Review: Cubic Ninja (3DS)

Is it hip to be square?

The first generation of games for new hardware is a funny batch. Titles that may go overlooked once the software library is defined and rolling full-steam ahead get their chance to shine, partly because there isn't much else out yet and partly because people want to justify all that money just spent by not letting their new gadget collect dust. These games aren't necessarily bad, but they wouldn't really fly with stiffer competition.

Enter Cubic Ninja. It's like one of those wooden labyrinth games where you guide a metal ball and avoid holes by tilting the maze — only instead of wood it's a clean, cold environment, the ball is a squat square ninja and the holes have been replaced with spikes, flamethrowers and wrecking balls. Not to mention the occasional power-up and unlockable characters with assorted physics qualities. It's not a bad little game by any means, but it feels a bit weak as a full retail release.

Just like those labyrinths, you slide your little shinobi around with help from the forces of gravity as interpreted by the handheld's gyroscope. It's not just a few little tilts here and there either: stages make full use of depth so, for instance, you'll have to move the 3DS above your head as if taking a photo of the ceiling to make your chosen character squeeze through a hole in the foreground. This method is intuitive but also a little unwieldy, and playing with the gyroscope disables the stereoscopic effect entirely — a wise move considering the amount of double-vision that would go into constantly moving the 3D sweet spot. If you're dead-set on playing in 3D then the alternative is using the Circle Pad for movement and Y to bring your ninja into the foreground, but the change in how momentum feels makes some of the more daredevil antics you're asked to do a bit more cumbersome than they should.

Despite the attempts at character through a cute script and its blocky aesthetic, Cubic Ninja comes across as a very blank experience. The environment is a little too clean and sterile, and the stage design is in constant flux between incredibly bland and somewhat complicated and interesting. Unfortunately it never stays terribly interesting for very long, and once one of the five worlds eventually does gain some momentum it ends. Moving on to the next world just as well hits reset on complexity, lending a feeling of restraint to the 100 stages included. An assortment of unlockable characters helps put a new spin on things by virtue of varying bounce and weight qualities which encourages multiple playthroughs, but Cubic Ninja never really gets crazy, no matter how much it seems like it desperately wants to.

You can try to go crazy yourself with the easy to use level editor and share or import other people's creations, but sadly there isn't any easy way to share your work. A QR code is generated for exporting purposes, but you can't save it to your SD card or post it online from within the game. Instead, you have to either have a friend snap a photo of your 3DS with their own 3DS, or take a photo with an actual camera and spread it that way. It's incredibly cumbersome and a real missed opportunity for the handheld's unique communication features — sharing creations via StreetPass or receiving new ones via SpotPass would have done wonders for nurturing player interest.

Conclusion

There are glimpses of really good times in Cubic Ninja but it's far too restrained to let those promises run free. Between the high price tag, cumbersome controls, middling stage design and strangled communication features, there are simply too many barriers to portable shinobi bliss.