An app that was demoed at Apple’s iPhone 5s launch just got its official release last week, and despite the wait, Clumsy Ninja proves a solid game that really demonstrates the power of Apple’s new A7 processor. It’s part virtual pet, part RPG, part tech demonstration, but it turns out that’s a very addictive combination.
I played the game in a zeroed in stupor for about 10 hours on Sunday while waiting for a service technician to show up and install my Internet. It was a near-perfect example of the “just… one.. more… level” type of gaming experience, driving you on via a cleverly designed series’ of challenges that make even repetitive in-game action seem fresh and new for a long time.
There is a lot of repetition, to be sure: Most of what you do with your Ninja involves getting it to either jump on a trampoline or hit a punching bag. There are a number of other activities facilitated by in-game items, too, each of which is purchasable via one of two forms of in-game currency (one which is earned freely through activities, and one which is much more easily achievable via in-app purchases).
But the balance here is well-struck: in-app purchases greatly increase the speed with which you can advance through the game, but they aren’t necessary to its enjoyment or ultimately, your ability to finish the game. The point of the whole thing is that your Ninja is searching for his long-lost Ninja (girl)friend, and needs to improve his skills to be able to find her. He progresses by accumulating experience and advancing through a series of levels, picking up a different coloured belt once every other level. Hitting new levels unlocks new training accessories, and training on those builds experience and unlocks special moves.
The graphics in this game, and the physics that animate the ninja, which is essentially an elaborate rag doll, are both outstanding. It’s enough that you forgive the odd blending of virtual pet and human central character (some challenges require you to rub the ninja’s belly or pet its head, which is absolutely bizarre and more than a little uncomfortable).
What really makes this game so good is the attention to detail and the flawless execution: This doesn’t feel like your typical mobile game, with bugs and cut corners and a maximizing of revenue opportunities with a minimum of effort. It instead feels like something that could approach a console quality of experience, but with game mechanics uniquely suited for mobile devices.
Ultimately, Clumsy Ninja did get me to fork over some money for in-game purchases, despite the free price tag, but at no point did I feel like I was being unfairly bullied into doing so. This is a great game with a unique character and interesting play mechanics that should provide ample opportunity for distraction this holiday, if that’s what you’re after.