Ninjala is a recently released multiplayer fighting game where it mixes the bright, colourful tones from Splatoon and the splat-like aesthetic when knocked out or popping the gum. It also seems to draw from the cartoony, child-friendly style that is more notably found in the ever so popular Fortnite.
Ninjala had been in the pipelines since its debut at E3 2018, leaving most intrigued as to whether it would live up to the hype but also fairly sceptical if it will be nearly as popular as its similar counterparts. On June 24th of this year, Nintendo released a launch trailer (with the game’s release!) showing what players could look forward to once the game had been downloaded.
If you’re like me, you will find the bizarre introduction of kids clicking their fingers on a basketball court extraordinarily odd and out of place for an action game. What was the purpose of it? Death by clicks? Thankfully this doesn’t last too long as they then jump into a brief display of what the game entails, boasting smooth graphics and fluid game-play.
We play as clicking, hip-hop dancing bubblegum ninja children. We also see that the childhood past-time of blowing the biggest bubble is a useful defence and a dangerous weapon (take that mum! I knew bubblegum blowing would be useful!) This game looks like it has a lot in store as we are shown that there is a possibility to play through the story or battle it out against other players in an urban jungle.
As someone that’s on the Millennial/Gen-Z cusp, this is probably the closest to owning a studio apartment I’ll get. For an action and battle-royal game, it’s pretty unique that your character gets a home base as detailed as this. They have succeeded in making the lighting as realistic as possible with accurate shadow placement and reflective qualities on the appropriate materials. This home screen shows us all the options for us to explore:
Our progress in the current season (Season Pass available for purchase via the store)
News and what is available to purchase.
What level we currently are.
In the top right we see three selections for news, mail/messages, and friends.
Along the bottom of the screen there are options for: PvP, Character Wardrobe, In Game Purchases, Story, Ninja Lab, and then General Game Information
This initially is somewhat overwhelming as there is a lot to explore and play around with but I’ll do my best to break it down for you all!
This menu in Ninjala is pretty straight-forward, unlike other PvP menus. There isn’t much going on in this screen to be a sensory overload: Simple music and limited graphics. With four options to choose from there aren’t too many things to learn and keep track of:
Ninjala Battles (Unlockable Content): Able to choose what the rules are, and what stage you’d like to battle on.
Room Battle: Choice between Standard Mode, and Neighbour Battle Mode or you can create a room. Room creation gives you the same options as with Ninjala Battles as well as options to change Room Display Settings as well as whether or not you want a password for this room.
Training: Battle against AI where you get to select your opponent’s weapon type, and what stage you’d like to battle in.
Everyone’s experience with these modes will differ so there is no wrong way to tackle these! Just remember that there may be younger players so don’t be toxic when playing. Everyone just wants to have a good time!
Quick Battle Gameplay & Experience
Ninjala’s matching Lobby is simple, showing your own character as well as the other players that are in the Lobby with you. Unlike in Fortnite, you’re unable to interact with the other players before the match starts, instead, once you ready up you’re transported to a waiting room where you come up against non-aggressive AI. When all 8 players are ready you’re placed in the arena where a brief countdown happens before the carnage begins. What you may notice pretty immediately is that there is no tracker for how many players you have taken out, instead, there is a point system where you gain points throughout the 240-second match. This removes the pressure of trying to get the most kills but does replace it with a need to do things in order to gain points. The battle mechanics are pretty straight forward:
Normal attack skills which don’t need re-charging and can be used to build some good combos (definitely not effective if you button mash.)
A special skill allocated to the Y button and another to ZR trigger, which recharges over time and varies depending on the weapon you choose.
A super skill allocated to the X button which charges when doing combos and successfully using skills.
In the bottom left-hand corner is where you will see your classic green health bar, and underneath it is your stamina charges that show how many times you can “boost” your character. The stamina points recharge when you collect the glowing yellow orbs that are placed around the map. The fighting is fast-paced, leaving you no time to put your guard down and take a breather (no places to camp either!)
