A simple storyline and progressive learning curve make this Tower Defense-style game fun for all ages. Ninjatown concentrates on progression and systematic fighting format. You must ward off demon attackers and other elements to defend Ninjatown, home of the stealth…hug and fists of tickle fury. This game's combat elements concentrate on protecting important community institutions, like the sugar exchange, which are vital to the local economy based on the Ninja Star Cookie currency.
The learning curve comes from constant short tutorials and helpful, comic dialogue between Ol’ Ninja Master and the ninja consultant in cutscenes, which can be skipped. The consultant files are available any time in the pause menu (hit Start). These heroes must contend with a four-eyed antagonist monster, a nearby active volcano, plus other entities from the Dark Forest like Dark Syrup and Dark Tree. The villainous titles seem scary but the colorful, family-friendly visuals ensure a wide audience can play this game.
Use the currency to build base huts, which generate environmentally and socially themed ninja troops. You also upgrade the huts and can acquire special structures like hospitals, watch towers and tea bistros but like any good thing, you have to know when to stop or else the funds run dry quickly and you’re defenseless as the demons pass you by. Besides the cookies, each level has hearts, which decrease each time a demon gets past your customized defenses. Sometimes you can recover by adding ninjas to catch the slippery devils near the end of a map with long roads because you get extra funds when defeating a new wave.
Once you memorize the pricing, plan each spending frenzy carefully so you use all your funds during battles. You can save your funds for big ticket items like the special structures, while creating a well-balanced collection of ninjas. Use your troops wisely while contending with the equally evolving baddies and maps, which hit you from all directions, but can be easily segmented and contained with some careful strategy and special powers prompted by the master’s three-tiered stick meter on the top left.
The real management skills come into play when the game increases in difficulty near the end where you’ll definitely need to use that rest action option, which appears in the bottom center of the bottom screen along with rally points and hut options like upgrade and sell for 75% of the original cost. You can also select the movie projector icon in the upper right to watch cutscenes as they appear after conquering map groups. The top screen contains most of the information plus animation of the Ol’ Master Ninja managing the battle for a hot air balloon high above the town.
Huts will typically produce two ninjas to defend the area around that hut, but you can get creative with your placement for extra battle advantages. For example, if you have huts under a bridge with a barrier between, then build a sniper hut in the top middle. Make sure your spitfire soldiers can reach the bridge so you can attack incoming enemies then get another attack opportunity when they cross and enter your territory on the right or left then proceed down. As with the other combat elements, using the flexible options of each ninja’s range can also yield great advantages. For example, save funds by not upgrading White Ninjas, using them solely to slow down bad guy waves.
Early, easy levels consist of just waiting until each ninja's bar is full, then hitting the fast forward button in the lower right to engage the next wave. The fast forward button adds even more flexibility and enjoyment when you want to avoid down time, yet other times you might need that time to plan your next move. All options, group and individual, are used at some point of the game (e.g. setting a ninja group to attack the closest, weakest or strongest enemy, poking single ninjas with the stylus for an extra fighting boost, etc.).
Success comes in varying levels, in grades from A to D. If you want to finish the game with As on every map, then so be careful how many times you restart. The game automatically sets an easier “E” level after numerous retries/incomplete map completions. Higher grades amount to more cookies earned so there is some incentive there besides bragging rights.
The multiplayer mode features single card or multicard play with your adversary being another ‘Ol Ninja Master. It's a nice, short-term pace that compliments the single-player story mode well. Challenging bosses are great for advanced players while beginners will appreciate the confirm screens so they don’t make any careless decisions. Ninjatown has a great balance of appeal, options and content, especially the sound effects. For example, the larger rumbling demon noises can be interpreted as burping or yelling. The string twangs and other musical elements (maybe a jukebox for the next installment) represent most of the Asian influences on the game as developers visually seem to choose neutral character ethnicity…like you can really tell under the cover-all ninja costumes.
The visuals are appealing, the console's capabilities are used well (e.g. blowing into the microphone for special "Get off my lawn" power). The content works for all ages, though female characters are lacking. It also might been even more entertaining to watch developers delve into South Park territory by showing the demons throw up when overpowered with stinky ninja dropping smell. The format sets up flexible choices that allow enjoyment for a few minutes or a couple hours at a time. The business ninjas in ties say it all – something is at stake but you’re going to have fun. Each game includes a character sticker.
Ninjatown is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for crude humor and mild cartoon violence.