Ever since we posted the first trailer for 1-bit Ninja [$1.99] from developer Kode 80 I’ve been anxious to get my hands on the title, and after a small delay past its intended release date it’s now available in the App Store. 1-bit Ninja is a platforming game that's an homage to the classic handheld gaming systems of the 80s, but with a modern technical twist. At any point in the game you can tilt the perspective, exposing the previously flat 2D terrain as a 3D environment à la Paper Mario. It’s a neat effect, but also one that impacts the gameplay as it allows you to discover hidden aspects of a level, which makes for one of the most unique platforming experiences in the App Store.

The first thing to notice about 1-bit Ninja is that it completely nails the retro look and feel that it was going for. The game looks like it could have launched right beside Super Mario Land on the Game Boy two decades ago and would have fit right in. Despite the simplistic, blocky pixel graphics, there still manages to be a ton of character and style in 1-bit Ninja’s visuals. Those without a fondness for the handheld gaming graphics of yesteryear may not be so impressed, but for the rest of us the look of 1-bit Ninja should bring back memories of the good ol’ days.

Of course, it’s easy to get snapped out of that retro nostalgia haze once you shift the perspective to 3D. Touching either of the upper corners of the screen will swing the camera around and give you a look farther down the level either ahead or behind you. The effect is quite awesome, and still impresses me each time I see it. Beyond just looking cool, it also serves a critical function: checking certain parts of a level in 3D will expose hidden paths and secrets which are integral to completing every goal in a level.

There are 20 levels across 4 worlds in 1-bit Ninja, and just completing a level will unlock the next one. This is easier said than done, though, as each level is fairly lengthy and can be quite difficult to complete. You’re given 2 minutes to finish a level, and there are coins to collect and enemies to kill along the way which will add to your score. Each level also has 5 bonus coins to seek out and collect, some of which can be very tricky to get to. Going back to discover these bonus coins and shooting for better times and high scores give the levels in 1-bit Ninja a ton of replay value, though unfortunately there’s no online component for me to see how I stack up against my friends.

I was worried that constantly checking everything in 3D for secrets would slow down the pace of the game, and in fact, it kind of does. But that’s all part of the grand scheme of things in 1-bit Ninja. The game is really designed for two different types of play. One has you taking your time and exploring every nook and cranny for secrets and bonus coins, while at the same time learning the layout of a level. Once you’ve played a level enough to know what the optimal route is, then you can go for the perfect speed run. It works out incredibly well, and I’ve had a great time replaying levels over and over again trying to master them.

One of the radical design choices in 1-bit Ninja is the controls. Kode 80 has boiled the controls down to just two buttons, one that moves you forward and one that jumps. The inability to move your character freely back and forth completely changes how you play the game. If you miss collecting a coin or taking the path you wanted you aren’t able to go back and correct your mistake. You’ll just need to file that information away for consideration in a future run through of the level. To me, this makes for an interesting twist on a traditional platforming game, and I appreciate the different strategy that is needed in order to be successful. But for people who are just interested in having a new Mario-like game, you might never warm up to the idea of only moving in one direction.

If you can approach 1-bit Ninja with the right expectations, it’s easily one of the most enjoyable platformers in the App Store. The retro visuals are a delight and the 3D camera shift effect adds a super unique element to the game. The control style does take some getting used to, but after about 15 or 20 minutes with the game I had the hang of things and haven’t had a problem since. Opinions are pretty split in our forums, with some loving the unique twist on platforming and others unable to accept the limited movement.

Personally, I’m completely hooked on 1-bit Ninja, and if you think you’re able to accept some of the design decisions in the game and you're a fan of its retro aesthetics, then I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://twitter.com/Inaba_kun Phil Baxter

    Is this 60fps on an iPhone 4?

    • kode80

      Yes! It actually runs at 60fps (with the odd dip) on 3G and lower - I took a bunch of time to optimize for the oldest devices.

  • http://twitter.com/benedictm Benedict Murray

    It's! So! Hard! fun though

  • http://twitter.com/jonathanM21 Jonathan

    I personally found it too generic, repetitive and sometimes frustrating.

  • http://twitter.com/Bountykiller22 Homelesskater

    Great Game, would buy it if I had an Apple device.
    Maybe it comes for android...

  • ZildjianKX

    Not Universal :(  I really want to play this on my iPad too.

    • Bluetiger2k3

      it works on the ipad. lol.
      and it looks FANTASTIC

      • Mrsmartiepants

        While I've been enjoying it on my iPad 1 thus far, I'd appreciate it going truly Universal.

  • HisDivineOrder

    So you take Super Mario Land, you mix in Paper Mario, and you whip in the difficulty of Ninja Gaiden... that about sum it up?

    • Anonymous

      Not really, Ninja Gaiden is an exaggeration.

      • Bluetiger2k3

        NES Ninja Gaiden
        or Megaman

      • DARKflame34

        Megaman ain't hard.

  • Anonymous

    I love it so much. This is the only type of platformer i'm willing to play without any tactile feedback, that being said it controls fantastically. I hope more devs take notice and do interesting things like this rather than ripping off Canabalt over and over again.

  • Krzysio

    The in-game minimalistic graphics are AWESOME.

    But all the other graphics and design (title, menus, app icon, ...) are LOATHSOME and makes the game LOOK like some very poor flash game mede in a couple of hours.

  • Anonymous

    I like the style, and anything retro, however this looks like a toughy - and I'm not into getting too frustrated these days. The 2 Minute clock doesn't sound so good. lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Erik-Thomas/100001214773968 Erik Thomas

    Maybe I'm being a fuddy-duddy here, but not having the back button really is annoying. And the perspective change aspect is pretty cool, but having that combined with a time-clock is also annoying. Having to break up the action to take time out to check the level doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I dunno...I haven't warmed up to it yet.

    • http://hxg.square7.ch/blog/ Metalhead

      Pretty much my concerns too. It is okay not to have a back button but if you need air control while jumping it would be really nice to have one. Yep I am still trying that platform leve lin world one and yeah maybe i do suck. But hey I am till playing the game. It reminds me soo much of Super Mario World though i never got through the whole game without help I had a pretty, pretty, pretty good time with it.
      Let the developer just add a time freeze mechanism with the 3D rotate at it wll be fine. Or probably a lock-on mechanism.

      • Uroar

        excellent mechanic idea for when the 3d perspective is triggered, i wonder if kode80 can implement that. a control option to use a left right d-pad would garner more fully satisfied feedback for the apps ratings, just saying 

  • http://blog.ademagnaye.com Ade

    One of the best games for iOS this year! It's so hard!

  • Ccarvajal84

    i'm totally hooked with this game! it's so hard and fun! I love to play the levels several times trying out to achieve all the big coins.

    One question...do you know how to take the first big coin at world 1 level 4???? I suppose that i have to jump and to fall at the right place, but it's impossible for me!

    • Nerfyherder

      Yeah you just have to jump a little bit before the edge of the platform you're on and angle it right. Took me a few try's:) I still can't figure out the first big coin on world one level 3

  • Noah

    Maybe it's just me, but the first level took about a dozen attempts before I finally completed it. It's just a little too hard... I kept looking for a Mushroom that would at least allow me 2 hits before death, but alas... there were no mushrooms to be found.

    Also, are there no checkpoints in this game?

1-bit Ninja Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 4.5