Ninja Captains Review
Posted by Sean Aaron
A mini-game too far...
Mini-games. One might say that mini-game (or, more nicely, "party game") collections have a serious presence on the Wii; it is often a fact bemoaned by more "hard-centred" gamers. Some of these titles are amongst the more successful games on the platform: both Carnival Games and Game Party have done quite well for their publishers and Mario Party and WarioWare games have gained respect and sales for the creator of the Wii, Nintendo.
It's no surprise then that fledgling Lithuanian publisher Nordcurrent has decided to favour the Wii with Ninja Captains - billed as a "20 Game Collection" that contains "countless hours of party game fun," in an attempt to net some of that "expanded market" dosh. There are certainly twenty games included, however whether or not there are hours of fun will depend upon how much tolerance you and your family have for playing mini-games that often involve non-intuitive motions and interstitial story sections that stray into offensive territory.
Initially the games must be played through in linear fashion via the "story mode" in which the Ninja Captains are revealed to be some sort of inept crime fighters. Seeing a giant robot mouse trashing downtown New York on the television the kitty foursome follow a gizmo that's supposed to point them to where the trouble is, but it's malfunctioning so they take a taxi straight past the monster and board a plane instead. Thus begins a series of air, land and sea journeys that come full circle right back to New York for a final mini-game through the inside of the robot to save the day.
As a consequence of their travels the mini-games span a wide range of different activities and unsurprisingly all involve some degree of motion input, although this isn't an issue since the motion input is simple and mostly works well enough. The major problem is that there's often a complete disconnect between player actions and on-screen events removing any real involvement with what's happening on-screen: it's not only a disservice to the game itself, but nullifies the purpose in using motion controls in the first place.
There are a few games that work pretty well: a downhill mountain slide using just the Remote-tilting function to move around obstacles or a cart game where you control a cart on railroad tracks and race against other players using a combination of tilt and button press to dodge obstacles in front of you. There are many where this isn't the case; in fact, the very first game encountered sees you moving between four passengers on an airplane using the or and then waggling the Remote to present a sick bag until they're done puking their guts out according to a meter above their heads. Ignoring the distasteful subject matter, shaking a Remote to present a bag makes no sense. There's a "roll the bones" game where no actual dice are thrown -- you are apparently meant to shake the Remote and Nunchuk constantly and then press the appropriate button when prompted, scoring points when you get it right. How this is fun or even a game isn't entirely clear, and the wall-climbing game where you simply use the pointer to move the cursor over the next hand-hold to use in a race to the top is equally baffling.
That's not all - there's a Gondola racing stage in Venice, where apparently waggling the Nunchuk steers right, waggling the Remote steers left and both together goes forward, though in practice you end up alternating shakes of each to go forward and then one or the other to straighten out since "forward" doesn't mean your gondola stays in a straight line. The Barbering stage also baffles - you're supposed to cut hair by holding and using the pointer to connect stars by drawing a line between them, but there's only a handful of repeated patterns and no actual cutting of hair involved.
Even in the games that would otherwise work well, there's the problem of game design. In both the wall-climbing and skyscraper-scaling games (racing up the side of a building using window-washing gear) it's possible for a single player to outpace the rest. Since the game only focuses on the leader other players simply disappear off the bottom of the screen without any ability to continue play - not exactly conducive to "party play," is it?
Any defence that the game is aimed at younger players is negated by the fact that many of these games aren't really accessible to young gamers due to the level of coordination involved. Some are Remote-only affairs but many use both controllers and require rapid-fire button presses. In order to regard a game as complete in story mode and progress to the next stage you need to achieve a score in excess of 500 points (actually this is just a guess since the game never tells you that there's a barrier to continuing). There are always four players with the CPU taking over in case there's not enough humans, which can be confusing if you don't remember which of the four coloured-coded cats you selected initially. If you cannot cut the mustard after a few attempts the game just lets you continue anyway, making the restriction a rather puzzling inclusion.
You can only view interstitial bits when playing the story mode and that's probably a good thing. The hand-drawn cut-out animation style is decent, but falls far short of the nice-looking trailers shown online or the 3D character models in the games themselves. Most of the cutscenes are innocuous, but there's a couple in there with depictions of racial stereotypes that weren't amusing in British sitcoms 30+ years ago, much less in the 21st century. Depicting Somali pirates as gun-toting voodoo-worshippers wearing grass skirts and living in the jungle is not only in bad taste, but shows ignorance of the region in more ways than one. The less said about the West African spear-toting tribesmen with gold hoop earrings and big red lips the better - the only question we have for the developers and publishers is, "what were you thinking?" This sort of racial ignorance is simply unacceptable, particularly when included in a seemingly harmless minigames collection.
Ninja Captains is raindrop in a sea of party game collections, lacking even the most basic of hooks to bring in casual players due to a lack of well-developed characters or a theme to tie the games together. Whilst there are a few decent games in the collection, the bad far outweighs the good, even crossing into territory that it has no place going with depictions of Africans that would shame Benny Hill. If you're a die-hard party game fan there are loads more collections on offer that are worthy of your time.