In the midst of a busy week, and a busy week is putting it lightly as far as new game releases are concerned, it’s going to take a lot to stand out. While indeed Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is the only game of its type to arrive in a crowded drop, it’s not the cream of the crop. The game throws you into the role of either a ninja rabbit or a ninja fox, with local and online co-op implemented, to boot. Before I dive into the specifics, I do want to start with its pricing. The cost of $14.99 or region equivalent is a bit of a stretch in my opinion, simply due to the game’s length.
There’s roughly four hours worth of playtime here, with an extra hour or two thrown in if you’re looking to obtain every item and hit S-ranks across the board. In fairness to Ninjin, I will point out that it’s only slightly overpriced. Had this come in between $9.99 and $12.99 (or, again, equivalent) I would have overlooked this entirely. Still, it’s your money, and that’s just my opinion. The game’s premise is a goofy one. Ninjin opens its story with the theft of a village’s carrot supply, prompting both Ninjin the rabbit and Akai the fox to pursue those responsible and get their carrots back.
That’s pretty much the bulk of the story until the end-game, with some witty dialogue between the game’s characters and enemies filling the middle void. The first thing that struck me about Ninjin is that it’s a very colorful game. Though, that really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, given that it’s inspired by anime and the likes. What follows is a journey across one mass of land laid out in a Super Mario World-like format. Players will maneuver this world map to select levels, visit shops, alter their loadouts and finally, partake in some in-game TV Show endless stages.
The game does a good job at feeding you into the experience, but its difficulty curve is absolutely all over the place. I found myself smashing out S-ranks like there was no tomorrow, due, in part, to how freakin’ easy the first two worlds are. Though, come world three, this consistency seems to take a nose dive; constantly bobbing between either too easy or too hard. It’s easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things because by the time you’re this far into the adventure, you’ll have enough equipment and skill to overcome the tough spots with some perseverance.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how frustrating it can be when you’re hitting the same level over and over again – simply because the developers thought it would be fun to nuke all of us with waves of explosive-fueled enemies in rapid succession. Nevertheless, with these frustrations to the side, Ninjin can be a very fun game. Each level plays out as an auto-scrolling beat ’em up. Despite that you have full control over your character, there’s no way to slow the speed of the screen-scrolling, meaning that your attacks need to be very well timed throughout.
Enemies will come at you in waves, and the amount of waves per-level is relayed to you via a meter at the bottom of the screen. Most of the levels within house no more than twelve waves, but there are some levels that like to stretch it out beyond that. Each of the game’s characters can melee, throw a projectile, dash and use a super ability. Enemies will either come at you from the left of the screen, or the right, but the game does tend to give you a swift heads up in advance of their arrival. The kicker in all of this is that you can turn around, like, ever.
Your character will always be facing the right side of the screen, leaving you wide open to rear attacks if you don’t match any challenging foe with quick reflexes. You can indeed backward-dash to immediately penetrate and damage an opponent, but for the most part, you’ll want to align yourselves behind them to make the most of your damage output. Ninjin throws a dizzying amount of enemy variants your way, with new foes introduced at an impressive rate. I rather enjoyed this variation, which is bolstered by how each foe attacks and moves in their own unique way.
Attacking falls largely under three aspects; melee, projectile and special abilities. Melee is the main attack that you’ll find yourselves using the most. This is ideal for up-close and personal damage output, whereas projectiles work best when targeting enemies from afar – mainly those explosive pests alluded to above. Players can combine the dash and melee to strike large crowds of foes in succession, which in all honesty, is pretty much all I relied on throughout my time with the game. There is a consequence to be mindful of when using the dash.
Dash will drain your character’s stamina and if you deplete it completely, you’ll be forced to wait a few seconds before it replenishes. Now, that doesn’t seem like an awfully long time, but when you consider the sheer amount of action on-screen at any given time, being without stamina for even a second can oftentimes be the difference between victory and defeat. Melee and projectile attacks also use stamina, but only a very small degree of it. On the flip-side, only your melee attacks will fill that all important special meter, necessary in order to your special ability.
