Ninjas are cool, ninjas are hip, and like your mom when she hooks you up with milk and homemade cookies, ninjas somehow make gamers feel all warm and toasty inside. But there’s perhaps nothing more endearing than the ninjas of Ninjatown. Based on the plushy creations of Shawnimals and developed by Venan Entertainment, Ninjatown brings Tower Defense-style gameplay to DS with a personality very much all its own.
There’s a story here, one that revolves around an evil Mr. Demon Ninja who has come to Ninjatown to steal the secret ninjabread-cookie recipe. `Ol Master Ninja is tasked (by the cowardly mayor) to ward off Mr. Demon Ninja and his army of fiends. The game is broken into bite-sized (no pun intended) bits, with little story snippets tossed in between each mission. It’s a great pick-up-and-play formula that works perfectly both for the Tower Defense approach the game aims at and for quick play on the go.
The first mission, as one might expect, walks you through the basics. `Ol Master Ninja’s job is to fly in a hot-air balloon above his troupes (he can be seen on the right-hand side of the top screen during missions) and aid them with various ninja powers when needed. The gist of gameplay is simply to build ninja huts along pathways so as to allow your warriors to engage enemy ninjas as they make their way from point A to point B of a map in timed waves. You’ll need to either prevent enemy ninjas from reaching the end of the pathway or, in some cases, keep them from destroying a structure you’re meant to protect. Different ninjas, of course, have different strengths and weaknesses, so the strategy becomes: What huts to build? Which huts to upgrade? Where to build? And so on and so forth.
It’s not long into the game before things get complicated, and though Ninjatown looks like a game strictly for young kids, both its tongue-in-cheek humor and devious level design will offer plenty of value for mature audiences as well. There are many ways to approach a given mission, and you’ll often be required to try various strategies in order to lead your ninjas to victory.
You’ll begin the game with Wee Ninjas – your average, run-of-the-mill ninja with basic attacks, speed and defense, but they have the added benefit of being immune to all status effects, including zombification. You’ll soon gain the ability to produce Anti Ninja huts, and though these fighters are susceptible to various ailments, they’re tough warriors able to combat the more dangerous ninja devils you’ll encounter throughout missions. There are a ton of other cute and ridiculous ninja types, including the Business Ninja (hopped up on caffeine and able to distract enemies), Sniper Ninja (great against air units), White Ninja (who throw snowballs to slow enemies), and a host of amusing yet relevant baddies, such as the Wee Devil, Speedy Devil and Zombie Devil. Ninjatown continues to blend in new ninjas and enemies that not only look cool, but offer new abilities or obstacles to overcome.
In addition to your ninja huts, there are various other elements to aid you in combating the demon hordes. You can build boost structures like the Training Dojo, which increase the attack power of all nearby ninja, or build a Green Tea Bistro to allow ninja to move faster (from caffeine intake) into the fray. Additionally, there are special ninjas you can call upon to help turn the tide when things grow dire. The Baby Ninja will temporarily slow enemies with its cuteness, the Ninja Dropping’s stink will cause enemies to lose health over time, and the Ninja Consultant’s motivational speeches will build up ninja morale, giving them a temporary speed boost. Lastly, `Ol Master Ninja will gain power as your ninjas defeat foes, and when his cane is charged up sufficiently, you can command him to use one of his special ninja powers, such as Get Off My Lawn (which blows enemies back), Wake Up Call (temporarily increases the attack speed of all your ninja), or Stop! Ninja Time! (stops time, allowing you to upgrade huts or add new ones while enemies are immobile).
A last tidbit of interest to toss out there regarding the gameplay: Ninjatown offers a hub that breaks things down nicely for players. If you go into the pause screen, you can view the Consultant’s Files, which give you a run down of enemies, ninja types, the `Ol Master Ninja’s special powers, and more. There’s a lot to digest with this game, so it’s nice to have a legend to reference if you forget or overlook something during your adventure.
On the production front, Ninjatown offers a simple yet attractive and well-formed package. The art style of the ninjas and buildings is adorable, the cutscenes are funny and polished, and with all the action onscreen during missions, surprisingly, there’s zero slowdown. The music is appropriately silly, fusing traditional Asian themes with a bit of MIDI techno. Sound effects are almost as cute as the characters, and everything comes together to offer players a pleasant gameplay experience from start to finish.
You won’t play Ninjatown just for its story, though the humor is great and the characters are adorable. But the missions are a wonderful slice of gaming on the go; play a mission, toss your DS in your bag, play another mission later on the bus. The overall approach is fairly simple, but the level design is well thought out and offers a substantial challenge for gamers of all ages. It’s also a meaty package, presenting players with a sizeable single-player experience and both single and multi-card, multiplayer gameplay. Ninjatown weighs in as: highly recommended.