You usually know what you’re getting when you go for a downloadable title, no matter the platform – bite-sized games with appropriately reduced prices. This isn’t to say that the downloadable market is bad in any way – it really stands in a league of its own right alongside the triple-A console market. However, you get what you pay for, and even the best gameplay experiences to be found in downloadable titles can be a bit light on content.
At least, that’s usually the case – unless you give Atomic Ninjas a try. Developer (and publisher) Grip Games has come up with an engaging, exciting, and surprisingly bang-for-your-buck-worthy competitive multiplayer title. The game pits you (and your tiny acrobatic avatar) against up to three opponents, be they human or AI, in a race to complete a variety of objectives in a smattering of 2.5D arenas. Combat is a central part of the game, but rather than outright killing foes, your ninja makes use of a variety of weapons and gadgets to maneuver around the arena and knock opponents off the stage or into environmental hazards. Weapons and items are varied, from hard-hitting boxing gloves to swift and deadly shuriken, and grappling hooks to climbing claws and more. Killing an enemy gives you the chance to swap your hapless opponent’s weapon with your own, adding insult to injury while switching up your tactics in the process.
It’s this randomness that stands as a core strength for the game’s fun factor, as so many elements of the game are switched from one round to the next, making it near-impossible to get bored. Games consist of a large variety of objectives, including Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Domination, and Treasure Hunt (a deadly take on keep-away), with free-for-all and team varieties of each present, sometimes within the same match! It’s really disorienting in the best way when you’re spending a few minutes trying to kill one player, only to be paired up with them the next. Toss-ups like this keep the gameplay extremely fresh and lend tremendous replay value to a genre that relies so heavily on it. Several game-changers come into play at the most appropriate times as well, such as entering an unstoppable “Noob Rage” mode when you’ve died several times in succession, and a “Power Play” state where for a limited time, everyone respawns instantly after death.
While these random tweaks will keep you engaged in every match, it’s the advancement options that will keep you coming back for more. Players initially start with a single character and power, but can unlock more by leveling up (with experience earned through play). Powers can be strengthened by completing Ninja Challenges, which require you to fulfill certain conditions within a game, like killing 5 opponents in a round or earning 250 points from flag captures. Combining the correct powers with the right weapons and items can really boost your effectiveness, and are great no matter what your play style is.
There’s several ways to get into the fight; Both platforms support online play with up to four players, as well as offline bot-matches, but the PS3 has the edge in its ability to field up to four players in split-screen competitive play. If a Wi-Fi connection isn’t available on your Vita, you’re stuck with bot-matches. This isn’t to say they aren’t fun, though – bots put up a good enough fight to keep things interesting, but sooner or later you’ll want to go head-to-head with other human opponents. Connecting to other players is currently a bit tricky, but will get better as the Atomic Ninjas player base grows.
It really needs to be said that while Atomic Ninjas is light on story, its whimsical writing and hilarious presentation really make for an extremely enjoyable and light-hearted experience. I was laughing out loud during the majority of the tutorial level as the NPC instructed me in the basics of Atomic Ninjas play while pelting me with outrageous criticisms and deadpan deliveries. As for the ninjas themselves, Players can choose from a quirky cast of them, from the familiar silent-but-deadly shadow warriors to a brave, stoic samurai, a wise (but senile) Kung-Fu monk, and even a zombie ninja. Each character is fully voiced and features his own unique personality quirks. Each ninja will loose his own quips during a match when killing opponents, getting hit, or meeting an early (but brief) demise. However, nothing is quite as laughable as when a player enters “Noob Rage” mode, letting loose sounds more violent and gibbering than a Call of Duty player on a death streak (sorry guys – you know who you are). Character choices aren’t just important for presentation, though – each one starts with their own weapon and item, lending to a unique gameplay style right out of the gate. These aren’t set in stone, though, and your weapons and items can be swapped on-the-fly by finding item crates in the arena and killing opponents to steal their stuff.
Atomic Ninjas features a simple but pleasant cartoon style, with bright, vibrant colors and tiny, whimsical proportions. It’s a visual treat the whole time, but at the same time, isn’t particularly jaw-dropping. That’s fine, though – less to distract you from the action. The sound is another seesaw too – the voice work, sound effects, and music are all great and really lend to the atmosphere of the game, but a couple of technical problems keep them just shy of a perfect score. While playing on the Vita, there were rare occasions where music would lose its fidelity and static would become audible, which isn’t pleasant by any means, but is thankfully rare enough, seemingly only happening at the end of a match. This seems like an issue that Grip Games can squash with a future patch. Otherwise, there really isn’t much to complain about – the game is very well-balanced, but there were a couple of occasions where a really devious player could pin me in one spot with very little I could do to retaliate. This was especially bad when an opponent caught me in a corner while in Noob Rage – I was powerless to do anything to escape until the mode wore off, and it was extremely frustrating. However, it takes a lot to get into this sort of situation, and it taught me to stay away from dead ends when an opponent starts slavering.
Atomic Ninjas stands out as one of the most addicting, engaging, and just plain fun downloadable titles of this year. The bite-sized game sessions lend themselves perfectly to the Vita’s pick-up-and-go nature, while the randomness of each moment will hook you for hours on end. Multiplayer is this game’s watchword, and it creates an extremely fun and competitive arena for players to duke it out with each other. A couple of technical issues mar Atomic Ninjas from a perfect score, but between the solid gameplay, hilarious presentation, and pleasant visuals, Atomic Ninjas is a game you won’t want to put down.
Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!
A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Atomic Ninjas!
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