Ninjin: Clash of Carrots by Pocket Trap is a retro style indie side scrolling beat-em-up available now on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch.
Ninjin takes place in a fantasy realm inspired by Feudal Japan and inhabited by animals. In the opening scene, the peaceful village of Usagi is attacked by the minions of the evil Shogun Moe who steal this year’s entire crop of carrots. The village shōya tasks two ninjas, Ninjin the rabbit and Akai the fox, with retrieving the carrots at any cost so the people won’t starve. Choose your ninja (or grab a friend for some co-op) and fight your way through the ranks of the Shogun’s armies, lieutenants, samurai, warlords, and eventually Shogun Moe himself to get back as many carrots as possible.
Gameplay: The controls for Ninjin are fairly simple and perfectly responsive. While it allows use of either keyboard and mouse, or a controller, both have their advantages and disadvantages. The controller is nice for having everything right in your hands, but makes precision ranged attacks harder to execute. The keyboard and mouse setup is better for aiming ranged attacks, but makes dash attacks and movement a bit harder. Also the mouse cursor used to aim projectiles can easily get lost on the screen if there’s a large number of enemies. Overall the gameplay is well polished and smooth as butter.
Sound: The soundtrack for Ninjin is very well done and it’s easy to hear the influence of retro games such as Zelda, Double Dragon, and even Mario. The game also has a large assortment of music, which keeps it from getting stale. The sound effects only serve to drag you further into the retro nostalgia of this game. Your character has a number of sounds for various weapons, attacks, and movements and that’s only the start. The many enemies each add their own movement and attack sounds into the fray, making for a symphony of commotion at times, but not to the point of being disruptive. One of my favorite sounds in the game is the burbling noise made as the text scrolls through the speech bubbles. I love that they chose this instead of having spoken lines because it pays homage to so many of the classics that this game pulled inspiration from.
Visuals: The visual style of Ninjin is nothing short of spectacular, it perfectly combines ancient Japanese ukiyo-e art, old school video games, anime, and 2010 Cartoon Network. The level selection screen is an overworld map similar to Super Mario World, with new bits being revealed when you progress. As you travel from your village to the Shogun’s castle you ninja run through a number of scenic locations, including vast forests, snow covered mountains, the big city, and even a spooky graveyard. Each level has a bit of foreground, the path where the action takes place, and the background. The backgrounds are composed of multiple layers of cutouts making it look like scenery from a theatrical production or a painstakingly intricate pop-up book. Each new NPC and enemy that you encounter have their own unique look, weapons, and attacks to add to the palette of the game. Also you can unlock weapons and accessories to customize your character that range from authentic to hilarious and even downright bizarre.
Story: Ninjin’s plot borrows aspects from many familiar tropes and weaves them together in a way that, while not necessarily completely unique, is definitely enjoyable. After the opening sequence, most of the story is played out in cut scenes every so often in between levels, although occasionally bits of plot are interjected mid level by an NPC or enemy character. Most of the dialogue portions in the game are skippable, but I would say that they are worth taking the time to read as they are well written and quite amusing.
Replay Value: I would say Ninjin has an upper middle range replay value as there are a decent number of things to keep you coming back. First off it has a good amount of stages of varying difficulties to fight through and depending on the enemies encountered you may need to rethink your strategy and change up your equipment before trying again. This of course could mean grinding through previous levels to “farm” enough carrots to buy something new from the store (pun intended). That brings us to the next reason: equippable items. There are over 200 unlockable weapons and accessories, most of which can have an impact on your stats and attributes and can give you the upper hand in the next boss fight, or get you a better rating on that last stage. Because when you do finish a level you are given a rating based on your performance, which is stored along with your best times, giving you reason to continue trying to better yourself. Also you can try your luck on The Oni TV Show, the game’s endless mode, which presents new challenges and has exclusive rewards that can only be unlocked by getting as far as possible. Last but not least is the fact that the game has local or online co-op so you can grab a friend and open up a can of carrot flavored whoop-ass on some baddies, just like the good old days.
Summary: I saw some promise when I first heard about Ninjin, so I was excited when the folks at Pocket Trap sent me a copy to do this review. I’m not sure what I expected the first time I fired it up, but I surely got more than I bargained for. As someone who grew up playing game series such as Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, Streets of Rage, and Double Dragon this game was a huge wave of nostalgia for me, although I feel that it’s modern aspects make it relevant in today’s market as well. So whether you’re an older gamer like me looking for a trip down memory lane, or a young gamer looking for something quick and new to play when the Fortnite servers are down, I would highly recommend this game.