It feels like when people are sitting down to plan out a new game these days, a lot of them go for one of two themes: ninjas or zombies. It would be nice to see a new craze take hold, like, I don't know, conquistadors. Or, how about sherpas? Well, it's not going to happen today, so we're just going to have to deal with another ninja game. This time, it's Audio Ninja [$0.99], a side-scrolling rhythm-based runner that's long on charm but perhaps a bit short on gameplay.
The game's story is a bit of silly fluff. Ninjipu is a young ninja who is kind of bad at his job. I guess he's just not secretly assassinating people at a sixth grade level. Luckily, a time traveler from the future (which is to say, our present) bestows upon him a magical artifact that helps him slaughter with the best of them. Is it a mystical blade, an enchanted talisman, or an AK-47? No, the magical item in question is, of course, a set of headphones. Oh, Ninjipu, you had the talent in you all along, you just lacked the beat. As you play through the game, you'll occasionally see still images showing Ninjipu and his friends in various situations. That's about the lot of it.
The gameplay is very straight-forward. Ninjipu runs from left to right, and enemies come rushing towards him. The enemies come in two basic types, light and dark, which correspond to Ninjipu's two attack buttons. You need to hit the right button with the right timing as each enemy approaches to take them out. If you fail to do so, you'll take damage, and if all of your life meter is extinguished, your run is over. The incoming enemies approach your character according to the beats of the background music, so learning the rhythm of each song is vital to success.
There are three songs in total, with each song containing sixteen stages. If you don't run out of life, you can do the entire song continuously, but should you fail, you'll just get booted back to the last checkpoint. As you clear each stage, you'll be given a star ranking of up to three stars, and as you earn more stars, you'll unlock the next song and, eventually, extra stages and challenges. For the most part, this isn't anything we haven't seen before in terms of gameplay. Still, at its core, it is pretty fun to tap the screen to the beat, so the game ends up working in spite of its familiarity.
Enemies will occasionally drop coins, hearts, or power-ups. Coins can be used to buy any of the in-game power-ups from the shop, plus a riding mower that actually messed me up as much as it helped me. Hearts simply refill your life gauge, and expand it if you're already full up. Power-ups come in three types. The lazy headphones are probably the most useful, because they allow you to slow down time, which makes the harder parts of the game manageable for those lacking rhythm skills. Turbo headphones are a little crazy, because they actually speed the game up, offering you more points in exchange for the increased difficulty you've inflicted upon yourself. Finally, the cosmic headphones rewind time a little bit, giving you a do-over on any hits you took or bonuses you missed. Items drop somewhat regularly, along with coins, but if you want to, you can buy more coins via IAP to grease the wheels a bit.
The graphics are cartoony and colorful, and the light and dark enemy types are quite distinct, which is extremely important in a game like this. The three songs each have their own stage theme and enemy type, so there's a little variety to the visuals. Most importantly, the three songs are pretty good. No, they're probably not anything you'd listen to outside of the game, but that makes sense because they've been composed for the purpose of making a fun game out of hitting the beats of the song. They're also pretty different from each other in many ways, so you definitely don't feel like you're playing the same set of stages three times in a row. My only real knock on the music and sound is that there are only three songs. While the developer might add more in the future, at the moment, Audio Ninja ends all too quickly.
I give the developer credit for trying, though, as the special stages and fate mode stages add a bit of longevity to the whole affair. At the end of the day, however, a music game's value can be measured in how much music is in it, and in Audio Ninja, there isn't a lot. It's very fun while it lasts, and you'll probably want to hang with it until the end, but it just comes a little bit too soon to be satisfying. The challenge never really ramps up too high in the main game, instead reserving that for the extra stages, and while that makes it very accessible, this is a game that would have done very well with some higher difficulty options.
If you like music or rhythm games, you're not exactly drowning in quality choices on the App Store, and Audio Ninja is enjoyable while it lasts. You'll get your money's worth out of it, I think. But at the same time, you'll reach the end and probably feel pretty unsatisfied, like taking three bites out of a really good pizza. As long as you keep that in mind and are okay with it, you'll probably have a good time with Ninjipu and friends. Now where's my Audio Sherpa?
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