3DS | Ubisoft / AQ Interactive | 1 Player | Out Now
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5th July 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
Its quirkiness was clearly discernible from the moment I laid eyes on it and even now, I have yet to see a 3DS title that has aimed for a similar kind of appeal. Now that I've played it for myself, though, it seems I put too much stock in that aspect of the game. As much as I love new IP's, Cubic Ninja just wasn't approached with the amount of love and effort I was expecting. Instead of distinguishing itself from the pack with its positive qualities, the game barely manages to scrape by in the name of mediocrity.
Cubic Ninja's story revolves around the adventure of the character depicted on the game's cover. CC, the star of the show, heads to 100 different levels with the goal of rescuing a princess. Along the way, you'll meet up with some of CC's other kidnapped friends but, strangely, not the perpetrators responsible. Each of the six unlockable characters feature their own attributes that differ from CC's well-rounded stats. FROS-T, for example, is made up of ice material and can be moved about with ease, while MUSS-L's weight makes him hard to control without using bigger movements. In many cases, these support characters are preferred selections over the main character for the different gameplay approaches they present. On your first visit to a new area, you'll see lines of text scroll upwards to give you some background info. But other than that, the story is practically non-existent. I personally think there could have been a more fleshed-out presence of this element in the game especially since it already features some of the necessary components for a good plot. Oh well.
What makes this Japan-based IP so interesting to look at is the control scheme it uses. The game can be controlled almost entirely by using the 3DS' gyroscopic sensors, tilting the unit to guide these cube-shaped Ninja's to Exit holes at the end of each level. Instead of just left and right movements, level designs force you to turn your system upside down, hold it on the side and even raise the 3DS above your head so your character can pass over gaps. If you take the game on the go and wish to draw less attention to yourself, you can head to the Options and play using the Circle Pad to tilt and the X Button to bring the character towards the screen.
All the action unfolds on the 3D Screen, but because motion control and 3D don't mix, the developers have disabled the Depth Slider for use when playing the normal way. When playing in Circle Pad mode or scrolling through the character roulette, you do have the ability to turn on the 3D but if you ask me, the 3D effects in this game are worthless.
The Touch Screen is used to display the best record of the current level, the timer, as well as your special Ninjutsu Skills. Every fifth scroll you pick up will unlock one of four power-ups for use. But instead of having to pull out your stylus, you can just use the L and R Buttons to control a cursor and press the A Button to activate the one you want. As for what options you can choose from, there's Shrink (self-explanatory), Switch (activates all switches at once), Star (defeats on-screen enemies) and Shield (temporary force field). When you experience trouble on a particular level, these can really get you out of a jam. In fact, without them, the game would be a lot less forgiving.
Although many of the introductory stages have a basic structure, the levels in this game feature up to three layers of depth. In line with this, you'll find yourself bringing your on-screen character right up against the screen or sending them off into the background. Judging depth visually in 2D is made somewhat easy as each layer is represented in a different shade of grey. While you may not see the value of this when you're presented with an obvious depth indicator like a flight of stairs, as you get further and further into the game, the level designs will play with your mind a bit, implementing small holes, openings and mid-air blocks fixed in place.
In many ways, Cubic Ninja pays tribute to those wooden labyrinth toys you see at garage sales and pawn shops, except here the influence of gravity isn't as strong and abrupt. With some characters, you almost feel like you're set in the middle of a space station seeing them float around and only make light movements unless you tilt your 3DS to one extreme. It's just something you have to get used to and thankfully, the sensitivity of it all isn't to blame for whatever hassles you encounter over the course of the game.
As far as stage gimmicks go, there's nothing here that would be considered out of the ordinary. Much of the threats to your character's life come in the form of spike traps, electricity fields, underwater mines, flamethrowers, bumpers and propeller-equipped enemies. Puzzle elements also appear in the different levels including switch-activated walls, swinging wrecking balls, and bomb-deploying hatches. There is also a square-shaped Rest Room that gives your character a special bonus once he or she comes back out, like reversed gravity. Sadly, these didn't make that much of an appearance as you moved away from the first world. I could understand why they would want to switch things up, but it's not like they included other secondary elements to take its place.
At the conclusion of each world, you'll come up against a boss that really doesn't take much to defeat -- besides some patience on your part. I didn't find any of the bosses in this game to be even slightly enjoyable. In some cases, passing these boss fights using motion controls was a frustrating task to accomplish. That is until you realize that you can usually just wade out the attack patterns if you stay in one particular spot, then swoop in for an attack when the cue is given. Really, the boss battles are more of a negative aspect to the game than a positive one.