The above video is the only K.O. I got that game… I am far from skilled at this game but that doesn’t take away from the fun intensity that there is on offer!
At least when you get taken out, you land on a comfortable mass of chewed gum… Ninjala doesn’t leave you with the frustration that other PvP games have when you lose in a fight. Instead, you have a 5-second delay before you’re right back into the action!
When the timer finally ticks down to 0, everyone is placed in the leader-board to await further point allocations which can change positioning quite severely. You could go from 6th place to 2nd thanks to these bonuses!! Then you are either giving a cheeky thumbs up to the camera or… crying in the background… At least there is no one T-posing?…
The Character Wardrobe is pretty straightforward. As you can see there are five options to look into:
Battle Equipment where you can choose what Ninja-Gum you want as well as what style of weapon you’d like to use.
Avatar: Choose what clothing items you’d like (In game purchases that have no impact on game-play)
Battle Emotes: In game actions such as crying
Communication: In game emojis
Favorites: Where you can save character set-ups that you like.
You are also able to do some basic customization of your character if you weren’t happy with your initial choice!
Just like any other PvP game there is a place where you can purchase cosmetic items. Most of these items that are purchased have no real impact on your battle experience, unless you count looking fashionable a weapon. These purchases can be made if you have the in game currency of “Jala” which can be purchased with real currency (always ask for parental permission before making purchases!)
Going out on a limb here, I’m going to say that for most of us, the thought of training sounds like a lot of work… but the experience in Ninjala allows the player to adjust the AI settings to suit their needs and what they want to focus on in combat. Another helpful feature is that before the battle starts, there are pop-ups on screen that run you through the controls as well as different things to try which is useful if you’re always forgetting what the controls are (especially after playing a different game!)
Just as usual, I go into the fight expecting that it will be a slow-paced AI interaction…. But just like when versing other players, there is no chance for you to take a breather unless you want a K.O. The weapon that the AI uses can be selected from a wide variety of types, each having their own abilities, before the training starts which allows you to practice against different styles. This certainly makes the practice feel more useful than just running around trying to avoid being hit while also trying to take the AI out (looking at you COD Black Ops).
Story Mode: Spoilers ahead!
I was pretty wary about a free-to-play game that has a story mode and rightfully so. In order to access this comic-book-style story in Ninjala, I had to fork out some money (thankfully it was on sale. Thanks Nintendo!) which wasn’t bad in itself but not being able to preview what the story entailed before I went ahead with the purchase was definitely not on my top ten things I want to try again.
What I find funny about “Select Episode” is that unless you’ve already completed all 5 episodes (including Prologue) you can’t select what episode you want. You have to do the Prologue whether you like it or not. Each episode has a time limit that varies so I can’t tell you how long it may take you to complete all of them as it depends entirely on how well you do in the different sections (Sorry!) The satisfying aspect about this Story Mode is that at the end of each Episode you get a score that determines what Rank you will get (go for gold!) On top of this, there are bonuses for completing on your first go which everyone’s got to love (or not, you do you.)
The prologue in Ninjala is a good starting point as it also acts like a tutorial, teaching you all the useful things you need to know. It is fairly straightforward and shows you exactly where you need to go and what you need to do. With the same action packed intensity you get during the PvP battles! But this time it has a cute old man shouting directions.
We have each section of the story explained through a short couple of pages that feature some animation. This I find is a really neat way to balance out the playable action with an indepth and meaningful story with interaction between Van (the playable character) and the old man he calls “Gramps” and “Master.” This prologue sets the stage for what is to come in the following episodes of Chapter 1 and provides some back-story as to what the Ninja-Gum is.
This is where shi…. stuff gets serious! We are launched right back into the action as we try figuring out why children are going missing. Which I have to admit is rather odd…seeing as we are playing as a child… A child trying to figure out why children like him are going missing… Seems like a solid idea! However, it makes it seem more personal that we have the task of rescuing people the same age as Van due to it being equally possible for it to have happened to us.
