Long time readers of Nintendo Life will be acutely aware of the fact that we’re not the biggest fans of Cypronia’s Cake Ninja series. The two titles released so far have both received scathing critiques from our staff, which is why we approached this festive edition with a fair degree of trepidation.
As the title plainly suggests, this is essentially Cake Ninja with baubles on. It’s also misleading, as there are no cakes to slice in this particular instalment - instead, you’re slashing at snowballs hurled by an army of cheeky yet unrelenting gingerbread men.
Things start off on a somewhat sedate footing, with just a single gingerbread assassin to contend with. Successfully slicing the inbound projectiles fills up a meter at the bottom of the screen. Once this is full you’ll get the opportunity to return fire with your own snowballs, and taking out all of the gingerbread men moves you onto the next wave. The more biscuit-based baddies you have to face, the trickier it is to avoid taking damage; you begin with three lives, and being hit by a snowball removes one life. Thankfully, you get a life back when you complete a wave.
The ultimate aim of Cake Ninja XMAS is to earn as high a score as possible. Slashing the snowballs as soon as they are released bags you a larger bonus, but you need to be wary of randomly hacking away at the screen - every now and then, those nefarious gingerbread men will throw a Santa in your direction, and slicing him not only costs you a life, but also causes the rotund gift-giver to shed his clothes and flash you a faceful of pink belly.
And that’s about it. Cake Ninja XMAS doesn't include the different modes seen in Cake Ninja 2, and instead relies solely on the allure of the score-attack to maintain your interest. The leaderboard included with the game features scores from other players - we assume they’re members of the design team - but doesn’t have any online connectivity, which means once you’ve beaten them (which isn’t hard) then you’re essentially competing with yourself, or any unfortunate soul nearby who you can rope into taking part. You can post your score on the official site if you so wish, but it would have made more sense to have real-time score tracking built into the game itself.
Lack of longevity isn’t Cake Ninja XMAS’ only shortcoming, however. The presentation is depressingly low-rent, with poor 3D visuals and a terrible rendition of Jingle Bells which loops endlessly in the background. The snow-based carnage is punctuated by the irritating voices of the gingerbread men and some laughably faux-Japanese speech from the Cake Ninja himself. From a purely visual and audio perspective, it feels like the kind of thing a programmer would cook up in the space of an evening just to entertain other people in the office, rather than a serious commercial venture intended to make money.
Although the actual slicing of snowballs is quite enjoyable on a very superficial level, the process of firing your own snowballs is hopelessly broken. During this segment, three balls appear at the bottom of the screen. Your objective is to hit the gingerbread men by flicking the balls upwards with the stylus. This is relatively straightforward if you’re throwing the snowball at the gingerbread man directly in front of you, but hitting ones off to the left and right of the screen is more a case of trial and error than anything else.
At first we assumed we simply hadn't mastered the technique, but repeated attempts confirmed our worst fears - the aiming system is totally messed up. Swiping to the left inexplicably curves your shot to the right, and vice versa. The most frustrating thing is that even when you’re successful with your throw, the game’s collision detection system often decides otherwise and the snowball passes harmlessly through your intended target. The error is made even more infuriating by the fact that the ball is tracked on the upper screen of your DSi/3DS console, showing beyond all doubt that it was a direct hit - yet the game thinks otherwise.
For just 200 points, Cake Ninja XMAS isn't going to break the bank - and we’d be willing to wager that it will be downloaded a great many times based on this low price point and the inclusion of a festive theme. For such a modest fee, there’s a modicum of enjoyment to be had here - by stripping away the game options the developer has focused your attention squarely on the score-attack element of the package, which isn’t a bad thing when you consider how bad Cake Ninja 2 was. However, as we’ve seen in previous releases, the execution is fatally flawed, the presentation amateurish and the longevity highly questionable. Cake Ninja XMAS is refreshingly unpretentious - it’s almost as if the developers are aware of how bad it is - but that’s about the only positive thing you can say about it.