Running the Gauntlet

You’d think ninjas would have it easy. Few enemies on any gaming platform have escaped their slicing-and-dicing blade arts, throwing stars, or supernatural elemental powers. But what would happen if an entire force of ninjas woke up one day to discover that they had run clean out of supplies, and spent so much time partying the night before that they’d forgotten most of their ninjutsu? I think that’s what Frostware Entertainment is trying to show us, because the Rushing Ninjas (Out Now, $0.99) in their latest iOS title are pretty much down to two options: run, and run faster!

Most infinite games ask the player to take one character through an endless scrolling gauntlet; Rushing Ninjas turns that formula on its head by having the player guide a potentially infinite number of characters through a single-screen no man’s land. The field of slaughter is teeming with every threat you’d expect to find in medieval Japan — you know, torture devices, samurai, fire-breathing dragons, lasers, and other things suitable for turning ninjas into piles of goo. To keep that fate from befalling too many of his or her infinite brood, the player grabs each ninja individually and swipes: up and down to switch them among five lanes of the playing field, and forward to make them pick up the pace.

Naturally, several ninjas are usually onscreen at the same time; the fun lies in assessing and reacting appropriately to all the threats popping up at once. The player also has to budget a Stealth Mode meter, which can be called upon to make the ninjas invulnerable for a brief time, and is replenished by potions they can grab on their way through. Resisting the temptation to deplete the Stealth Mode meter has its own rewards in terms of Game Center score accumulation. Three difficulty levels are on offer, allowing the player to vary intensity and number of allowed failures accordingly.

What I appreciate most about Rushing Ninjas is the way it uses random level generation. Every minute or so the game mixes up prevailing deathtraps and enemies, leaving the playing field with a constantly fresh feel. Even more importantly, the various concoctions of deadly obstacles and ninja-squashing foes stick closely to an average level of intensity — so the veteran player doesn’t have to wait for challenge to rise again after slipping up and getting a Game Over. On the downside, this is yet another game where the player’s seen just about everything it has to offer within the first few minutes; you have to be a big fan of competitive infinite games to begin with if you’re going to squeeze more than an hour of entertainment out of it.

Rushing Ninjas could use a few more tracks to round out its minimalistic two-piece soundtrack, but at least it’s friendly to external music. It’s also too bad that the three environments on offer at release exist only for aesthetic variation; sets of environmentally themed obstacles could further stretch this one’s appeal.

iFanzine Verdict: A neat and cleanly built running game that transforms the endless side-scrolling runner into an infinitely long-lived but stationary obstacle course. Fans of infinite games will find a lot to love in Rushing Ninjas, but don’t go into it expecting much depth or gameplay that considerably evolves over time.

[xrr rating=4/5]