Oh, to be a ninja. With rooftops to run along, shurikens to chuck, and warlords to be dispatched, what's not to like? This was my thought process as I downloaded Ninja Wrath [$0.99]. As it turns out I would have plenty of time to consider this question. My conclusion? Being a ninja isn't all it's cracked up to be; at least, not in the world of Ninja Wrath, where the steepest castle walls have nothing on even steeper paywalls.
Though the true existence of ninjas is disputed, they were supposed to be unparalleled in martial arts and to have demonstrated immense patience when hunting down their target. As the story goes, one ninja waited in the cesspool beneath an outhouse for days before a particular warlord placed his keister on the throne. With his target overhead, all it took was an upward thrust of the ninja's sword to dispatch the warlord.
That sort of dogged perseverance–true or not–is what has captivated our imaginations. And that sort of infinite patience is a good measure of what you'll need to enjoy Ninja Wrath. We at Touch Arcade have spoken much on the divide between free and premium titles, and try to help our readers figure out a game's pricing structure. Ninja Wrath is the worst of both worlds: a freemium game masquerading as a premium title. Not only must you bear the upfront costs of a pay-to-play premium title, you're then subjected to freemium-style nickel and diming in the game itself.
It's a shame, too, because Ninja Wrath isn't a bad game. It's a competent brawler. But, from the first time you open your character sheet, you'll notice the majority of your on-screen options have a price tag, in gems. And of course, these gems prove to be incredibly rare, except when you look in the cash shop, where they can be found in abundance! I have no doubt Ninja Wrath was intended to eventually end up free to play and that the game's creator hoped to make a few bucks from early adopters before sales tapered off. Were this a free game, the currency structure would be an unwelcome, if unsurprising, addition to the game. In a premium game, it's unacceptable.
Aside from that, how is the underlying game? It's not bad. You control your ninja with a virtual pad, doing battles with your rivals in arenas. Later on, traps and obstacles spice up the levels. Each new set of levels ratchets up the difficulty by introducing new enemies and bosses. Each enemy has its own attack pattern and special move, like levitation or teleportation. During battle, you charge your Chi in order to unleash devastating combos. You cannot injure enemies on the ground, so the battles have a fun, frenetic feel as you try to link as many combos as quickly as possible, juggling your opponents to maximize your attacks' effectiveness. As you play through each campaign, you'll discover the annoying mechanic that whenever a treasure chest or the rare gem drops, you have to beat the level in order to keep it, which adds even more frustration to this game's deplorable pricing model.
As your ninja levels, you invest points into improving stats such as health and damage, and new combos are automatically unlocked. The type of special attacks your ninja executes depends on the weapon you have equipped, and it won't be long before you find yourself yearning to try the game's other weapons. New weapons are purchased with–surprise!–gems. These same gems are also used to upgrade your current weapon, purchase magic items, and unlock new inventory slots. In other words, gems are used to do everything interesting in the game. And of course, they take so long to earn that you'll fight through dozens of battles before being able to make your first purchase with gems.
IAP chicanery aside, the game really is a serviceable brawler. The main complaint that can be levied against the game itself is the virtual controls can be a little unresponsive. More than once in the heat of battle my finger slipped off the virtual pad, leaving my ninja just standing there as blows rained down upon him. This can be a particular problem with jump attacks and aerial acrobatics. Really though, the vast majority of the time my ninja was on the receiving end of punishment it was my own fault, either by making a misstep or getting too greedy with my combos.
Ninja Wrath is an object lesson in how not to handle your game's pricing structure in iOS. Originally priced at more than a dollar, the game is already above the curve by App Store standards. For a premium title to have most of its content locked behind a paywall is totally unacceptable. Even worse, if you do bite the bullet and buy some gems, they don't even come cheap! You'll pay more for the best sword in the game than you did to buy the game itself. It's a shame, really, because when you can forget about all the tantalizing unlocks you'll never see without cracking open your wallet, it really is an enjoyable game. Yes, there are some other easy complaints against it, but warping around a rooftop smacking down flying ninjas and sword-toting dogs will never not be fun. We may never know whether or not ninjas really existed, but if Ninja Wrath is any indication, they probably all fell to their deaths attempting to scale insurmountable paywalls.
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