Platform: Nintendo DS
As I’ve said again and again, I am a fan of Tower Defense games. It’s a genre that has grown and become more popular with the release of Pixeljunk Monsters and Desktop Tower Defense, and many gamers are beginning to welcome the idea with open arms. It’s no wonder that the genre, which needs quick, convenient controls, found its way onto the Nintendo DS, which seems to be perfect for the sort of game.
The plot of Ninjatown is epic in scale, as players take control of Master Ninja as he defends Ninjatown against Mr. Demon, who is sending hordes of enemies towards the town with the malicious purpose of stealing their precious cookie recipe of which their entire economy is based. I think a few brain cells actually trickled out of my ear and dripped down onto my shoulder as I wrote that. Despite sounding utterly childish, the cut scenes and story are delivered in an entirely humorous way, as Consultant Ninja details charts and graphs, Business Ninja complains about the NTSE, and Master Ninja screams about there being “OVER 9,000!” enemies left to battle.
The game’s art and characters are inspired by the Shawnimals series of plush toys, giving Ninjatown an unbelievably adorable style. The graphics are lackluster, and likely could have been achieved on the NES or Gameboy. The minimap on the top screen actually looks a little more detailed than the bottom screen’s map, and the animations are minimalist, to say the least. It gets the job done, and looks fun and cute, but some more detail would have bumped up the game’s appeal.
It plays similarly to most tower defense games, with good use of the touch screen and DS specific controls. Tapping a vacant plot of land opens the building menu, where players can choose different types of structures to plop down. Instead of “towers,” players create different Ninja Huts, and the resident Ninjas stand outside of their homes ready so strike. When an enemy comes within their range (which can be viewed by tapping on their hut), the Ninja strikes, attacking the opponent with either ranged or melee attacks, depending on the unit.
There are many different huts with different abilities, from Wee Ninja, the generic Ninja unit, to Sniper Ninja, who fires Wasabi Peas at flying devils. Each hut can be upgraded several times to increase the damage and range, and every kill rewards the player with Ninja Cookies, the currency of Ninjatown. Every few levels adds a new Ninja to place, as well as “Tokens,” Ninjatown’s one-time-use objects that can be used to slow, stun, or give other status effects. There are also buildings that can buff the surrounding huts, but usually aren’t worth the space that could be filled with another helpful damage dealing building.
My largest complaint is in the lackluster use of the top screen, which is split down the middle. One side shows remaining cookies, lives, the minimap, and reveals the next wave of attackers. The other side shows Master Ninja floating in the sky above. For a game so focused on the bottom screen and a close up view of gameplay, the developers could have enlarged the icons and made it easier to quickly summarize the current status, since Master Ninja’s floating visage is about as useless as Mayor Ninja.
There is multi-cart and single cart multiplayer, allowing two players to compete to defeat waves of enemies within a certain amount of time. The multiplayer modes aren’t really a major focus, but add some needed replay value to the game, as the single-player doesn’t give too much content to play over, other than trying to get an A rating on each level.
Ninjatown’s gameplay is solid and addictive, its style is wonderful and adorable, and its faults are negligible. It’s obvious that a lot of heart went into this game, and it shows by being one of the best titles on the Nintendo DS. That’s right, you didn’t misread that, Ninjatown is one of the best titles on the Nintendo DS. It’s perfectly suited for the system, the controls are impeccable, and it’s loaded with enough content to justify a purchase for anyone who owns the handheld.