Save the Ninja Clan (Vita) Review
Release Date: October 6th
Developer: Lifepit Studios/Sometimes You
Platform: Vita (Reviewed), PS4, Steam ($0.99)
Save the Ninja Clan is a fun little title that reminds us that games don't need to have a AAA budget to be enjoyable. At $2.99, this title is easy on your wallet. It's a humorous double game where you can choose to beat a level by reaching the magical scroll at the end, or find a bug that the developer missed and annoy the living tar out of him until he lets you go to the next level out of sheer frustration.
Save the Ninja Clan is published by Sometimes You, whom I had a run in with when I reviewed Neverend, a game that took the Rougelike to it's extreme, and sadly frustrated me a bit too much. I didn't have high hopes going into Save the Ninja Clan, but I'll say I was pleasantly surprised. Again, instructions and storyline are very bare bones. Someone kidnapped your friends. As a ninja, you are to go save them. There are 33 levels in the game, designed to be defeated in under a minute by experts. It's reminiscent of Super Meat Boy, in that deaths are frequent and instant, and that upon successful completion of the level you get to see a run of every life at once, watching all your previous attempts slowly die off. There are 30 main levels and three boss levels. In each of the main levels, the programmer has "accidentally" left a glitch. This usually consists of some wonky looking wall or blinking section where you can pass through what you shouldn't. When that happens, a little computer window pops up, complete with the programmer sassily typing and telling you to go back. He will have further glitches that mess up your gameplay, mess up your controls, or reset you in the hopes of hiding the glitches that got baked into the game. Push enough and he'll just say "fine, whatever" and move you to the next level.
I really enjoyed this attitude of the game, allowing a different way to get through each level. If a particular dancing death trap was driving you bonkers, you could look for the glitch to proceed. Masters of the game could also look for the two separate ways out and extend replay time. Within each level there is also a special icon to collect that allegedly unlocks bonus content, though I can honestly say I haven't figured out precisely how to do that as of yet. There are three different ninjas with different abilities, each better suited to a particular level or set of traps. The game also can slide difficulty with a dynamic slider button in the options to speed up or slow down the entire game.
The game has one glaring problem: by reveling in the glitches and utilizing them as a "feature," real glitches can seriously frustrate a gamer. It's kind of like sarcasm at a comedy club. You go there for laughs and aren't really able to tell whether what was said is a joke or not. There were a few levels in my playthrough time where I noted either lagging or missing frames. Eventually, I'd find the in-game "glitch" which would have nothing to do with this. In a game where precision is everything, it's frustrating watching your ninja skip around and hit a meat grinder because you couldn't really tell where he was. Also, it is annoying to see the game default to using the analog stick. The directional pad on the Vita sits there, unused. In such a precision game, I'd much rather be using that. The comedy from annoying the "programmer" is fun, but the text box he writes in uses a notably small font that is hard to read even on the Vita's display. A few of the glitches require precise timing, nonstop motion, and reading his sarcastic clues, which meant dying several times just to get to read it all. Hopefully, the unintentional glitches can be ironed out with an update, that programmer can be easier to read, and I hope the developers read my article and implement the option to change to the directional pad. I would feel far more in control at that point. By the time you get to the second or third world, the traps and enemies get more difficult, so the precision needed is intense.
Save the Ninja Clan takes strong homage from Super Meat Boy, with it's square, small characters and vicious insta-death traps. It expands the genre some by adding more involved levels with progressing abilities and world features, and also puts humor in with the programmers lazy glitches and frustration at your bucking the system. At $2.99, it may not be the most polished title, but it's worth the bang for the small bucks. From what I can see, StNC has been out for PS4 since July. I see this as a title designed for Vita. It needs physical controls over a phone's touchscreen, but is more prone to "pocket play" than taking up your home bigscreen. These little ninjas are dedicated to saving their friends, and if you can handle a few bugs (intentional or otherwise), this budget title offers a few different ways to play that increase the replay value beyond the price.
-Tongue-in-cheek meta humor lets you defy the programmer
-A good game for precision challenges and speed runs
-Collecting a certain number of completed levels lets you move on, so you can skip a tough one if needed
-Real glitches that rear their ugly heads at the wrong time
-The soundtrack could really use some beefing up
-Lack of digital button control
-Dying late in a difficult level means back to the beginning