Review: Atomic Ninjas (Sony PlayStation Vita)

2013-10-09-143844Atomic Ninjas
Developer: Grip Games
Publisher: Grip Games
Genre: multiplayer platformer
Release Date: 10/08/2013

From the makers of Foosball 2012, Atomic Ninjas is billed as a platformer which is a bit of a misnomer. It uses platforming for its base, but this is like a ninja version of Brawl where platforming is used to different ends and methods through different match types to determine a winner for a whole match-up. Those expecting a single player experience might want to look elsewhere. While you can play this alone, the game is designed to be multiplayer, and while the bots can be useful for raising your level when you do go online, the experience is nowhere near what the game is capable of when you have four actual people competing for the lead. Let’s take a look.

The main story to Atomic Ninjas revolves around the idea of one man falling asleep on the button of a weapon that’s basically world-ending and then Ninjas showed up to dominate what was left. That’s it. That’s all you’re getting. It is told through an interesting way at the start but from there on it’s all ninjas battling each other all the time. There isn’t much depth to it story-wise. You do have a few options for modes, a training section that works as a tutorial, a quick match that’ll let you play against bots if no one else is around, and then online which puts you against people on the net and lets you join lobbies of your choosing.

2013-10-09-144044The game is presented in a 2.5D perspective, much like Worms Revolution Extreme is, only with far less detail. It’s side-scrolling and the camera follows you pretty well, but this is pretty basic as far as visuals go. The backgrounds can look pretty decent, but the levels themselves are fairly sparse, which includes the Ninjas themselves. This does make it very easy to see what’s going on and the action is the focus, not the pretty visuals, but it does make the whole experience feel even more barebones. The designs of the ninjas and bots are cute and convey the idea. I also liked the weapon effects. The music is pretty frantic and varied for as few arenas you get to fight in. The weapon sounds and the bots and ninjas though just get the job done and don’t really stand out all that much.

The controls for the game follow almost standard platforming controls. The left stick handles your movement. The right stick handles weapon aiming. X fires off your jump and of course hitting it again right away is the double jump. Circle steals a gadget from an enemy while triangle steals a weapon and square will pick up an object or item nearby. The right trigger activates whatever weapon you have equipped and the left trigger activates your equipped gadget. They all work pretty well and I didn’t really have any issues at all with anything not firing off. The controls are really responsive and work really well.

9316757118_5c860b3683_oThe goal of the matches are to earn the most points in a match to place and earn towards your next rank to unlock more outfits and of course for bragging rights. There are special unlocks in matches called ninja trials you have to complete to unlock and level up your super abilities that give you an extra oomph in the levels like invisibility if you’re sitting still, super punches, enhanced versions of the different weapons and gadgets and so on. This is all on the back end before you even jump in a match where you select these things for a match, however. The matches all take place in a selection of six different maps that are all a series of platforms with different backgrounds all based around remaining on the platforms and jumping between them without getting knocked or launched around to hit the sides which knock you out of the match. There’s also environmental issues that you have to worry about like launchers that fling you around the level and lava plumes and so on depending on which level you’re on. When you play a quick match you get to really select the different game types you can play and what length you want the match to run. You have six game modes, three options to run as a team or individually and the other three game modes are every man for himself. One of the neat things is noob mode that basically turns you into a powerhouse if you’re trailing in a match and makes you virtually invincible and gives you a chance to clean house and catch up. That changes things up a bit within a match and makes it even more fun.

With trophies and upgrades that are only unlockable by accomplishing specific tasks within matches as well as a level up system that unlocks more costumes and varied starter weapons, you have replayability built into this title. It’s strength is online and against other players and that’s where it shines so it only makes sense that it’ll be more fun the more you play against other people online which means coming back to it. The highest trophy you can get is a gold though, so trophy hounds may be a bit disappointed at the lack of a platinum. Designed around fairly short matches it is pretty easy to pick up and play and if you have a Wi-Fi connection handy it makes it more fun.

2013-10-16-144051The game is fairly barebones compared to some of the other online only multiplayer games I’ve played. There isn’t much meat to it even with the unlockables. I think even a short single player storyline would have helped as opposed to just having bots in a regular arena, but that isn’t what they were going for here. Paying one price unlocks both the PS3 and this version even though I only have the Vita version softens the pricing blow quite a bit, but the PS3 version has one up over the Vita version in that you can play splitscreen with a person on the couch and only one copy of the game while this version requires the other players to have a Vita. The bots aren’t all that challenging and if you’ve been playing awhile it’s pretty easy to ace a match against them. Basically if you’re not prepared to go online with this at all you’re not going to get much out of it.

While we have a glut of post-apocalyptic titles out there, I don’t think this one really counts all that much. And we certainly don’t have a whole lot of ninjas using super powers to knock each other off platforms in an arena. It’s interesting to see them use the traditional platforming tricks and put them into a brawling online format and it works really well in that regards. On the other hand the first thing I thought of when I first saw it and playing the first time was that it’s Smash Bros. Brawl with ninjas, so there is that.

9313970333_14d037df0e_oThis was a mixed bag for me as far as getting sucked into it. While I did have fun with it and it was a blast to play, it does tend to get very repetitive and a bit boring after awhile. Even when you get different types of games going on during matches, like King of the Hill or team Deathmatch or Capture the Flag, you’re still basically doing the same actions with the same weapon sets over and over again. You want to knock the other ninjas not on your team off the ledge and hopefully to their demise using the same methods. Sure you might be holding a spot or going after a particular person, but even I was only enamored without some extra motivation for very long. Having others to play against instead of the bots alone helps out a ton, but popping on when people are filling lobbies is another matter altogether.

Vita and PS3 cross buy titles are a bit in short supply, so adding another one to that roster is an attractive prospect for people who have both. On the other hand this is an online only title that offers a far more limited experience with bots if you’re forced to play offline or haven’t found someone else online looking to play. It is a decent price for the two versions in once package and is fairly quick to pick up but can get a bit repetitive which makes the short match times a bit of a godsend. There’s only so many times you can fling, bash or knock someone off a ledge to their doom before you do eventually get bored with only so many ways to go about doing it.

8742633644_150d4336c5_oWith it being online as the thrust of the experience, it can be a big drag when there’s not enough people on to fill out a match, which has been most of my experience with it. Most of my matches have ended up with one person and two bots besides myself or just me and the bots. The first few days there were more matches and people to choose from but it’s kind of fizzled. If you had a group that plays it regularly against each other that might make a bit of difference. Apart from not having people in matches I did have some issues with it. Once I had it just crash out back to the Vita’s main screen entirely and another time when I was at a hotel using their Wi-Fi the whole Vita locked up. Of course that required me connecting through a website first before I could even get online and then go in and launch the game, so I don’t know if it was that combination of things or not. Two crashes for as many hours as I put into it isn’t bad, but it is a bit alarming that it completely crashed out at all. The good news is that despite that when I did get connected online and wasn’t the host I had little to no lag at all. The game ran pretty smooth.

Short Attention Span Summary
Atomic Ninjas is a neat and short arena based brawling platformer that works and plays so much better online than off. While it feels barebones it’s easy to pick up and learn and is great when you only have a short amount of time to burn and want to play something quick. The only problem it has in that is there’s not enough people online at differing hours to really fill out a match leaving you playing bots which isn’t nearly as much fun. While there are a variety of outfits you can level into, the look alone is more what you’re going for as the varied starting weapons don’t offer up that much of a change other than personal preference. If you’re not prepared to go online with this one you’ll be missing out, and while I think it can be fun it would have been more interesting with a little more meat to it. If you’re into online competitive play, though, this is a nice addition to the Vita.



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