There’s trouble in Candy Land. This once sweet and tasty utopia has come under attack from a barbarian horde of cupcakes, jelly monsters, angry bees and other nefarious beings. All is not lost though, because the toughest cookie of them all is here to save the day. Ninjabread Man is a samurai sword wielding badass with a grudge to settle, ready to slice his enemies up and reduce them to pools of raspberry jam. With such a scrumptious premise and one of the best portmanteaus ever conceived, it’s safe to say that Ninjabread Man is one of the best games ever.
Well, until you actually play it, that is.
It says a lot about a game when it takes longer to write the review than to complete it. Ninjabread Man is perhaps the shortest retail title that you’ll ever play, comprising of a mere four levels, one of which is the tutorial. In each of the remaining three, your sole task is to jump around and collect the same items in order to open a portal which takes you to the next level. It’s platforming at its most basic and the entire game can be completed in just under an hour.
Short games can generally be forgiven if they’re packed with intense action, a gripping plot and unforgettable set pieces, but Ninjabread Man has none of these. The story isn’t even conveyed in the game itself; it’s simply left to the back of the box to explain our character’s situation.
Without a story to get your teeth in to, Ninjabread Man has to rely on its gameplay to keep us entertained, but sadly this is rotten to the core. Our hero has a repertoire of three moves; jump, throw a ninja star and swing his sword. Each one of these is poorly implemented, with jumping hampered by inconsistent collision detection and aiming often inaccurate. The worst of the bunch is the sword combat, which is more a case of swing and hope for the best. The game only seems to pick up about half of the Wii controller’s movements, so you’ll often lose a chunk of health before you finally slay your foe.
Visually, it’s hardly a treat either. Ninjabread Man was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2005 and I’m almost certain that nothing has been done to tune it up since then. There’s plenty of colour, but the object mapping and textures are basic to say the least. The real calamity is the camera though, which does very little to adapt to your changing position. You can reset it and bring it back around to the rear of our ninja hero, but you shouldn’t have to keep pressing it every few seconds when you’re navigating the environment.
At this stage, I’d usually talk about a game’s audio, but Ninjabread Man’s sound is so elementary that it’s really not worth bothering. I might instead discuss the A.I., but again this is spartan at best. As for replay value, I’ll leave that for you to figure out.
Ninjabread Man couldn’t be a more of a generic platformer if it tried. There are spikes to be impaled by, pools of liquid to fall in to and floating objects to jump between. There’s not even a glimmer of innovation or attempt at anything remotely new. It makes no difference that it’s aimed at kids; this is still a lazily designed and implemented game with no attention to detail whatsoever.
“He could be the Jack Bauer of the bakery”The biggest shame though, is that a name like Ninjabread Man should be wasted on a game like this. Everyone who I’ve mentioned it to has found it genuinely amusing and wanted to know more. There isn’t enough humour in games these days and this was a prime opportunity to make one with plenty in. Ninjabread Man could be a cool guy with a bad attitude, in a stark and ironic contrast to his surroundings. He could be the Jack Bauer of the bakery, but instead our hero is silent and lifeless. Don’t be tempted by the great name and cool cover art; this is one to stay well away from.