Games have taught me a wealth of useful titbits over the years: Zombies are suckers for head-shots, bikini Mithril armour can fend off arrows, battle axes, magic missiles and fireballs and princesses are never imprisoned in the castle you’re laying siege to. But the most recent addition left me intrigued.
Apparently, a radioactive explosion can leave ninjas super-powered and extremely angsty for blood, revenge and guts. In fact, that’s all you really need to know about Grip Games’ shuriken-flinging, katana-slicing comic ninja extravaganza, Atomic Ninjas.
It’s a title that’s not too bothered with a story. You’re definitely not going to fend off an army of ashigaru with your hardcore ninjitsu skills, or save a loved one from an evil feudal lord, nor will you be questing or attempting stealth kills while hidden among bamboo trees. Atomic Ninjas takes a breather from such obvious and frivolous fare. In fact, Atomic Ninjas throws caution to the wind and focuses entirely on unleashing the jutsu through multiplayer action. This is a game that’s definitely not for the unsuspecting and idealistic white belts of the world. While I have been critical of games that focussed purely on multiplayer mayhem, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how Grip Games managed to squeeze such frantic and chaotic battles into such a small game.
The truth is, Atomic Ninjas is fairly simplistic in its gaming philosophy. There’s an arena, throw in four would-be warriors and mix in a number of objectives (modes). The objectives can range from King-of-the-Hill, to Capture-The-Flag or even simple deathmatch or Team deathmatch. However, the key is survival. As a ninja, you have to be nimble and in complete control of your actions – be it eviscerating your opponents with shurikens, hiding behind some rocks or using your ninja tools to your advantage. You have access to three weapons or attacks (punch, shurikens and a force push), and three tools to help you navigate the arena (a wall claw, rocket and grappling hook).
I found it amazing that while the game is limited by the number of weaponry and tools (you can only use one tool and one attack at a time), it is possible to combine your attacks in creative ways, or even to steal the weapons of a downed foe. I became fairly adept at using the grappling hook and shurikens. The grappling hook made it possible to swing across the map, between platforms or even to stop myself from falling into traps, whereas the shurikens helped me to pick off my enemies with ease. Of course, I should probably mention that the attacks themselves won’t kill an enemy, instead enemies have to pushed into electrical traps, fire pits or pools of lava. It adds to the chaos, because even the projectiles from allies can knock you off platforms.
While the simplicity of Atomic Ninjas won me over. There were a number of issues that had me kneeling on the ground, with a tanto in hand. My main concern has to be lasting appeal. After only a few hours I had played all the modes, seen all the arenas, and fought an unhealthy number of foes. I suppose it’s one of the weaknesses of a game tailored towards a multiplayer experience. Granted, it is possible to play on your own against AI bots, but it’s obviously not the same. The ranking system and the Ninja Trials are two ways the game does help to keep you interested. Both the trials and the ranking systems helps to unlock upgrades, additional powers and new Ninja characters.
The various characters come with different weapon and equipment loadouts. In case you were wondering, the Ninja Trials are supplementary objectives that can be completed during a match. They may range from using punch at least ten times or scoring victories through the use of the iron claw or even demanding that you steal your opponents’ moves. In lieu of a singleplayer mode: I’m also not sure how many times I found myself unceremoniously kicked from a lobby. The pain I felt with each rejection clawed deep into my embryonic Shinobi soul. However, each hurtful bump only tempered my resolve as I hungered for the opportunity to showcase my ninja skills.
Despite a number of obvious flaws, Grip Games has managed to create a visually satisfying brawler, with colourful set-pieces and quirky ninja characters. The cynic in me would have loved to rip it to pieces, but there’s an undeniable charm here. The fact that you can easily play online or create a local match (via split-screen) with four players makes Atomic Ninjas an ideal candidate for a party game.
The controls are straightforward which means any one (even non-gamers) can quickly come to grips with it, but it also allows skilled players to show off their extreme gaming and ninja skills. Not to mention, the pot is sweetened even further by the fact that the title features both cross-play and cross-buy. This means that you can play the game on both your PlayStation Vita (PS Vita) or PlayStation 3 (PS3).