Before getting some hands-on time with Ninjatown I didn’t realize how much it actually involved a town with ninjas. I know, pretty obvious stuff from the name, but the game is literally about a town full of different types of Ninjas and their attempts to defend it from evil monsters. So why is this game based on the contradictory ninjas (ninjas aren’t cute!) of Shawn Smith’s Shawnimal design line? Well, Mr. Smith himself took the time to lead me through the game at SouthPeak’s booth on the floor, and while I’m still not sure how a town can become populated solely by Ninjas, I do know how the game plays and where those strange little ninjas came from.
They come from Shawn Smith’s mind and it’s got something to do with stripping things down to their basic form but still making them recognizable as that thing. It was all a bit artistic for me so I really just concentrated on the gameplay, which is a sort of constantly defensive RTS. Basically, Ninjatown is under attack from the Wee Devils which are controlled by Mr. Demon, all of which, though evil, are also tolerably cute. As the town comes under attack, the ninjas send Master Ninja to the air in a hot air balloon in order to command their forces better and defend the city. As the Master Ninja, the players can build ninja huts which produce Ninjas of different types and which be upgraded in order to produce more powerful ones. There are the Wee Ninjas, which are your basic soldiers, the Anti-Ninjas, which are slower but more powerful ninjas, or later on such rare ninja breeds as the Business Ninja, who are quick but weak.
Like I said, an immensely simplified RTS. The catch is this one is all about defense. The player is never on the offensive. Wee Devils parade onto the screen in many forms and it is the player’s job to keep them from getting to the other side, or destroying a building or a plethora of over defensive requirements to keep Ninjatown safe from evil. The top screen briefly shows players which enemies are coming into the town, kind of like Tetris — pieces are shown before the fall. This allows for some strategy as different types of Wee Devils are better defeated by different types of Ninjas. Set up your defenses right, making sure you don’t run out of money, and you’ll be able to defend the level and progress to the next. There are also a plethora of side ninja characters like Baby Ninjas that have special one time use attacks, and can be earned or bought during the battles.
I was shown two levels, one early in the game and the other later on when it got more difficult. Playing the more difficult level first was not the right move as I died pretty quickly. So I jumped back to the early level and pretty much tore through it, easily setting up bases for attack and taking out the Wee Devils with my righteous Ninja fists.
I didn’t get the chance to use them since my strategies was so awesome, but the Master Ninja has a few attacks up his sleeve too, things like “Get of My Lawn” in which the player uses the microphone to blow all the ninjas across the map. There’s some creative gameplay design to match former EGM editor Shawn Smith’s creative design.
The problem I was having with the game is that it didn’t seem quite deep enough. Maybe upon further exploration of all the levels and diving more into the way the enemies and ninjas need strategy to fight each other, I would of been able to see it, but as it stands it seemed like a light RTS. Too light. Of course, this may be exactly what Ninjatown is going for. It sure would be easy to pick up and play a level over and over and try to get better scores, but personally, I’d just need a bit more to intrigue me. Hopefully the full game will have it.