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iPad  header logo

1-bit Ninja

For: iPad   Also on: iPhone

Bit good

Product: 1-bit Ninja | Developer: Kode80 | Publisher: Kode80 | Format: iPad | Genre: Action, Adventure, Platform, Retro | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
1-bit Ninja iPad, thumbnail 1
A smell, sight, or sound can often lead our minds back to events in the distant past, dragging up either good or bad memories, commonly of moments that - at the time - we would have never have thought of as particularly special.

When I started playing 1-bit Ninja, for instance, I was transported to the back seat of a school coach, playing Super Mario Land on a borrowed Game Boy as we travelled to some terrible school trip, such is the way the game nails that old portable console aesthetic.

But write the game off as merely a Mario Land clone at your peril - 1-bit Ninja has enough originality and charm to forge its own path.


Your ninja is on a quest, not to save a princess, but to find his lost Gametoy (I wonder what that could be).

He does this in the time-honoured tradition of running from left to right, leaping on baddies’ heads, and jumping on a flagpole to end the level.

All the Mario Land trappings are obvious to see, from the setup and way the character jumps, to collecting 100 coins (in this case ‘bits’) for an extra life and finishing each level in a Bowser's Castle-like fiery world.

Unlike in Mario, though, you can only move to the right (by pressing the lower-left of the screen).

At first it feels like an odd approach to take with the controls, but thanks to some clever level design that incorporates this limitation into mini platform puzzles of sorts, that thought soon evaporates.

Room with a view

Within each of the 20 levels are five hidden coins - sorry, ‘bits’ - that unlock a few extra features (including a 3D mode) should you find them all.

It’s here where 1-bit Ninja’s secret weapon starts to make its presence felt.

Rather than just tapping to run and tapping to jump, you also have the option of swiping the top half of the screen left or right.

This action moves the camera, revealing depth in the previously flat 2D world. By doing this, you can spot little false platforms or hidden tunnels, disguised as blocks when viewed from the default angle, that can then be explored - almost inevitably leading to a secret coin.

You can choose to ignore this aspect of the game entirely and play the game as a straight retro-platformer, but when you’re dashing through the level and see one of those fabled coins lurking in a seemingly impossible location, it takes a strong-willed soul not to return later to work out how to reach it.

Tricky, tricky

An infinite life, level-select is included beside an Old School mode (start from the beginning with limited lives) and acts as a welcome concession for the often unforgiving difficulty.

Most of the time this difficulty is down to the remorseless and tight jumping, where a mistimed leap will invariably lead to a sticky end.

It doesn’t help, though, that the game never tells you how to spring higher off an enemy (hold down 'jump'), which is a bit annoying when starting out.

However, leaping-aside, the most frustrating aspect of the game is that you’re dumped right back at the start of the level each time you mess up, with all the hard-earned coins ejected from your pockets.

The levels aren’t that long (a perfect run should take under a minute), but they’re tough enough to warrant a checkpoint at half-way.

But even when you’ve been dumped back at the start for the tenth time, it’s hard not to pull yourself up and try again - no doubt attempting ‘that’ leap into the hidden platform this time around now you know it’s there.

Each level may take quite a few attempts to beat completely, but the excellent sound, graphics, controls, and childhood memories of a more innocent time will spur you on for just one more go.

1-bit Ninja
Reviewer photo
Will Wilson | 23 June 2011
A retro platformer that stands out from the crowds with its evocative presentation, exploration, and firm-but-fair controls
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