Cubic Ninja: Action Adventure Twisted
We've all grown up playing childrens' games where you have to get the tiny ball into the hole positioned in the middle of a maze. They're simple, but fun. Entertaining and accessible, with an obvious beginning and ending. In many ways, Cubic Ninja for the 3DS is like a digitized version of those games, though it has a little bit more to be found within. It's a gravity/tilt-based puzzle game that sees you guiding a ninja through iminent peril, in order to get him from point A to point B. A simple premise and an easy to play game, for people of any age. Though it may be a bit too easy and far too simple to hook many.
In the game's story mode, players must guide one of several different ninjas (most of which are unlocked based on progress achievements,) through one hundred different scenarios of various types, in an attempt to reach the exit. Instead of moving the actual on-screen avatar, the task is to either use the handheld device's tilt sensors (or its circle pad,) to alter the position of the maze and its confines. Gravity takes its toll and your square ninja will go flying in whichever direction the force pulls him (or her.) Very simple indeed, but there's a bit of complexity found in maneuvering past obstacles, enemies and deadly traps.
There are five 'worlds,' each of which possess their own theme and selection of twenty challenge grids. These range from basic laboratory white and gray grids filled with maze-like structure design, to three-dimensional areas filled with fire, where you must use both the background and foreground to navigate your path safely. In addition to these, you'll come across the physical properties of wind, water and many spikes. As can be expected, each new world you make it to adds a new element, though they never really ramp up the difficulty much, meaning the game is far too easy from start to finish.
Many of the puzzles found inside of this grey cartridge are switch-based, meaning you must hit a switch to move a block in order to proceed. As you make it further into the campaign, more and more switches are laid out across the map, and must be hit in succession, in order to move the block that prohibits you from making it to the exit door. These are one of the most prevalent types of challenges found within, though there are some more basic ones where you're tasked with just avoiding obstacles en route from point A to point B. Pretty basic stuff that really doesn't feel any different from the myriads of other puzzles games out there on the market - especially cheap ones on the iPhone, which are a dime a dozen.
You can choose to either speed through each puzzle grid, or try to beat it with all secrets found. For the most part, it's not very difficult to find those aforementioned hidden items, as they usually just amount to one or two different red scrolls. If you manage to gather both and complete the map in par time, you get a specific emblem beside its icon - that's it. The only real reward you get from finding the scrolls is the ability to use special attacks (purchased using the red text mediums,) such as a shrinking ray, the ability to automatically press a button or the chance to shoot out ninja stars that can take out enemies. They're somewhat helpful, but not necessary by any means.
At the end of each world, our tiny square heroes come across gigantic boss fights, which can be quite menacing at first glimpse. However, they generally end up being quite basic, with easy to memorize paths and similar defeat mechanics, such as pressing a button to turn something on (whether it's a wrecking ball or a sprinkler.) It's nice that the development team decided to try something new by adding in boss battles, but they're really nothing to write home about, unfortunately.
All of this is done in an attempt to save the princess from impending doom at the hands of an evil menace. Essentially, it's a take on the Super Mario Bros. premise from decades past, without much modernization at all (or any unique elements.) Since a lot of puzzle games never bother with a premise or a storyline, it's nice to see the effort there, though it really doesn't amount to much other than background information. The only time it ever pops up is during text-based sequences at the end of each world. Most people who play this title will probably end up skipping through those sections, as the story is utterly forgettable in its simplicity.
There are some interesting ideas behind this little title, but it unfortunately falters with imprecise controls that can lead to some frustration. Though the developers tried selling it as a tilt control game, the gyrosensor movement controls are quite frustrating to use as they lack a lot of precision. Many of the puzzle grids require quick and precise movements to avoid enemies or environmental hazards, and that can only be achieved (most of the time) while using the circle pad for movement. Even then, it can be quite floaty - especially if you're using one of the heavier ninjas (considering each one has its own skills based on weight, bounciness and other attributes.) If the controls were better, the game would be more fun. However, the game will beat you quite a bit all due to its issues as opposed to a well-designed level of skill or challenge.
Many portable gamers on the go seem to enjoy a good puzzle game that they can play off and on during their commute into work or vacations out of town. However, one of Cubic Ninja's major faults is the fact that it's incredibly short. If one really wanted to, they could probably finish the game's story mode in about three hours or so, considering each puzzle amounts to about thirty seconds of gameplay (not counting the odd retry.)Unlockable time trial and survival modes add a bit of replay value, but not enough to keep most interested for a very long period of time. If it was released at a tiny price point as a downloadable title, this would be forgiveable, but it wasn't.
One saving grace is the fact that the game allows players to create their own levels. New items, elemental hazards and enemies are unlocked as you progress through the campaign, adding incentive to finish every last one of its maps. Creating your own puzzle is fortunately quite easy and intuitive, though it's unfortunate that the developers chose to put your product on the top screen as opposed to the bottom.
Instead, the bottom serves as a toolbox of sorts, where you can choose an item and then position it using arrows that appear on the touchscreen. There's really no need for the arrows, as the ability to create the entire map on the touchscreen would have been much, much better. Players can save three customized maps for their own personal pleasure, with the additional ability of saving them to a QR code for transfer to someone else's game.
Visually speaking, Cubic Ninja is a bit ho-hum. It looks okay, but really doesn't have any memorable visual identity. Most of the puzzle maps look the same - appearing in the white and grey resemblance of sterile laboratories. Though some later maps change things up with blue water, red embers and a change to dark walls, there's never much of a change to be seen. The character models and environments are generally quite basic, but they are relatively shiny for lack of a better term. However, moving through the levels can bring out some ugly errant lines and other visual issues within some of the hazards and/or bounce pads.
When you boot the game up for the first time, you'll notice that your 3D slider isn't lit up. Don't worry about it being broken like I did. It's due to the fact that the game's primary control scheme is its tilt controls. Considering the fact that moving the 3DS while the slider is on results in a lot of blurring, it's completely understandable and easy to commend. However, when you do try it in 3D with the circle pad controls, don't expect much. The change in effect is barely noticeable and doesn't add much to the experience, other than the odd floating ember, water bubble or broken piece of glass (after a boss fight,) appearing closer to your eyes than the rest of the world. There's really no need to play it with the slider on.
Cubic Ninja features an original soundtrack full of relatively annoying chiptunes, which are utterly forgettable and won't be missed when turned off. It sounds decent in terms of audio fidelity and quality, but can become grating after a while. Adding onto it are the odd sound effect and a bit of 'Simlish' style talking from the different ninja characters, though none of it occurs during the text-based story moments. It's recommended that you play this one while listening to an iPod or some other form of personal music because it'll be more enjoyable than listening to the in-game stuff.
Though it includes some interesting ideas, Cubic Ninja is a puzzle game that really fails to set itself apart from the pack. This is due to its inherent simplicity and lack of any unique elements as a lot of the game's elements are borrowed from other, better titles (like Super Monkey Ball and Marble Blast.) There's a bit of enjoyment to be found within, but it's marred by imprecise controls, bland puzzle design and a brief runtime. Hardcore puzzle fans may enjoy it more than the average gamer, but it's something every interested person should really try before buying, no matter where their allegiances lie. This ninja should have had some more time to perfect his skills in the comfortable confines of the shadows before he made his presence known by entering the light.