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Ninjatown Package Art
Venan Entertainment
SouthPeak Interactive


Even after years of bad movies and poor games, ninjas remain one of the most popular icons in American culture. Shawnimals, aware of the strong fan base, has opted to showcase a cuter side of the masked assassins, with big eyes and round bodies. The style is distinct, almost bubbly, but have no fear: beneath the soft exterior is a strategic tower-defense game brimming with challenge. With stylus in hand, armies of cute ninjas must be built to fend off the invasion of Mr. Devil. The touch controls fit perfectly with the 2D style, but flaws inherent to the genre, along with a few nuisances, hold this title back from being as awesome as the ninja itself.


Publisher SouthPeak and Venan use the plush toys by Shawnimals as the basis for the game. The style is obviously directed toward a younger demographic, but the clean aesthetic will also entertain some older gamers. The simplistic style also allows for a smooth-running game, even as a plethora of enemies and ninjas fill the screen. At the same time, there seems to be an opportunity to add more style and flair. For example, during a late water-based level, ships unleash one-eyed pirate ninjas. But there are no water ripples or wake effect; even worse, the water is a static blue image. The ninjas bounce around with liveliness, but the setting is far too stagnant.


With any tower-defense game, waves of enemies fill the screen for up to 15 or 20 minutes at a time. This design choice is not fitting for music, as tunes seem to loop endlessly, and loop they do in Ninjatown. On the positive side, the soundtrack contains a very Japanese vibe, fitting the visuals well. The sound effects also hit the mark, with whooshes heard with each arrow shot.


A totally touch-screen based scheme (except for camera movement mapped to the D-pad) demonstrates how well the tower-defense genre fits on DS. The 2D visuals help as well, since pinpointing enemies or allies is on a flat plane. The goal is to keep Mr. Devil’s assortment of devil troops from storming across one side of the screen to the other. To do so, landscape squares offer the opportunity to build ninja huts and modifier huts. The options are pretty stereotypical: ranged-based ninjas, such as archers; short-ranged ninjas in regular and a stronger, but slower, varieties; and modifier stations that enhance abilities, such as attack power. To cap it off, the player’s avatar of an old sensei reveals super abilities, such as blowing back enemies with the microphone. All of the game's features are well thought out and provide very difficult and strategic challenges. The master’s abilities, for example, must be utilized in certain situations to advance, and a mix-up of different ninja types will be required in later levels.

As good as the strategy is, the maps fail to impress. Different routes and small objective challenges attempt to add some variety, but the constant “rinse and repeat” feel never leaves. Waves and waves of enemies approach and the goal must be defended. Lock's Quest added a freshness to the genre with individual control of Lock and some other mission types, like infiltrating hideouts. Too bad none of these novel ideas are found here.

The game's difficulty is a problem, and there is no way to adjust it. While the first half is pretty standard fare, the last fourth requires some ridiculous challenges. It would have been nice to go down to easy, especially for younger gamers fond of Shawnimals. There is an option to switch to easy mode after losing a map multiple times, but why not just present the setting from the onset? Very frustrating. Along with the difficulty setting omission, many maps feel linear, insomuch as specific forces must be set in specific squares. It did not feel like there were too many alternative means to beat a map.

As for the story behind the gameplay, it hits a funny and light-hearted note. Goofy characters continually become introduced, such as Baker Ninja. The storyline follows the silly tone, with Mr. Devil attempting to steal the recipe of Ninjatown’s cookies. It’s hard not to crack a smile with each cut-scene.


The title also includes single-cart and multi-cart multiplayer, which is a plus. Online is nowhere to be found, but players in the same room can battle it out to see who can defeat waves of enemies faster.


Ninjatown does everything well for a tower-defense game on DS. The controls are precise and smooth, visuals pleasing and it even includes an entertaining and silly story. The game also offers fun in small chunks, as each map clocks in at about ten minutes. Thus, it’s perfect for on-the-go gaming. Even so, a couple flaws hold the title back, especially the difficulty setbacks and “rinse and repeat” feel of battles. Weigh those issues carefully in deciding on whether or not to pick this one up.

final score 7.8/10

Staff Avatar Evan Campbell
Staff Profile | Email
"Real men don't fight — they sing!"

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