Ha. less than thirty seconds into developer Pocket Trap’s excellent Ninjin: Clash of Carrots ($14.99) and I’m cackling like Renfield because while it’s being marketed as a “beat ’em up” style endless runner game, it’s more of an arcade shooter/brawler hybrid and a damn good one at that. Of course, you may need to adjust your brain past the clever marketing stuff and your play style from “runner-based slug-fest” to “arcade shmup/beat ’em up”, but trust me, it makes a pretty cool game all the more cooler once you do.
The story is pretty simple, but comic timing courtesy some well-placed jokes and visual gags at every opportunity keep things fresh and funny. Your character of choice (Ninjin the rabbit or Akai the fox) is tasked with zipping through the game’s super-colorful levels collecting a village’s stolen carrots while taking down waves of enemies and a series of increasingly challenging sub-bosses and bosses. Yes, you can see it as a sort of brawler based on the many weapons and upgrades you’ll recover from downed baddies or in the two shops you’ll discover. However, switch to playing this as a coin drop arcade shooter and you’ll see those items in a new light.
Firstly, the constantly scrolling levels and enemy waves are pure shmup, as are things such as recognizing enemy patterns and the necessity of upgrading to better weapons as you go. Granted, the need to tap out moves constantly is more of an old school shmup and fighter/brawler thing , but you also get screen clearing moves, ranged weapons that feel lifted from shooters and an overall sense of fun that’s addictive enough to make one crave more when the experience is over. Yes, you have swords, spears, axes, meat (!) and other weapons to swing away at baddies with. But the non-stop pacing is made to keep you on your toes as enemy speed and ferocity varies from simple to nightmarish, fluctuating a few times as the game progresses.
Overuse of ranged attacks are kept in check by a stamina meter that drains quickly if you spam away, but refills over time or by using melee moves. Make it through a wave untouched and you’ll net some nice bonuses at the end of a stage. Accuracy is also graded, so less wild button mashing will increase that bonus as well as just making you grin a bit more because you’re sneakily (or intentionally) mastering things. The game is quite easy at the onset, but as the third area starts off, things get a bit more intense as the maps zip by and the difficulty ramps up. Some areas mix in super to moderately easy battles to parts that seem impossible unless you’re packing the proper gear and know how to use it. In classic old school fashion, failing means you’re restarting a levol from the beginning, but consider that a new opportunity to get it right.
Those difficulty spikes and dips may make the game seem inconsistent, but to me, they’re just means to get players into letting their guards down (or up) at key points in the action. Or, you can think of the mid to late game easiness of some spots as breather points before things get really insane. That said, depending on your skill level and patience, an initial run through the game can take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours if you simply play straight through solo and don’t touch the online co-op mode or solid Oni TV survival mini-game fun to be had. The game is also a bit shorter if you play with a pal, but in either case, replaying is just as much fun because you’re not likely going to unlock everything on the first try.
The presentation is quite solid with those colorful visuals doing a nice job of adding a sort of Cartoon Network look and a catchy soundtrack rocking an appropriately faux Japanese flair to the atmosphere. While there’s no voice acting, you’ll hopefully get in on the puns and jokes right away (hey, I laughed a lot while playing, but I’m old as hell and appreciate stuff like this). Some may lament the lack of a more “deeper” narrative, but those folks are likely the very ones who think EVERY game has to have some sort of COMPELLING PLOT™ or a character (or game) won’t be interesting. Er, this is a game about two cartoon looking ninja snatching stolen carrots back from the cartoon creeps that stole them. You don’t need to know more than that.
Bottom line, Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a pure FUN game that’s not pretending it’s bigger than it needs to be, but it’s also quite replayable once you get into it and start having a blast. It’s inexpensive, family friendly, has decent solo and co-op play with the bonus of online is you like playing with others from afar. This one’s also available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One and yes, there’s a demo you can (and should) take for a spin. Don’t be surprised if you find being a cartoon ninja is a lot more fun than you think (as well as quite tricky when you’re always moving).
Score: B (80%)
-Review code provided by the publisher