If I had to pick one area of the game to be the biggest highlight, it would have to be its charm. The characters you come across look quirky enough, but even the little death animation serves a purpose. The music is quite amusing as well, with World 4's underwater theme and the Main Menu tune to be especially nice to listen to. But that's as far as it goes. In my opinion, the developers could have taken the quirkiness one step further. I mean the stage visuals are mostly good with some framerate reductions here and there, and the rest of the music is fine. But these elements don't fit in as well with the game's endearing charm.
Cubic Ninja may have charm down, but ultimately, gameplay is what matters most and this is where the game falters significantly. First, let's talk about the controls. The idea of using the tilting mechanisms to control movement is well-explored, but the way some of the levels have been designed just result in awkward twists on the part of the player. For some, these complications will surface in the form of neck cramps, in which case I'd admonish anyone who experiences chronic back or neck problems to think twice before getting into this. Interestingly, even without the 3D on, the actions the game has you performing can be, not headache-inducing, but tiresome over a long stretch.
The next big discrepancy would have to be the level design. Most of them were alright, but there were quite a few that were really irritating and a small group of them that were just bad. When you return to earlier levels, you begin to notice more and more just how weak the game design is and this is something that continues long after the first world. Now some may feel comfortable with excusing the game for this flaw, and that might be an understandable reaction if the game were actually enjoyable. But it isn't.
There's not much fun to be derived from the experience at all, and not all of this is because of the level design. The shallow premise of using the gyroscopic sensors in the way that they've been manipulated here just wears off after one or two hours. Now I must say I really enjoyed turning the DS on its side like a book for a purpose other than reading. But that in itself doesn't disguise the fact that there's low entertainment value to be sought after in this game. The first time I genuinely had some fun was when I tackled some of the levels in World 3. Everything else didn't affect me at all, merely leaving me with a neutral attitude the entire time. You may be thinking that using the Circle Pad would rectify this problem, but all it really does is open your eyes even more. Believe it or not, the game is actually boring to play using that control scheme and even with the flaws associated with playing the game normally, I would much rather use motion controls. Either way, it's a sad situation!
And finally, there's the matter of difficulty. In Story Mode, each level gives you a time requirement that you can shoot for to earn yourself a Flag. Many of these were really easy to get. Once, I cleared a 2:40 time limit in a mere 34 seconds. Not all of them are this bad, mind you, but a large percentage of these Flag times simply aren't challenging to strive after. Furthermore, I found the challenge factor in this game to be very uneven overall. Often times you'll be zooming through multiple stages with ease, only to be stopped by a single level before moving on to another long set of easy levels. This happens, not because the level design is clever or because the game gets progressively harder; no, many times the challenging levels are often frustrating to deal with because of the way they've been designed. This, too, adds a negative vibe to the game.
With regards to sustainability, Cubic Ninja features three different modes of play. There's the main Story component; a Time Attack offering where you can share ghosts with friends using QR Codes; and a Survival option, where you see how many levels you can clear without dying. Completing all 100 levels in Story mode can be done in roughly 4 hours, but you can always go back and aim for all the Flags.
Aside from that, there are also hidden Medals to strive after and a Level Editor that allows you to create and share custom levels (again, using QR Codes). The ability to create custom levels is the second-best aspect of the entire package. The layout is pretty easy to follow after a few minutes of toying around and experimenting. There's even a depth adjuster so you can change what layer of the background you want to place items on. I was definitely pleased with this addition to the package, but I just wish I had more fun using it.
If there's a good game here, I just couldn't see it. The gameplay is shallow and problematic, the level design is weak, and despite the fun appearance, it's not enjoyable to play. There are a few redeeming qualities about it, but not enough to push it beyond the average mark. Unless you have lots of money to throw around, there's no way this is worth spending $40 on (but I'll bet the bulk of people who read up on this game have already come to that conclusion). The developers probably did the best they could but in the end, not even the game's charm can hide the fact that Cubic Ninja is disappointing at its core.
17/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 5/10 - Mixed controls, multiple layers of visual depth, Ninjutsu Skills, level design ranges from okay to bad, becomes tiresome to play
Presentation 7/10 - Charming, mostly good visuals, decent music, framerate dips, quirkiness is a bit of a saving grace but could've been fleshed out more
Enjoyment 1/5 - Very little fun, much irritation to be had, cracks appear while using the Circle Pad, boring boss fights, uneven difficulty, wears off quick
Extra Content 4/5 - Will last a few hours, custom level creation and sharing, multiple characters, easy Flag times, Time Attack ghosts, not worth buying
Equivalent to a score of 57% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)