Took place: April 28th 2020 and April 29th 2020
Actual Release Date: May 27th 2020
Platform: Nintendo Switch
In March of 2020, there was a string of announcements regarding future upcoming games for the Nintendo Switch called a Nintendo Direct Mini. There were a bunch of indie games and new content updates for existing games featured. One game in particular Iˋve been following is a free-to-play, colorful ninja game called Ninjala. It looked similar to Splatoon in its aesthetic, but with the goal of eliminating other ninjas. A few weeks pass, and the developers announce an open beta for people to try before its release date. The open beta recently passed at the time of this writing and thought I would give my impressions of Ninjala. Is this gum-themed ninja game ready for the spotlight?
Long ago, the ninja rose and helped shape Japan’s history. Sadly, as the years went on, their bloodline thinned. In the hopes of keeping the ninja heritage alive, the World Ninja Association (WNA), descendants of the ninja, began its research on the preservation of the ninja legacy. In their research, however, they stumble upon the creation of ninja-gum, gum that grants unmatched speed, the ability to run up walls and jump in mid-air to the one who chews it. The gum, however, turns the chewer into a kid. The drawback didn’t deter would-be ninjas, as the WNA holds competitions to see who is the best ninja. The story is oddly serious for a game about kids smacking each other with bubblegum sticks, to the point where it’s amusing. I always get a kick out of colorful characters having disproportionately serious or dark stories.
As mentioned in the intro, Ninjala is colorful. The style reminds me of Splatoon, so much so that I doubt this is a coincidence. I love the modern, urban vibe Splatoon has, and I feel the same with Ninjala.
Something I didn’t notice until I listened to it was Ninjala’s excellent soundtrack. The open beta was only public for a little bit, so I had to squeeze in as much playtime as I could, but from what I heard, I’ll be looking forward to listening to more of the music.
Despite looking like Splatoon, Ninjala plays nothing like it. The goal of Ninjala is not to have the most K.Os (the game calls “Ippons” for some reason), but rather to get the most points. Getting K.Os will award points to the player, but so will destroying drones and other objects. Where Ninjala excels, is in its fast and frantic gameplay. When an opponent is in sight, the player can lock onto them and home-in to smack them around until they get K.O’d. More than likely, the opponent will try to block the player’s attacks by clashing with them. Clashes play out in a rock-paper-scissors like interaction. Both players tilt the control stick either up, down, or to the sides (left or right). Whoever loses the clash will be left wide open to attacks. I find the clash system refreshing, as winning the clash is incredibly satisfying, even though it does make battles a little luck-based.
Like Splatoon, Ninjala’s character customization options are robust. Upon first opening the game, players pick a base for their character, then decide their eye, hair, and skin color. After creating their character, players can customize it further with clothes, gum-color, weapons, and more. As of the open beta, players could not buy customization items; however, I expect some things will be purchasable with real money in the full release since the game is free-to-play. What impressed me was how many options were available in the open beta. It sets a good precedent of what’s to come in the official release.
Being an open beta means that the game is bound to have issues.
It’s worth noting that Ninjala does not require a Nintendo Switch Online Subscription to play. It will, however, prompt the player to log in to their Nintendo account when first booting up the game. There were at least three screens of user agreements to go through before playing. While not a deal-breaker, it is still to go through all that text, when all I want to do is play the game (which everybody does… right?)
One nitpick I have with Ninjala’s gameplay, is the inability to change targets once I’m targetting someone. Ninjala has the player compete against seven other people, so in a group, being able to lock on to someone or something else intuitively can help immensely. I kept tilting the right stick to switch opponents, only to fixate on the current target, and get entirely flanked.
The chaotic nature of Ninjala’s gameplay is like bubblegum; it is sweet and full of flavor initially but loses that flavor rather quickly. I was able to catch the last session of the open beta, but only played thirty minutes out of the hour it gave me. I feel Ninjala will be a game best enjoyed in short bursts.
The biggest issue I came across in Ninjala’s open beta was server issues. Ninjala’s open beta had three one hour sessions. I attended the first session, played one full game, then got kicked out of the game before I reached the results screen. I tried for twenty minutes to get into another game in the first session but got an error screen with every attempt. The second session took place at midnight, so I had to skip it. The next morning, I went on Twitter to see if the second session was any better, which it didn’t. As a contingency, the third session staggered its beta per region, which made for the best session of the three. I am aware that a beta’s point is to find flaws with the game to see what needs fixing, but not being able to play the game is critical.
When it works, Ninjala is chaotic fun. The combat is exciting, the visuals are modern, urban, and colorful, the music is fantastic, and there are a lot of different customization options. I’m hopeful the server issues will be ironed out before the full release of Ninjala. With that said, I’m looking forward to Ninjala’s full release at the end of May.