I still remember when you weren’t supposed to say ninja. The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles escapade is the prime example, coupled with the declaration that somehow the nunchuck was a deadly weapon, so we couldn’t depict it being used in a violent act of any kind. Never mind the fact that most persons trying to swing a nunchuck end up cracking themselves in the swinging rogers, but I digress. Now you most certainly can say ninja and train your reflexes ninja-style from the comfort of your own home. Or so claims Ninja Reflex.
You’ll be impressed by the authentic looks and sound of the title on both formats straight away. Lovely backdrops and haunting Japanese music ensue, offering great promise. The actual in game graphics are what you’d expect as well, though nothing to write home about. Presentation wise, I have to give the thumbs up to Ninja Reflex. If I were hosting an evening of Mah Jongg, I would play the game in the background for atmosphere.
The game itself is very simple and consists of six mini-game types: throwing stars, koi catching, firefly spotting, catching flies with chopsticks, katana use and nunchuck use. Every time you complete all games unlocked within a section, you gain a gem. Collecting five gems from the six sections allows you to take a belt test and advance to a higher grade. The belt tests consist of three random challenges from the Sensei who leads you through the game. You pick a name at the start of the game, which can be any one of a variety of ninja names, such as ‘Puzzling Blossom’ or ‘Scarlet Warrior’.
Presented throughout by an aging Ninja Sensei, wise comments and other commentary on the martial arts will be fed to you throughout your challenges. There is an entire section on Meditation as an art form, offering guided medication, a silent option and an explanation of why one might meditate. Set to the backdrop of a Japanese colour wheel and ying yang, this is a serious section and useful for those interested in meditation. If that’s not your thing, steer clear of this area. Other than this, the game is suitable for all, with no blood and a lot of peaceful advice from your Master. Anger only burns the angry, little ninja.
I found the controls easier though less defined on the DS version, with the exception of koi catching. The Wii tempts you to throw your weight around, also offering a wider play area with a naturally wider aiming field. This makes it easier to strike gold on the DS version, though when catching koi this sometimes feels jerky, scaring the fish. The firefly test on the Wii is a reaction test – as soon as you spot a firefly you must press A. On the DS you actually have to tap the firefly, making it slightly more lengthy in milliseconds.
Whilst beautifully presented, Ninja Reflex lacks seriously in two areas: progress tracking and variety.
Since the game claims to be a daily training challenge to sharpen your reactions and senses, one could reasonably compare it to Brain Training or similar titles. Here’s the problem though; there are no graphs, daily progress tracking or comparisons with your friends. You don’t even have a high score area or personal bests recorded for you to defeat at a later date.
This is a real shame since the game measures your achievements in milliseconds and there’s lots of scope for tracking your progress and comparing high scores to spur you on to greater things. The multi player options are also very limited – you simply win or lose and there’s no record of what happened, except that you played online in your journal section. No break down of who won and how much by…
Speaking of your journal, it does track your belt upgrades with date and time. But that’s all it appears to do. On my first go, I got to orange belt (grade four) without breaking any sort of sweat. The reason I stopped? The next big let down – variety.
Every mini game is essentially just a variation on the six themes already mentioned. There is nothing that falls outside of these six areas, nothing. Whether you’re catching six koi fish in 20 seconds or trying to grab one fast koi, it’s all catching koi in the same pond, staring at the same lillies with the same, black gloved hand. Every section is like that – all the games within it are variations of each other, set in the same location. What that comes down to is six mini game types. Gaining a new belt grade will offer you new names for your save game and unlock more variations within the mini games, but being able to change your name isn’t much incentive to play on, nor are more varieties of the same six games.
If you’re going to get this game, go for the DS because it’s cheaper than the Wii version, probably will hurt your wrists less and can be fun for a quick play on the bus or train. Despite the beautiful effort that’s gone into presentation, the lack of variety in games and tracking progress leaves you wondering why you’d play it again after the first ten minutes.
Nice try lads, but give us a reason to play more than once next time.