Apparently, ninjas hate cakes, and developer Cypronia has been struggling to produce a decent game based off this assumption since its first attempt on DSiWare back in 2011. With years of experience under its belt and a baked goods massacre to show for it, has the move to Wii U made for a more substantial title?
Let's begin by addressing the shadowy assassin in the room, and point out the obvious similarities between slicing cakes and slicing fruit. Yes, Cake Ninja will seem very familiar to anyone who played a certain iOS and Android game, but the real problem with the series has always been how poorly these titles compare to their source of inspiration. On DS, previous instalments disappointed with limited modes and frustrating gameplay issues, leaving us less than enthusiastic about this first home console release.
With new hardware come new improvements, though, and for what it's worth this is definitely the sweetest recipe that Cypronia has treated us to in this series. There are a total of six different gameplay modes, with some local multiplayer options and an online leaderboard, which is something that the series has sorely lacked in-game until now. The basic gameplay is still the same overalll, but the controls are much more responsive. Standard swipes and cuts using a stylus on the gamepad touchscreen are accurately translated at last, so dicing up the flying treats in a somewhat satisfying way is finally possible.
Classic mode puts this skill to the test, offering a simple challenge to score as many points as possible by slicing cakes as they move across the screen. Herein lies the simplistic, gooey centre of the entire game, and it feels less floaty and frustrating than before - certainly not without its issues, though. While cakes no longer have to drift between dual screens, they just don't have the presence and weight that they should.
Graphically it's fine, without any stuttering or particularly poor textures, but slicing stale pastry will just never feel as viscerally satisfying as carving up a juicy fruit. In fact, you're punished for doing so, as touching watermelons will lower your score and drain the remaining time. This is the direction that Cypronia chose of course, though we can't help but fault them for the execution. Dry crumbs are a poor form of visual reward for a good cut, when messier (and more satisfying) jam donuts and creamy cakes with a better pay-off could have easily been used to help trigger our childish glee sensors.
Across the board, the game's difficulty is set at a constant level which doesn't adapt to your rising score or the amount of playtime you put in, so monotony sets in rather quickly. Several different modes attempt to alleviate this somewhat with their own unique rules, with the most drastic changes asking you to target watermelons instead of cake; flipping the formula and helping to alleviate our complaints a little. Juice Master requires you to cut watermelons to be sent into a juicer, but awkwardly slicing chunks and hoping they land in the designated spot is more reliant on sheer luck than skill. Melon Mania sets you up with 60 watermelons to cut as small as you can, but it's almost exactly as it would be with any of the cakes - dry and sterile. 222 mode also returns, which designates an ever-changing type of cake to be cut.
Powerups do provide some nice bonuses, such as flying shurikens and the ability to freeze time, and this contributes greatly to a score which is now ranked globally online. There's a leaderboard for each of the game modes, ranking your performance against others from around the world, and it's a huge incentive to actually go back to classic mode to see how well you can do. This will depend entirely on your patience, however, as a standard game can continue for as long as you keep the time limit at bay with combos and powerups, so you had better enjoy cutting the same cakes over and over and over again. A little variation with some negative powerups or obstacles to avoid would have contributed greatly to repeat attempts, and perhaps made point scoring more about actual skill.
A local multiplayer is also available to play in two different modes - Classic, and a competitive version of Melon Mania. A second player can use the Wii Remote, which works well as the cuts never have to be accurate enough that some stray movement will affect your game. It's perhaps more fair for both players to use Wii Remotes, but whatever you choose it's a decent way to add some fun to the title.
The typically "Asian" ninja voice is used in all its squeaky glory throughout the game, alongside some clichéd music that basically just acts as background noise. A distinct lack of polish mars the overall experience; issues range from an awful, repetitious musical loop as the game loads, to a list of achievements that don't actually inform you when they're unlocked. New blades are a nice inclusion, but you might never even know they're available because the game never tells you. Stranger still, the online leaderboards must be manually updated if you wish to submit your score, and this requires you to wait a full 45 seconds after the game ends. Absolutely bizarre.
The third instalment in the Cake Ninja series is undoubtedly the most worthwhile so far, but that isn't really saying much. The re-hauled controls are much more responsive, while local multiplayer modes and online leaderboards help to justify the asking price. These are some genuine improvements that absolutely needed to be made, but still amount to what is purely an average game. In short bursts it's fine, and even enjoyable for a spot of casual gameplay, but if Cake Ninja wishes to truly impress there are some vital creative ingredients still missing from the recipe.