After quite a few Japanese DSiWare downloads and a retail cartridge, the inexpensive G.G Series finally leaves Japan with the release of G.G Series: Ninja Karakuri Den. The complete lack of a storyline may make this adventure seem odd, but it is a fun play nonetheless; reminiscent of old releases such as Mappy and Flicky, veteran gamers are sure to get a kick out of this title.
In this arcade-style action experience, players take control of a ninja who must destroy gears in order to open a secret exit door in each level. The only thing that can kill him is if he falls through a gap in the stage, but platforms constantly appear as the ones that you step on disappear. Enemies will try to knock you down throughout the levels, but they are easily done away with by a quick slash of your sword. Quick moving and thinking are key if you hope to make it to the end.
Ninja Karakuri Den contains 60 levels that consist of a single screen. The levels may start out very easy, but quickly increase in difficulty, and after every three levels you will be thrown into a boss battle against a ninja whose skills and abilities change as you get further into the game. After each of these is a bonus level, which is great for pumping up your score and taking a break from being bombarded by enemies. Each level is displayed on the DSi’s bottom screen, along with your remaining lives, level number, level timer and, inexplicably, the title of the game. The top screen shows your high scores, current score and the time.
One feature that this lacks is the ability for the player to choose a difficulty level. Though the challenge does increase with a steady and forgiving curve, it would definitely be accessible to all players. Ninja Karakuri Den expects your skills to increase with the game, but this is not a guarantee for everyone. Once you’ve played through a few times and begun to memorise enemy patterns, however, Ninja Karakuri Den can seem like a walk in the park.
Ninja Karakuri Den is short, but still fun. It is a bit troubling, though, that there's no options menu to allow you to adjust the audio and control setup, and leaderboards would certainly have been a nice feature. Most players will be able to beat it in about 20 minutes, but that doesn’t take away from its replayability – like most arcade games, this is all about getting the high score, and their being constantly displayed on the top screen is all the more incentive to do better than your last run. Once you’ve figured out the unchanging enemy setup and patterns, however, this game can seem a bit tedious.
The controls are tight, simple, and very responsive. Your character jumps around the screen by himself, but it is up to you to move from left to right and to attack. Pressing A will do a powerful close-range sword attack, B causes your character to dash, and Y throws one of your weak yet endless supply of shuriken. Your inability to stop your ninja’s constant motion may be frustrating at first, but you quickly get used to this game mechanic. With no alternate way to control the game, however, Ninja Karakuri Den is a little restricting in how it wants you to play.
The visual presentation is actually pretty impressive. Everything in the game is very cute and cartoony, with the exception of your character displayed as an anime-style shinobi after defeating a boss. With beautifully coloured backgrounds and chibi style characters, the visuals in Ninja Karakuri Den are very appealing.
The audio, on the other hand, is a completely different story. This game contains, at the most, three different songs, all of them constantly played through the duration of the 60 levels, and all sound like slightly altered versions of each other. Unless you’re a big fan of Japanese-influenced techno MIDI songs, it’s almost a guarantee that you will grow tired of these by your second or third playthrough.
If you're looking for a game with a lot of content and an engaging story, then you might want to look elsewhere. Fans of old arcade-style games who obsess about getting high scores, however, might find a lot of enjoyment and replayability here. Ninja Karakuri Den's adventure may seem paper-thin, but for only 200 Nintendo Points it's definitely a journey that is worth taking.