|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Venom Entertainment||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Southpeak Interactive||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 28, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines a ninja as "a person trained in ancient Japanese martial arts and employed especially for espionage and assassinations." Traditionally, ninjas are badass. They're silent assassins capable of removing one's limbs in a bloody spray with relative ease and generally not folks to be trifled with. Then there's Ninjatown: a gleefully upbeat strategy game full of vibrant humor and genuinely adorable little ninjas based on the Shawnimals designer toys. Apparently, deadliness can be also cute.
Venan Entertainment's rendition of ninja life is a far cry from what most hardcore ninja fans would expect, but it's so delightfully charming that it's hard not to crack a smile each time new antics and silly mechanics are introduced into the gameplay. By taking an addictive foundation and draping it with lots of clever little mechanics and endearingly funny quirkiness, Ninjatown manages to beat out the stigma typically associated with games based on toy licenses.
Ninjatown is an absurdly silly place where the many colorful varieties of ninja citizens live happily and go about the daily business of baking the best damn ninja star cookies in all the land. Life in the town is calm and prosperous until the nearby mountain, named after its guardian, Feroshi the Dino Slug, mysteriously erupts under the influence of some evil force. Coinciding with the arrival of the insidious Mr. Demon and his army of Wee Devils who seek ninja destruction and possession of the secret cookie recipe, this unfortunate series of events brings the grumpy Ol' Master Ninja out of retirement to muster his ninja army and defend the village district by district.
The core gameplay in Ninjatown should be familiar for anyone who's played a tower defense style clone. Each stage presents a map featuring a pathway (or occasionally branching pathways) running through it. Mr. Demon will send wave after wave of his menacing minions meandering along the path towards the town. As Ol' Master Ninja, you must direct your ninja brethren to stop the encroaching evil from reaching their goal at all costs. This is primarily accomplished by strategically constructing huts at available plots located along the path that produce different kinds of ninjas to combat their advancing attackers. Defeating enemies will earn you ninja star cookies, which can be used to purchase or upgrade huts. Such defense games are often addictive to begin with, but the increasingly humorous and unexpected twists added in with each level make the desire to continue progressing all the more potent.
A zany cast of cute ninja types and other wacky characters add a ton of personality to the game. Only a few ninja classes are available for building at the start of the game, but new ninjas and powers are introduced steadily as you move on to subsequent levels. Aside from being adorable, every ninja has a purpose and its own strengths and weak points. The black Wee Ninja are immune to status ailments but they're mediocre in combat. Orange, sluggish Anti-Ninja care little for stealth and can dish out heavy damage to even the heartiest of foes. The tie-wearing, grey Business Ninja is highly caffeinated; though they're weak, they can quickly pummel attackers with their cell phones. Green Sniper Ninja wield wasabi pea shooters to take out flying units, and White Ninja chuck freezing snowballs to slow down any approaching opponents. These are only a handful of the goofy ninja types you'll wield to conquer a wide range of enemies thrown at you by Mr. Demon.
Other strategic factors also come into play, making the gameplay a lot more interesting that than just throwing up a few ninjas to fight for you here and there. Ninja huts will inevitably have to be upgraded to bulk up your combatants, so they can handle increasingly tougher foes sent their way. Placing accessory buildings in key locations provides important bonuses, like increased range, attack power, and speed, to all ninja huts in their immediate vicinity. Picking up single-use tokens - like the Ninja Dropping, which damages all enemies within its smell radius and the Baby Ninja, which slows nearby enemies for a short time - is a fun way to turn the tide of battle when things get hectic.