10 Second Ninja – Review

Title   10 Second Ninja
Developer  GameDesignDan
Publisher  Mastertronic
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Action/platformer
Release Date  March 5, 2014
Official Site  http://10secondninja.com/

As ‘Ninja’, front man of the peerless South African band Die Antwoord once said, “I’m a ninja, yo. My life is like a videogame”. To be honest, he was speaking total nonsense – as he generally does – but he has picked up on the same thing that Dan Pearce, developer of 10 Second Ninja, has: ninjas are awesome, as are videogames. Logically, a combination of the two would be approaching LEGO levels of ‘Everything is Awesome’. Pleasingly, 10 Second Ninja delivers on all that promise.

The story is perhaps a little bare on the ground, but it does enough to provide the framework for the real meat of the game. It also presents a villain that has the potential to go down as one of the all-time greats; Robot Hitler. He too knows that there is nothing more awesome than ninjas, so his plan is to launch the long-anticipated robot invasion of Earth with a bang by sending his robotic minions to kill the very first ninja (who I mentally named Blue, thanks to his fabulous blue ninja garments). Killing him off is a whole lot easier said than done, especially when all your minions do is float there, unassumingly, and get blown up.

Wonderfully, the story is told in a very minimal way, with briefly animated cut-scenes and distorted, garbled speech (think Simlish) to accompany it. There is a very understated sense of humour that runs throughout, but it often bursts into laugh-out-loud moments, like the explanation of Hitler’s choice in facial hair.

Back on Earth however, ninjas have standards to keep, so destroying robots isn’t enough – our blue-clad hero has to do it quickly, to boot. In under ten seconds, to be exact, although if you only manage a fraction below that time, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Our titular ninja is an efficient killer, wielding sword and shurikens with aplomb to combine ranged and melee attacks, which he allies with quick feet and the apparent ability to use thin air as solid ground to quickly mash machine minions. Simple controls help make it easy to fall into the role of a robot-slaying ninja very quickly: arrow keys do what they say on the tin, and move Blue about the screen, while the up key doubles as the jump button and is good for an extra jump while in mid-air.

Blue moves with a satisfying sensation of ever-growing momentum, starting slow, picking up speed and skidding to a stop when changing direction. Jumping has a similar sense of weight, dropping fast and drifting stiffly through the air. The faster you’re moving before the leap, the faster you move in the air, although it then becomes difficult to make sure you land in the right spot. Mistakes are invariably fatal because, more often than not, the wrong spot is covered in spikes.

Wielding weaponry is as simple as facing the direction you want to attack in and pushing ‘Z’ for a shuriken or ‘X’ for a sword swing.  I personally found the set-up difficult to adjust to, constantly feeling as though the buttons were backwards. I tended to get them mixed up when things were at their most intense, flinging shurikens when I wanted sword swings and firing out ineffective sword swings in the hopes that star-shaped projectiles would magically materialise. This was still happening even as I was approaching the last couple of levels, making some of the last, more intense stages rather infuriating.

The blinding pace of such levels lends itself to the sort of ‘one more go’ mentality that makes the best mobile games so difficult to put down. In fact, it lends itself so well that it saw me play through the entire thing in a single sitting, going back to earlier levels time and time again when I needed an extra star or two to progress.

Completing each level ends with a grade of between one and three stars, and unlocking boss fights with the mechanical fuhrer requires a certain number to progress. Generally speaking, that number is a little higher than your first dash through the levels provides, and serves to get you into the habit of running through stages repeatedly in the hopes of gaining two-hundredths of a second to unlock that extra star. The margins of success are quite literally that slim, as I can attest to after falling short of a target time by that margin time and time again.

It’s not perfect, that’s for sure. There are four worlds to traverse, but despite the change in scenery and occasional change in environmental hazards things tend to stay remarkably the same. Enemies stay disappointingly static, never gaining weaponry or even the ability to move – a fact that is even more disappointing when the minions start complaining to their fuhrer about just that problem. It’s the classic issue that arises when games try to make a joke of their own shortfalls.

Equally, as you might have been guessed, 10 Second Ninja isn’t particularly long. At least, the story shell isn’t. It only took me about three hours to get from start to finish, which is where the good stuff gets going, by which I mean playing through the levels over in the hopes of nailing a better time. Each stage can also be cleared in a number of ways, so there is plenty of space to be creative. That said, being creative might not be the best way to get through a level in two seconds flat. There is a certain joy to it as well, but it’s not quite as satisfying as seeing three stars pop up onto the screen.

There is some motivation to keep collecting as well, as a mysterious globe requires fifty stars more than it takes to complete the game. I won’t lie, I’m not anywhere good enough to even get close to unlocking that goal, but bonus levels that unlock post-game will help build your star tally up. Blazing through those is easier said than done, especially when the stages are more than liberally scattered with spikes.

It’s a fitting way to extend the play-time, which, along with tucking back into the stages that were cleared earlier makes the game start feeling far more hefty. Nailing a level and seeing those three stars sparkle gets addictive fast, feeding into the ‘one more go’ feel that ends with you looking at your watch three hours later with absolutely no idea where the time has gone.

It all comes together in the end to create a truly enjoyable experience, chock-full of ninja goodness. It’s as awesome as the parts that make it up, providing an addictive experience, consuming time in the best way possible. It has a sense of weight to it that pulls you in, as well as a hyperactive pace and sense of humour to keep it going. On top of it all, it has one of the great villains of our time: Robot Hitler, an artistic soul who tries to paint, despite his lack of arms. On the other hand, Blue is quietly badass, simply going about his business and kicking Robot Hitler’s arse for good measure.

It’s an experience well-worth the time it will eat without you noticing. By the time you’ve beaten the story shell, you’ll have experienced a heady blend of triumph and frustration that quickly becomes as intoxicating as it is annoying. It’s not flawless, because no game is, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. Plus, what other title tells you all about why Robot Hitler sports that rather ridiculous moustache?

  • Your character moves with a satisfying sense of weight and momentum
  • Robot Hitler is hilariously evil
  • Hyperactive pacing and compulsive need to retry make for a addictive experience
  • Just one more go and I’ll be able to beat that time. I swear.
  • It’s a little short if you’re not a fan of puzzling out the best way to speed through a level
  • Despite a change in scenery, things can stay a little samey
  • Joking about something wrong with the game only brings attention to the problem

If you have a need for speed, then look no further; is the game for you. Quick fingers and an even quicker eye have to combine to get the best times, but when you do the rewards are extremely satisfying. An amusing storyline serves to get you hooked, and once it is done you’ll probably be more than addicted enough to simply leap back into the levels in the hope of getting another shiny star.

The veneer does wear a little thin on occasion, especially when you’ve played for a few hours. Enemies stay disappointingly still, and some levels can be completely confusing. Work through that however, and you’ll be rewarded with the sense of accomplishment that figuring things out for yourself brings. And seriously, I can beat this time. I know I can. Just let me have one more go.

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