What I love about touch screen controls, when they work accurately, is the ability to turn any game into something that can be picked up and played by anyone. Halfbrick picked up on that simple idea with Fruit Ninja, a game where a swipe of the finger takes out fruit as it leaps across the screen. But as gamers, we all know that flying fruit isn’t a believable situation. We need something realistic, something with more bite and more action. Enter Pocket Ninjas.
Developers Cocky Culture have created a more mature, out there game in Pocket Ninjas, full of dismemberment and deadly weapons. Gone are the colourful fruits and flashy displays, replaced with a darker undertone of a ninja who’s home is under attack. It’s not as bloody or as violent as some modern day shooters, but you’ll be cutting apart whatever you see and that means plenty of blood will be spilt. Thankfully, Pocket Ninjas doesn’t focus its attention simply just on violence but on a more addictive and challenging style of game play.
Early enemy types can be taken down with one swipe as they fling themselves towards you, but that’s too easy. Not long after the first few waves, faster and tougher bad guys will appear that require a lot more than just one swipe or two. This is where Pocket Ninjas has its strength AND its weakness. Having so much variety in enemy types, from bombs and shoryukens to innocent bystanders and bonus point items, means there’s plenty to aim for. But that also leaves little in the way of strategy and at times the game can be rather frenetic, perhaps a little too much.
There’s three game modes, starting with Classic which gives you three lives and charges you the task of surviving as long as possible. You’ll have to play through classic mode a little first before the other two, arcade (a 60 second time limit and only one life) and shrunken showdown, where you must deflect the deadly spinning weapons as they come flying in towards you. I found that last mode the hardest, needing a little more timing and accuracy to bump up that high score.
The biggest killer in Pocket Ninjas isn’t the enemies, though. It’s slowdown, and unfortunately there’s a fair bit of it in places. Lag can break the flow of the action and has a tendency to become annoying, though the good news is it’s an issue that has improved with each update since release. I’m improving my accuracy and high score, but the trickier things get the more annoying said slowdown can become. I’m hoping that it may have just been the device I’m playing on, but my iPhone 4 with an up to date iOS 6 probably won’t make much of a difference.
Thankfully despite that down side, there’s plenty of upsides visually. This is a wonderful game to look at, there’s some neat little touches and although the colour palate is mainly reds and blacks, it’s all very clean and well presented. Your hero jumps and leaps across the screen, leaving a trail of body parts and reward markers. It’s all set within typical ninja related motifs, training dojos and bamboo houses with flying sushi, with a musical score that evokes memories of watching old Jackie Chan movies from the 80′s. Gotta love that.
Completing as many rounds in classic mode awards you coins, which can also be collecting by completing other objectives or simply finding them during the combat itself. These can be used to purchase upgrades, costumes, weapons and extra items that can really add to the style of the game. Some are cosmetic, but most provide extra slicing or power which in turn can increase your overall score. I chuckled at some of the pop culture references, like the yellow jumpsuit (Kill Bill) or the energy blade (Star Wars). Handier items such as health boosts and bombs to throw at enemies will certainly be of importance to those keen to break the high score record.
I’m really longing for more game modes now, perhaps a free mode that allows you the ability to just have fun without the worry of lives or clocks, or the ability for a player to decide what rules to play with (only certain enemy types, bombs off, etc). What’s here is great, but there isn’t too much to differentiate itself from the other slicer style games out there besides its presentation. That’s not a bad thing, but this is the kind of game that could really shake things up.
Pocket Ninjas isn’t your father’s Fruit Ninja. It’s competitive, challenging and addictive, plus the ability to build your own character out with upgrades and special weapons adds a little spice. Also, everyone loves stats, and there’s a ton of them in here to marvel at, such as the total weight of body parts you’ve cut up over the entire length of play. It raises a chuckle while also pushing you on for just one … more … game. I would have given this a higher score, if it weren’t for the lag, but I’ll return to the game at a later date and keep a close eye on future updates.
To pick up Pocket Ninjas visit the App Store today.[review pros="Great and refreshing level of presentation for the genre, well developed game play" cons="Slowdown is a major pain, there's still the opportunity to do more with future updates" score=83]