February 7, 2012 3 Comments
Ninjas. At one point they were the most overused cliché in gaming. Then came zombies, and the time of the ninja had passed. In a way, it makes sense. Zombies are easier to shoehorn into pretty much any type of game. I mean, can you imagine if they tried to do a DLC pack where you take on ninjas in Red Dead Redemption? It would be fucking absurd. Who could take that kind of thing seriously? What is this, Shanghai Noon? But a zombie DLC pack? Fuckin’ A!
Ninjas are still stars on the gaming scene, but it’s only in the same way that John Travolta is still technically a movie star. They get pulled out and dusted off from time to time to star in increasingly ignored and unsold games, usually stuff developed by Tecmo, hoping against hope that their day in the sun will come again. Maybe once zombies are done being the flavor of the month, that day will come. Personally, I’m betting on mutant gophers being the next big thing. Don’t scoff, we’re one Caddyshack remake away from it.
In a way, ninjas are a perfect fit for Xbox Live Indie Games, where genres of a bygone era are the perfect training ground for the next generation of game designers, or a place where hobbyists can try their hand at getting involved in their favorite pastime. It’s just too bad that most of their games turn out mediocre.
For example, we have Katana Land, an action-platformer where you have to save a princess from some evil ninjas. Why can’t it ever be something more practical, like a ninja saving a country from economic downturn? But no, save the princess and rescue the kingdom, blah blah blah. What sets Katana Land apart is each level has a different objective. Sometimes you’ll have to kill all the enemies. Sometimes you’ll have to disable all the traps in a room. Sometimes you’ll have to purpose sweeping legislation that will help begin the recovery from an economic downturn.
This would be fine, if the game wasn’t obsessed with being a total prick. The controls are actually pretty decent, but Katana Land pulls the ultimate dick move sandwich by not granting your character invincibility when you take damage. As a result, enemies are free to juggle your ass until you run out of life. And they will, especially if you jump up to a ledge they’re standing on and end up occupying the same space as them. I can see why your dude wasn’t recruited to join the more lucrative evil ninja organization, because he’s twice as slow as most of the enemies and doesn’t have their random immunity to damage.
Throwing a ninja star at common enemies is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes it works. Sometimes the star hits them and does nothing. I’m talking about a straight shot right in the middle of the enemy that they make no attempt to avoid, doing no damage at all. When a hit registers, the enemy either dies or recoils a little. But sometimes the star would hit them and nothing would happen other than the enemy charging at you and chopping you up. It’s not as if those characters have protection from the stars either, as I was able to kill enemies of the same class using it. The game simply failed to register half the stars I would throw, like it has attention deficit disooooh look at the kitty cat.
Our hero has a few other annoying quirks. If you fall too great a distance, the guy bounces and rolls to the left. No matter which way you fall, it’s always to the left. Did you jump off a high platform with the control stick pushed as far to the right as you can possible go and hit the ground? Your dude is going to bounce left when you hit. And the bounce is a fairly theatrical one. Even when landing near the center of a large platform, there’s a good chance the bounce will be good enough to send your dude completely off of it and into a pit. It makes me wonder if the guy really is a ninja or just plays one at the amateur dramatics society, because he over-acts every single bit of damage by flying backwards several feet. If an enemy isn’t juggling you, there’s a good chance you’re going to fall off the stage when they hit you.
There are some things that lessen the aggravation factor. You get a full health-restore every time you kill an enemy. But every step in the right direction is immediately followed by a giant leap backwards. In some of the stages you have to fight zombie ninjas. If you kill them, they turn into ghosts that are unkillable and stalk you for the rest of the stage, charging faster than you can jump and juggling you until dead. Thus it creates the situation of the forced-pussyfest, excuse me, pacifist section.
If this makes the game sound overly difficult, it’s actually not. It takes about an hour and a half to beat the whole thing. The difficulty curve is all kinds of fucked up. There’s four bosses. Of them, the first boss is by far the most difficult, as he attacks you with lightning and the reaction time of your dude assures that it’s almost impossible to avoid it. I had to restart the level several times against it. Bosses two, three, and four were complete pansies that I beat on the first try. The final boss in particular is embarrassing. He just sort of slowly strolls towards you, allowing you to unload ninja stars into him. When he takes three hits, he pauses and allows some easily avoidable fireball demon thingies to pass by the screen. Then, you get to attack him some more. That’s it. That’s the only attack he has. And then the game is over. Thank God.
Really, Katana Land is not awful by any means. It’s aggravating to get caught in an enemy juggle, and the level design is pretty low rent. There’s a stage where the object is to find the hidden exit, which is marked by giant-sized flags. I found the exit just by scrolling right until I happened across it. You know, sort of like every fucking platform game out there. So it’s not exactly original or inspiring, but it is a functional game. There’s some good ideas at work here, and with some more refinement and level design to change things up, it would have been a pretty good game. Of course, you can say that about pretty much any game. “It would be better if only it didn’t suck in the following ways.” But Kablammo Games actually has something here that they can build on in the future, so I’ll keep an eye out for them. Maybe they’ll even get some courage and try something other than ninjas. I hear mutant gophers are expected to be hot.
80 Microsoft Points think ninjas never recovered from working with Vanilla Ice in the making of this review.