The first Ninjala episode also has useful tips and advice given to us through the useful Gramps, reminding us that we have Ninja capabilities at our disposal. Everyone needs someone that gives useful advice and tips while also reminding us that we have untapped capabilities!
With a level of outward chill an internal anxiety at a mistake that we have all experienced at some point in our lives, Van says that he let one of the Space Ninja’s go in order to track them…even though it was an accidental slip up (it happens to the best of us!) We are soon set to task as we head into the events of Episode 2!
We find out that the childhood pastime of chewing bubblegum balls is actually a very useful and powerful thing! These bubblegum balls with Ninja print on them are the best-looking bubblegum balls I have seen in a very long time (RIP bubble-o bill.) Gramps explains to us the hidden power that Ninja-Gum will provide us for our important tracking mission as well as how to use it correctly. It is “borphing time?” no, no, it’s “morphing time.” we get to be morphing Ninjas… someone should make a series about that…
If you’re impatient like me, the idea of having to click the A button to change into a random item that is so out of place is more effort than just standing behind a wall and looking around the corner. I’ve noticed, especially in this Ninjala episode, the attention to detail is phenomenal! The posters are all different and have their own unique flavour text as well.
I found this episode probably one of the more difficult ones to do, mainly because there were so many things to keep track of. You had to make sure you didn’t lose sight of the Space Ninja you were following, your surroundings to make sure the other foes weren’t following you or had caught sight of you, as well as making sure that the Space Ninja you were following didn’t see you or else you’d be engaged in a fight that you had no choice but to defeat all the enemies. This did start to get tedious especially seeing as the morph ability would run out rather quickly and moving while disguised would also result in a forced fight. It is definitely worth redoing this episode until you manage to get that gold trophy though!
Episode 3 in Ninjala introduces us to a cool guy posse…not really… We are tasked with hunting down the individuals in this group to gain the materials they have stolen. It is a well spread out task and puts our skills to the test with getting to each place quickly, our observation skills, and our battle prowess. Towards the end of the episode, there is a reasonably difficult battle that requires you to strategically use your skills to not get completely wiped out. Keep track of that health!
All our training comes to a head in this epic final battle. We are given one last awesome looking Ninja-Gum and set off to beat a giant fizzy bottle with a weapon bigger than ourselves. With this weapon we are also introduced to a gum-like machine gun that does huge amounts of damage to whatever just happens to be in the way. Just like the other fights in this story, there is very little time for a moment of respite. The boss has unrelenting attacks that, if you’re not careful, will do massive amounts of damage. On top of this there are also the regular Space-Ninjas that try gumming you up to leave you stuck in place and vulnerable to enemy attacks. Thankfully Gramps is there to shout out useful advice as what to do next in order to avoid attacks, as well as when to strike the enemy.
Episode 4 of Ninjala ends with the effect of leaving us wanting to know more about what is to come. We’re introduced to a suited Ninja with hardly any idea as to who they may be.. Van becomes even more determined to do what is required in order to help those that need it most. Will we find out more about the mysterious Ninja next chapter? It’s certainly something that I look forward to. Maybe we’ll be introduced to more varieties of Ninja-Gum.
I am overall very happy with how Ninjala has turned out! The level of depth the story-mode gives is perfectly balanced as to not be too overwhelming with information and the comic-book styled start and end sandwiches the action-packed battles well. There is only one major drawback is that even though the PvP is free to play, the story-mode is attractively advertised and I would have much preferred having to pay the cost for it immediately and have the PvP as an optional add-on. Nevertheless, it is still worth the money if you feel like finding out more about the rambunctious bunch of Ninja-Gum fueled children. I very much look forward to future chapters in this story and finding out more about all the characters and how they came to be. Definitely worth playing when you want a game that doesn’t require too much of your attention!