Cubic Ninja

I picked up Cubic Ninja from recently. $10. I had a $20 promotional credit in my account due to my past purchase of Ocarina of Time and the game itself was on sale for $30 instead of the normal 3DS game price-point of $40. I figured “What the heck, it can’t be that bad for $10” and I remember hearing it was one of the more unique showings of the 3DS some time ago.

How does it fair for $10? Not that great. Let me explain.

Link to the Past

It’s been a long time since I’ve played something like Dizzy Bee so I decided to give this game a fair shake. “The 3DS is more powerful than my old iPhone 3G. (which I played Dizzy Bee on) Technology’s improved by now. Stuff’s gotta be better.”

Oh how wrong I was. Maybe it’s because of games like Dizzy Bee that the novelty of gyroscope play has worn thin, but upon further inspection it’s more than that.

Too Simple? Too Hard? Too Frustrating

I played and completed the first world of Cubic Ninja and played about halfway through the second. (if you beat level 2-14 without powers, let me know) Every level was about the same: get your ninja to the goal. I say “about” because there’s a boss “fight” at the end of the first world. (shocker)

Sometimes simple is good but the level design from what I played was very bland. Most of the time you can zip through levels while not really thinking too much about where you have to go or what you must do. Things are too straightforward. There’s no real interactivity with your character and other enemies. It’s mostly “you vs the world”…which sounds kind of familiar.

The game does actually try and get you to go off the beaten path by having you collect scrolls with can unlock ninja powers, but then the game will actually give you said scrolls or powers so there’s no real incentive to go and collect them.

When things do get hard, the game just screws with you. The in-game camera is not zoomed far out enough for you to see danger below you so it’s very easy to fall into a spiky block and because this is a gyroscopic game, player reaction time and system weight must be taken into account.

No Teacher = No Apple

The designers didn’t explain the control scheme or what things do. They assumed the player would look things up in the instruction booklet. Sometimes out of the blue I’ll get a useless help message in the form of “Get your ninja to the button.”


What’s An “Art Style?”

The first world is set in a gray area. There’s very little variation of color. Everything is made of cubes which is neat at first (you’ll even Megaman-explode into tiny cubes when you die) but nothing’s textured. It’s all just flat colors. When there is a diagonal edge here or there, it’s not polished up by anti-aliasing.

Sound exciting to you…? Yeah, me neither.

A silver lining in all of this would be the UI. Everything’s simple and focused. Like the ninja. Lines are clean and the interface is easy to navigate.

One other thing I do like is the interface for buttons and their corresponding objects. For example, let’s say you have to push a button and then go across a room to pass a wall that’s lowered by the button press. A dotted line connects the button visually to the wall, letting you know in advance what a button does. In some levels this is presented much better than others, but it is a neat effect as the dotted line is dim when the button is up but when it’s pressed, the dotted line lights up and the segments tick down towards the button. Neat.

Load Times

With a simple game like this, you’d think that there wouldn’t be any load times. Well unfortunately there are:

  • Loading when the game first boots to the (unskippable) publisher/developer logos
  • Loading after the logos are done to go to the title screen
  • Loading after choosing a level
  • Loading after choosing a character
  • Loading after a death to reset a level

C’mon now. With all these load times Iwata’s going to get frustrated.

Seriously though, even though the load times are about 4-5 seconds, it is frustrating when you want to try playing a specific level (like 2-14) over and over again. It’s also tough just to get a game going. Think about it: after you’ve picked a level and a character, it takes about 30 seconds to get in and start playing from a game boot to you rolling around in a level. “30 seconds is nothing!” you may be saying, but it’s unacceptable based on the assets loaded.

The only reason I can think of why a level would need to be reloaded every time you die was to reset the 3DS’ gyroscopic sensor, but then why do they have a menu item specifically for that?

Tone Deaf

Besides artwork varying the world, music, voices and sound effects must also be memorable and fit the situation. Cubic Ninja has forgettable tunes, and the tune you hear on level 1-1 will be the same you hear on level 1-15 until you have a boss fight and then get to level 2-1. Boring.

When your ninja hits a wall he/she makes a sound, but the pool of sound effects and voices per character are both very limited and you’ll quickly grow tired of them.

The main beat in the title/menu screen doesn’t kick in until about 40 seconds in! 40 seconds! Don’t you want to catch your player’s attention right off the bat and excite them about this game? No? Who’s going to sit and wait for the good part of your song to kick in?

No wonder the default SFX and BGM values were not all the way up.

Aren’t You Forgetting Something?

Oh yeah! The controls! This is a gyroscopic game after all. How does it feel? Not that great.

I don’t believe things are as precise as they should be and as noted above the designers didn’t take into account player reaction time in regards to level design.

I talked about the lack of a tutorial above. You’re not told how and where to hold the 3DS. Should it be held upright or not? I found out the hard way that you have to hold it as if it’s on a table and go from there.

Another wonky thing about the controls is that in order to get your ninja to move “towards” the screen, you have to hold the 3DS above your head. This sounds neat, but an issue comes up when you have to stay in midair while towards the screen. You can’t really control your ninja when holding the 3DS above your head, and then if you need to quickly move to a back wall or something, it’s not possible without tumbling down since you must bring the 3DS down in the process.

Silver Lining – Accessibility?

One silver lining I found with this game is that it’s actually easier to control and play when you turn the gyroscopic setting off. For example, you can’t really play with the gyroscopic mode on when you’re lying on your side in bed. When it’s off you control your ninja with the Circle Pad and make him/her hover towards the screen with the Y Button. (not taught to you in-game) This style of control may be a boon to those with limited motion.

Closing Thoughts

So is Cubic Ninja worth your money? For $40: no way. If you can get it for $10 it may be a nice diversion on a train or subway, but I don’t see myself playing this game much longer. I really wonder what happened during development. Did Ubisoft kick AQ Interactive around? I feel this game fits into the “Art Style” series of DSiWare titles as those were hit-or-miss.

This is a miss. This was no BOXLIFE.