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DS  header logo

Ninja Reflex

For: DS

Everybody was kung fu training

Product: Ninja Reflex | Developer: Nunchuck Games | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Party/ mini- games | Players: 1-4 | Networking: on one device | Version: Europe
Ninja Reflex DS, thumbnail 1
There comes a time in every young person's life when they're asked what they want to be when they reach adulthood. The customary replies are exciting professions like firefighter, pop star, footballer or jet pilot, but we'd like to think that the really savvy children will calmly state that they wish to become a fully fledged ninja when they grow up.

And who can blame them? Being a trained assassin may carry a high occupational risk but few would have the audacity to contest that you'd get a tremendous feeling of satisfaction from being to able to put 'ninja' as your job description when filling in that tiresome tax return.

It's clear that the guys and gals behind EA's latest 'franchise in the making' also share our view. Ninja Reflex is essentially a training simulator for those of you that have finally decided to jack in that mind-numbing desk job and follow your childhood dreams of breaking blocks of wood with your head and running across rooftops at the dead of night.

First things first, though, and before being permitted admission to the training dojo you have to select your ninja name (well, you can't have a ninja called Colin now, can you?). Each title is constructed from two parts, the first being an adjective (naughty, noble, powerful, etc) and the second being a noun (eagle, dragon, baboon). Coming up with your own amusing combination is almost a game in itself.

Once you've been christened with a fitting moniker, you're introduced to the elderly sensei who will steer you through your tuition. He's a loquacious chap and full of sagely counsel, most of which sounds like it was directly lifted from the script of The Karate Kid. His advice is communicated via an impressive amount of sampled speech but the lack of subtitles means you're going to have to ensure that the sound is turned up (which it should be – sound is as important as graphics). The guidance dished out by your teacher isn't vital, however, and onscreen instructions tell you all you need to know about each aspect of your schooling.

There are six exercises in Ninja Reflex, each of which is divided into different mini-games. For example, the 'Shuriken' game sees you neutralizing targets with throwing stars, but you are also called to partake in specific tasks such as taking out targets of the same colour or locating enemies that are hiding amongst innocent bystanders.

The other five games – 'Koi' (fishing with your hands), 'Hotaru' (grabbing fireflies), 'Hashi' (grabbing flies with chopsticks), 'Katana' (using a sword to defeat assailants) and 'Nunchaku' (using nunchuks to smash thrown objects) all follow this arrangement, with the first few mini-games establishing the controls and then the subsequent ones adding something a little different to proceedings. In almost all of the exercises, swift speed and deadly accuracy are vital to ultimate success.

Predictably, some of the activities work better than others. Shuriken is well conceived and enjoyable, with the stylus being used to select a target and then a swift 'line' motion throwing the projectile. Katana is similarly satisfying; you are attacked by several demonic samurai and in order to defeat them you have to first parry their blow and then promptly dispatch them with a second strike – which is easier said than done when you're facing off against multiple foes.

However, there's a little too much similarity between some of the modes. For example, Koi, Hotaru and Hashi are fundamentally the same notion of catching something; a little more variety certainly wouldn't have gone amiss in this regard.

As you progress through each game you're rewarded with gemstones; collect enough of these and you're able to participate in a Belt Test. These are made up of three randomly selected trials based on games you've previously experienced and you have to obtain the appropriate grade in order to pass. Once you succeed, new mini-games are unlocked and the procedure begins anew. This is repeated until you attain the ultimate accolade – Third Degree Black Belt.

And that is pretty much it. There's a token multiplayer mode that enables you to play in a score-attack game with up to three other virtual ninja, but you all have to use the same DS, sadly. It would have been nice to see some kind of wi-fi enabled battle option, at the very least.

The only other aspect of the game available is the wonderfully silly 'meditation' mode, which encourages the player to sit in a comfortable position and control their breathing for several minutes. Although your sensei claims it helps you to focus your inner warrior, it actually has no bearing on your performance in-game. It's nothing more than a fun diversion but with meditation times of up to 15 minutes on offer it could nevertheless prove handy when it comes to keeping younger relatives quiet for a while.

Stylistically, meanwhile, it's hard to find fault with Ninja Reflex. A cunning mixture of 2D and 3D elements, everything is beautifully rendered and painstakingly designed; the flowing water and gently falling leaves that appear in almost every corner of the dojo create a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere. This is aided by some superb music and restrained sound effects.

Sadly, though, there's just not enough content here to keep your attention for any length of time. The mini-games offer no more gameplay that your average WarioWare mini-game, and the limited number of activities (not to mention the similarity between several of them) results in tedium far too quickly.

Granted, Ninja Reflex isn't being positioned as a full-price release (retailing in the UK for £19.99) but it's still debatable if it offers value for money at that modest price. Had more content been included we would have no problem in recommending this title, because it's clear that a lot of care and attention has been lavished on making sure it's as polished as possible. As it stands, we can't help but feel that anyone hoping to add 'ninja' to their Curriculum Vitae is going to feel more than a little short-changed by this.
Ninja Reflex
Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 26 March 2008
Ninja Reflex is undeniably attractive and polished, but unfortunately it gives up its secrets far too quickly to be considered good value for money
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