Sometimes the strangest things catch a reviewer’s interest. In the case of Ninja Sniper (Out Now On Sale, $0.99), it was an official promotional image that read: “Blow your fingers and get exciting to beat them off!” You see, I’m a huge fan of Zero Wing‘s nutty so-bad-it’s-actually-good translation and I’ve long felt the massively multilingual App Store is ripe ground for something that hilariously surreal to pop up again. Alas, this product from NEOWIZ Internet Corporation and Game Heart released with very understandable in-game text considering the language barrier. On the other hand, I didn’t walk away entirely disappointed, either — there’s a pretty fun arcade shooter here!
Naturally, a ninja sniper doesn’t go about his business with an actual sniper rifle. He tosses shuriken at his foes, and since he stands right out in the open, he’d better do it fast! Facing down the opposition from a first person perspective, the player dishes out projectiles with quick vertical swipes; his or her ninja can take up to three hits of return fire, which isn’t much when dozens of enemies are pouring in at any given moment. Lest this devolve into indiscriminate shooting, Ninja Sniper ushers out civilians who run around in a frenzy and dock the player’s health if they’re struck down. Hey, I can’t blame them; I’d probably freak out and run around in my pajamas too if I found ninjas doing somersaults and cutting each other up in my front yard.
Ninja Sniper starts out very much on the right foot with a live tutorial that familiarizes the player with the game’s nuances. In addition to the vertical swipe, the player can hold at the touchscreen for a few seconds to unleash a cool boomerang attack that levels the playing field pretty quickly. This ability is unlimited, but the risk inherent in going so long without firing prevents its over-use. Enemy ninjas come in several varieties, each with its own attack behavior and endurance. One thing the tutorial could do better is to instruct the player that only the bottom half of the touchscreen is used for input; the player’s instinct will be to start his or her swipes higher up when targeting faraway enemies, and that will make for swift defeats as the input fails to register.
While Ninja Sniper gets everything it sets out to do just about right, players will wish it had simply set out to do more! After a half hour passes and the player’s learned how to prioritize the elimination of different enemies, there’s little to look forward to other than more intense enemy waves. Earned upgrades, different weapons or additional special abilities could have taken the player’s experience to the next level. Also sorely lacking is some way to deflect incoming projectiles – one could imagine horizontal swipes coming into use here – as the more intense battles can mow down the player in a millisecond. There’s nothing wrong with challenge, but when the player’s faced with the choice to take down a civilian (and lose health as a penalty) or take a bunch of ninja stars to the gut while waiting for said civilian to pass, it feels like some mediating gameplay mechanic should be in order.
The developers compensate for lack of depth by going all-out with breadth of content. Ninja Sniper offers 50 pre-defined onslaughts and an infinite Standard Mode, which should keep the twitch-action fan entertained for a couple hours. More interesting is Arcade Mode, which adds a super attack and a time freezing ability by way of virtual buttons — just what’s needed to keep the player’s interest a little while longer. It’s too bad these functions couldn’t be incorporated into Ninja Sniper‘s staged levels, as Arcade Mode suffers from the drawbacks inherent in infinite gameplay.
Ninja Sniper‘s graphics turn out noticeably blurry in blown-up screencaps taken from my Retina-equipped iDevice, but look great while playing. Enemy ninjas are well animated and the backdrops for all this mayhem are smartly drawn. With such wonderful promotional art backing it up, Ninja Sniper hopefully presages more ambitious games from this developer.
iFanzine Verdict: Great for twitch action fans and arcade shooter veterans looking for a quick and challenging frolic. Ninja Sniper‘s technical quality absolutely begs for more fleshed out gameplay, but there’s plenty of content on offer if the idea of flinging millions of ninja stars doesn’t strike you as something that’s liable to get old quickly.