By Eric Pankoke updated on 01/14/2011
It seems we live in a world where highly skilled assassins have taken a dislike to the four basic food groups. Paper Ninja takes the novel approach to the whole “slice objects” idea and actually gives you ninjas to swipe at… well, sort of. The game is cute, it is challenging, and best of all you can’t get any paper cuts. I have a couple of niggles with it, but overall I’ve found the game quite fun to play.
The game has three different modes of play: mission, paper dance and ninja salad (only a few vegetables were harmed in the making of the third game mode). When you select mission mode it says mission one, but having not yet passed it I’m not sure if there are multiple missions or not. What I do know is that the first mission is divided into multiple levels, each level getting increasingly harder. You get three hearts, and when all of you hearts have been broken you succumb to the enemy and the game is over. You do get one heart back at the end of each level successfully completed. When the game is over you will level up one or more skills depending on your performance. Then you just start all over again.
In Paper Dance mode you just get an endless onslaught of ninjas to fight. While I’m not big on the whole “endless mode” thing as a general rule, this is a good way to hone your skills since your hearts don’t replenish at any point. You also have one limited skill that doesn’t replenish on this mode either, which makes it more challenging. In Ninja Salad mode you have to defeat a constantly increasing number of ninjas that are disguised as vegetables (you knew it was coming). You start with one ninja, then advance to two, three and so on. You’ll also get bombarded with cooking equipment, but you don’t want to hit that. The main problem with this mode is that besides not hitting the cooking utensils, I don’t know what you can and can’t do in order to be able to advance to the next level.
So what are these skills I keep mentioning? The basic skill is your ability to disarm your opponents. This is the “limited” skill in the sense that you only get a set number of chances to use it per level in Mission mode, and a set number of uses overall in Paper Dance mode (skills don’t apply in Ninja Salad mode). You’re actually discouraged from using this skill, however, as you get bonus points for every instance of the skill not used at the end of a round. The main problem is that when the ninjas start coming fast and plentiful, it’s easy to use this skill by mistake, either on the ninjas your currently fighting or ninjas coming in the next wave that accidentally get the remnants of your last swipe.
You also have a passive spirits skill that collects energy as you swipe ninjas. This energy is used to fuel your active skills, which at this point for me are the ability to freeze time temporarily by pinching the screen and cast lightening to disarm foes by tapping two fingers on the screen. Once you’ve drained your energy bar you can refill it by dispatching more ninjas, so don’t be afraid to use your spirit skills (or forget to use them like I do).
To attack you simply swipe across the ninja. If you can get multiple ninjas in one swipe you get more points and fill your spirit meter faster. If you swipe a ninja just the right way you can earn a critical hit, which is even better. I haven’t quite mastered this move yet, though I can pull it off frequently in some rounds. How you activate a skill depends on the skill, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. I’ve never had a problem pulling off a skill, though sometimes the general attack seems a bit unresponsive. Do note that if you get hit or you disarm an opponent you are temporarily stunned, so the game isn’t being unresponsive at that point.
I really like the visual style in Paper Ninja. The backgrounds themselves aren’t so exciting, though they do look good. The ninjas, however, are pretty cool. I love how they uncrinkle as they fly towards you. I also like the wide eyed expression they have when you disarm them. The lightening spell effect is a bit disappointing, but the freeze time spell is awesome, especially since it actually freezes the enemies. You can have your wounds represented as either blood or band-aids, and I use band-aid mode just because it cracks me up that a tough assassin type would use band-aids in the first place.
The sound effects are pretty decent as well. The best parts are the noise the wadded up paper makes as it’s heading towards you and the tearing of the paper as you’re slashing through the ninjas. I do wish the ninjas themselves made some noise, but I guess being trapped in paper would tend to keep you kind of silent. The music is pretty good, but I think it’s the same no matter which game mode you’re playing. A little more variety in that department would be nice. Still, given how many games continue to come out with either no or bad music, I’ll take what I can get.
There’s nothing really new or revolutionary about Paper Ninja, but much more important is the fact that I also don’t feel like I’m playing just another clone of something else. The mechanics are cool, the different game play modes are nice (though I’d still like a better understanding of Ninja Salad), and the paper theme is awesome. It’s not likely that you’d walk away from the game thinking that it’s the best iPhone game you’ve ever played, but you’d be hard pressed to walk away from it thinking you didn’t have any fun. And even when you get the full version I’d recommend the lite version as well, because the Halloween theme is great – a skin for the full version, developers?
Overall Score: 8/10
App Store Link