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We take a trip down to Ninjatown and banish some pesky Wee Devils before they can get the Ninja Cookie recipe...
- Adorable Wee Ninjas aplenty.
- Well balanced learning curve.
- Addictive gameplay.
- Lacking in length.
- Missed multiplayer opportunities.
- A fairly drab soundtrack.
At the heart of Ninjatown is an age old style of strategy gameplay called tower defense. The genre's simplicity is its appeal, revolving around the principle of stopping enemies getting from one side of a map (or maze) to the other by placing defensive towers in their path. Ninjatown rarely attempts to fiddle with this straightforward gameplay dynamic, offering up the same basic setup that we've seen in many tower defense games of years gone by. Where its originality really shines though, is in the adorable Wee Ninjas and Wee Devils that form Ninjatown's range of units and enemies, not to mention the useful powers of the Ol' Master Ninja and curious tokens that aid you along the way.
This is where the most substantive portion of the game's appeal comes from, as you discover ever more devious Wee Devils that you'll have to defend Ninjatown from and increasingly endearing Wee Ninjas to fight off those pesky cookie chompers. Cookies, you see, form the game's economy. The aim is to stop the Wee Devils from getting into Ninjatown's sugar factory and stealing the hallowed Wee Ninja cookie recipe. In turn, you receive cookies for each Wee Devil that you destroy and these can be spent on defensive buildings and upgrades.
At the start you'll be limited to a couple of building types that house either Wee Ninjas or Anti-Ninjas. As your bog-standard unit, Wee Ninjas are pretty quick but fairly mediocre on the combat side of things. Ant-Ninjas, on the other hand, can pack a hefty punch but are often the last group of Ninjas to a fight. Likewise, the first Devils that you're introduced to include the very average Wee Devils, as well as the slow but strong Chubby Devils. This forms a very obvious level of gameplay balancing as you're tutored through Ninjatown's basic layout, but the rate at which the difficulty ramps up from here is precisely designed to be both accessible to the casual player while also giving more eager gamers a hearty challenging.
This is a difficult tightrope to walk at the best of times, but to the developers' credit Ninjatown performs this balancing act with mighty aplomb. You'll soon find yourself fighting winged devils with the aid of Ninjas that specialise in ranged attacks. Sniper Ninjas can take out airborne Devils with their wasabi pea-shooters, while White Ninjas form a great one-two punch by freezing Winged Devils and slowing down their progress. Before you've gotten used to these newcomers, another new Devil is introduced with lightning speed. The Speedy Devil is noted for its aerodynamic helmet/shades combo, and you'll need to think hard about your placement of Wee or Anti-Ninjas to counteract their agile lunges through your defences.
The introduction of new Ninjas and Devils continues in this vein, becoming ever wackier and entertaining the further you get. Caffeine fuelled Business Ninjas will face-off against their arch rivals the Business Devil, while Zombie and Dark Forest Ninjas are actually Devils who have been corrupted by the dastardly Mr. Demon and they're sure to cause your Ninjas a load of trouble (just be sure to stack up on Forest Ninjas and their armour piercing ranged attacks to counteract them). Choosing the right time to upgrade your buildings and strengthen your Ninjas is also critical in your strategic decision making, while constructing the likes of Training Dojos and Green Tea Bistros to improve adjacently housed Ninjas also pays dividends.
Developer Venan Entertainment has made sure that there are plenty of strategic tasks to keep gamers busy whenever they're not confronting waves of Devils. Ol' Master Ninja's Hickory Stick is particularly prominent in this area, allowing players to pull some powerful moves out of the bag when they need them the most. The Hickory Stick itself appears on the top left of the touch-screen's HUD and charges up as you kill off Devils. You'll unlock increasingly powerful moves as the game progresses ranging from 'Get off my Lawn' (where you blow through the microphone to push Devils back off the screen) to a Magnifryer Glass that's fairly self-explanatory, producing a focused beam that can be moved around with the stylus. Needless to say, Venan has made sure to incorporate the DS' unique control layout as much as possible in Ninjatown.
Tokens can also get you out of some pretty sticky situations. These single use units can be used to either slow down or dazzle enemies (Baby and Super Ninjas) or make them sick to their stomachs (Ninja Droppings). Our favourite, the one-armed Ninja Consultant, even boosts morale within a certain perimeter of your Ninja ranks, increasing the speed of these Ninjas in the process. To say that this game is positively adorable is an understatement. Some may criticise it for being too sickeningly sweet, but there is room for all sorts in the gaming world and we can assure you that kids as well as adults (kid inside of them required) will find Ninjatown's story and characters entertaining enough to carry the gameplay for the single-player campaign's duration.
A Wee Short On Length
However, this campaign may not be particularly long unfortunately. Although the maps do get devilishly hard (see what we did there?) in the second half of the campaign, while there's also the replay value of getting an A Grade for you performance on each map, there's little more than 6-8 hours of gaming on offer in Ninjatown (depending on your skill with a Hickory Stick). The multiplayer does add some content though, allowing 2 players (both single and multi-cart) to face the same map and Devil waves simultaneously. Whoever survives the longest or completes the map with the most lives wins, while winning a single wave gives players certain bonuses (e.g. stealing their opponent's cookies or destroying one of their buildings).
It's a decent enough multiplayer offering, but we can't help but think that Venan has missed a trick here. Having one person playing as Devils while the other plays as Ninjas would've been a neat alternative option, allowing the Devil player to select where certain waves come from and which type of Devil attacks. A limit on the amount of Devil types that you have for each level would've made a sturdy balancing system for this, while figuring out the Ninja team's weaknesses would've been enough to keep the Devil player interested. Come to think of it, an option like this could effectively double the length of the single-player campaign, allowing gamers to play from the Devils' perspective once the Ninja campaign is complete.
Nevertheless, Ninjatown is enjoyable from start to finish and particularly difficult to put down for the duration. As we've already noted, much of this appeal comes from the Wee Ninjas themselves, whose animations veer on kitten levels of cute and are one of the most memorable features in the game. It may only be 2D graphics, but the way that the manga stylings of Shawnimals (a range of products that Ninjatown is based on) are translated into Ninjatown is nothing short of endearing and verges on the super adorable.
Sound is far from exceptional, with a few 'Japanese style' lead tracks (and their variations) being the main audio offerings on hand. Some of the sound effects had their moments, such as the comical burps of Chubby Devils, but other than that they do little more than blend into the background. Having said that, the musical score and effects don't get particularly grating at any point, which is always a bonus.