Yasai ninja is abysmal. The slightest sliver of adequate variety and aesthetics is completely undone by a mass of poor level design, feckless combat, atrocious checkpoints, a combative camera, noticeable slowdown and rushed storytelling. It reeks of bad design and insufficient play-testing, leading to infuriating situations where the mechanics and gameplay are at such odds that’s it’s barely playable at all.
There’s was certainly some promise initially. You play as either a samurai spring onion or a ninja broccoli, fighting against a vegetable army largely consisting of cucumbers but with the odd squad of chilli peepers and spring onions filling the ranks. Meanwhile, the odd boss battle breaks out between more vegetables, such as a giant cabbage. It’s a quirky setting brought to life by cell shading, sharp, defined edges, and a comic book framing device complete with white border surrounding the play-area and carving out speech bubbles.
Unfortunately this promise is shattered quickly. The opening cutscene is delivered in Japanese with subtitles but the subtitles are coloured white over a white or lightly coloured background, making them largely unreadable. Once you do take control of the pair of protagonists things get progressively worse.
As the spring onion samurai there’s a slight delay in swinging your katana, and after performing up to three swipes an additional delay before you can perform another combo, leaving you wide open at the beginning and end of your attacking animation. The combat is also horrendously rigid, tying you into very specific combos and punishing you for deviation with the aforementioned animation delays. It all makes for a slow, unresponsive system that is completely devoid of skill and nuance. The ninja broccoli has a slightly faster attack but suffers the same issues overall, and despite additional moves and combos added as you progress, the rigidity remains and the new move sets barely compensate for the increased enemy numbers and strength.
This, of course, leads to an issue with difficulty, making some fights unfair if you haven’t unlocked a new combo or if your companion is nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, the friendly AI is aggressive enough to, with highly efficiency, fight by your side, an unusual occurrence in cooperative experiences that deserves some praise. However, with your companion so often getting caught on scenery or simply lost in the wilderness, you have to keep a vigilant eye on them and any upcoming foes to ensure you have backup.
Bringing another player into the fold helps with this, is also means you don’t have to switch between characters to perform their specific abilities to solve the simple puzzles that punctuate the combat. However, the platforming is sure to frustrate regardless of whether a friend join your adventure or not.
Water, lava, spikes and bottomless drops are strewn across each of the ten levels, each promising death should you fall into them. Death means respawning at a checkpoint, but with checkpoints largely undisclosed, where precisely this will be can be a mystery. Worse still the checkpoints are often significant distances apart. It’s utterly infuriating to complete a difficult platforming section only to end up in a large battle, get chopped up and respawn back before the platforming section. Moreover, the platforming requires some precision, which is a nightmare to achieve when the camera fights you for control.
The camera acts as a physical object within the game world, bumping into the terrain and restricting its movement because of it. Furthermore, it barely tilts enough to see the ground, making jumping sections a trail and error challenge rather than a spatial awareness one. This also proves troublesome in combat. No lock-on mechanic is available so focusing the camera on your attackers is a chore, and with boss fights it can lead to plenty of unfair deaths.
At least then the game is only a few hours long. Despite frequent deaths and awful combat, perseverance can get you through to the end in a mere three hours. Collectable scrolls are littered around each level if you’re insane enough to want to explore the title further and find them, as well as some achievement challenges that ask you to perform specific feats within certain levels, but replayability is crippled by how terrible the overall experience is.
Yasai Ninja does provide some mild variety as your progress. The odd level becomes a 2D perspective, side-scrolling platformer, but the platforming feats expected of you can be fairly extreme in terms of making huge leaps at precisely the right time. Worse still the timings on some of the moving platforms occasionally load in wrong and are therefore impossible to complete. Falling to your death resets them on these occasions but just like the standard 3D levels checkpoints are rare, but at least this time they’re made obvious with particle effects.
Yasai Ninja is terrible. The platforming and combat is amateurish and the camera is as big of a threat as the enemies. Even the ending feels rushed, strongly hinting at a sequel and making the game feel a bit unfinished. How it passed any measure of quality control is a true mystery. The pacing is fast, at least, and there’s a welcome attempt at variety with the 2D side-scrolling levels, meanwhile, the friendly AI shows great promise when in combat, but these are minor victories on a battlefield misery.
Thanks to Xbox and Recotechnology for their support
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