These abilities last merely for seconds, but they’re massively powerful and can wipe the screen of all opponents (in the current wave) in the blink of an eye. These special abilities can be swapped out once you’ve obtained a gem from a world-boss, and they vary magnificently. The twist is that you’re not able to select when to unleash the ability, it will automatically do that itself once the meter is full. This isn’t a design issue, in fact, it works well in the game’s favor and encourages players to slowly build up the meter at just the right time.
When you’re not hammering away at the game’s several enemy variants, chances are, you’ll be face to face with one of the game’s many bosses. These, much like your standard enemies, remain diverse and interesting throughout. Ninjin is first and foremost about reflex and quick thinking, but the occasional boss battle does indeed require a degree of strategy; such as the Summoner, who will summon undead enemies whilst protecting himself in a shield until all of these enemies have been defeated. It’s a very frantic battle and one that will stay with me for a good while to come.
I also appreciated the clever innovations towards the end of the game, including the likes of enemies that will prevent you from using a specific move or attack until they’ve been downed. It’s a shame that moments like this are few and far between, and packed nearer the end of the game as it would have been nice to see more of this innovation across the board. That’s pretty much the summary of the gameplay in Ninjin. Players will constantly move to the right, slaying enemies and bosses left, right and center, and nabbing some sweet loot along the way.
Loot is obtained throughout the natural course of each level and, much like the carrots that enemies will drop upon defeat, chests will occasionally float on by ready for the taking. These chests will open up at the level’s end to showcase what you’ve obtained, alongside some stats and a rank based on performance. This is where Ninjin goes beyond that of a traditional beat ’em up. You see, each weapon and artifact comes with their own unique stats or modifiers, all of which can be equipped or swapped out via the shop that’s located at the world’s map.
There’s a wide range of weapons and upgrades to chase after. If you’re not finding these additions mid-level, you’ll find plenty of wares at the in-game store. This is where your carrots come in handy as they serve as the currency that’s used to purchase said weaponry and upgrades. Variety plays a key role here too. Each weapon, both melee-based and projectile-based, comes with unique attributes and handling. This allows you to play around with different play-styles and equipment to find a loadout that’s both suitable and powerful enough to see you through.
I thought the balance in this regard was exceptional, for instance, heavy weapons pack a powerful kick but take longer to swing. Whereas lighter weapons can be swung chaotically, but don’t deal as much damage. The same can be said about the neat effects that projectile weaponry will output, such as ricochet, explosions and many, many more. It pays off to invest in some artifacts too, which when equipped, will aid you in a wide range of different ways. I favored artifacts that increased my health and my stamina, but there’s some very interesting ones to equip if you fancy experimenting.
Rainbow carrots are much rarer than normal carrots and there’s a special vendor that will only accept these in return for new cosmetic accessories. It’s simple stuff really, but a nice addition all the same. When you’re done with the relatively short campaign, there’s the aforementioned TV Show to pop into. This serves itself as an endless runner that will dish out exclusive rewards for every ten waves beat. I was hoping to unlock the chain-500 combos in this mode, but sadly, it kicked my ass on several occasions. Maybe I’ll be skillful enough one day… one day.
In regards to the game’s controls, these are well mapped, fluid and precise. Ninjin handles like a dream, which is just as well given how ultra-fast paced it can be at the best of times. It’s also quite accessible, despite the difficulty dive outlined above. Furthermore, the game offers up a nice selection of well detailed stages to take to, many of which are themed based in whatever section of the world you travel to. This is all tied nicely together by some solid audio presentation. Safe to say that with its small issues to the side, Ninjin is worth your attention.
Issues with its fluctuating difficulty curve and its short campaign length to the side, Ninjin is a decent beat ’em up that does a great job at combining its varying elements together to produce such a fast-paced and chaotic adventure. The gameplay goes a lot deeper than expected, and with support for both online and local multiplayer included, there’s little to scoff at here.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.