’s mind will be whether there are only three classes of evolved ninja available in this debut episode, because you can only bring three into any given battle and the interface for swapping them isn’t introduced until you get your fourth ninja type. There are eight ninjas on offer along with six enemy types right now, all gradually stirred into a sprawling campaign. The player can take detours on Ninja Dino’s overworld map in search of bonuses that are well worth the extra battles. All stages have to be played on “Newbie” difficulty before more advanced difficulty levels open up on a stage-by-stage basis, but rest assured “Newbie” brings plenty of challenge to the table!
The one thing that puts me off about Ninja Dino is that its challenge requires some suspension of disbelief on the player’s part. When push comes to shove, it doesn’t seem like there’s a way to actually lose. Your ninjas can get knocked out in short order, but the player can resuscitate them just as quickly by rapping on the touchscreen. Since you can do this indefinitely, I began wondering what the loss condition is here — I couldn’t find one no matter how hard I tried! Leaving all your ninjas passed out on the battlefield as wave after wave of dinos slip by is a surefire way to get a poor performance rating, but levels seem to continue churning out dinos endlessly until you get your act together and put up a decent fight for at least one round. Rushing your ninjas around in a bid to maximize their effectiveness is incredible fun, but realizing that there’s no way to actually lose deflated the experience for me. A clear defeat condition – a cap on the number of dinos you can let by for example – would get my fingers dancing over the screen with much more urgency! My second complaint is that there’s only one environment on offer once you complete the game’s tutorial.
That said, Ninja Dino is very solidly built. The drag-and-drop systems for shuffling your ninjas around and upgrading them work like a charm. Unfortunately it does fall victim to the curse of iOS 5’s pull-down tab; if you’ve got two or more ninjas in the top lane and want to move them down quickly, you’ll be checking your local weather too. C’mon devs, c’mon Apple, let’s find a solution for this!
iFanzine Verdict: The first episode of Ninja Dino Showdown proves a clear winner for Tower Defense and RTS fans thanks to its active take on the genre, a very cool class change system and a surprisingly meaty campaign. With much more content promised in updates, the value-to-price ratio is extraordinary as long as you don’t mind a cute ‘n’ silly premise and can put aside the fact that its hearty challenge is in some ways artificial.