Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle Review

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Game Title: Ninja Usagimaru The Mysterious Karakuri Castle
Developer: Arc System Works, Aksys Games (Publisher)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Type: 3DS
Download: 426 Blocks
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download

When I think of Aksys Games, my mind mostly goes towards games like Zero Escape, Exist Archive, BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, and other bigger games. They dive into smaller more indie-like experiences too, especially on Nintendo’s handheld. I remember reviewing the game Slice It, and it was something I was never expecting to see coming from the same publishers who did the Zero Escape series.

It was inevitable that Aksys would surprise me again with another smaller game, and that they did. I’m here to talk about the newest title of the Ninja Usagimaru series. So, here’s my review of 3DS title, Ninja Usagimaru: the Mysterious Karakuri Castle!

Story

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The plot begins as a hero ninja is coming back to his hometown, only to find a small rabbit god injured and huddled on the ground. From mere words of the weak deity, he is told that all of the villagers have been kidnapped by the evil Oni and are being held hostage. The hero then heads out towards the Oni to save the villagers.

The story really works itself out well. While it doesn’t show itself much, it really just adds to that mythological atmosphere. With the rabbit deity and the art style, it really reminds me of Okami, and that’s one thing I really like about this game.

Gameplay

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Ninja is a 2D Puzzle-Platformer, and that’s pretty much all you can really call it. You go through each stage of the game by platforming around stages and using various elements and environment pieces to solve puzzles and save villagers. While things do change as you progress, that remains the same from start to finish.

Progression of the game has you going through over 60 levels with the goal of saving villagers. You will start at a certain point and need to get past enemies, rescue villagers and then escort them to safety without you or them getting hit and dying. Things will start out simple, but will get more difficult as the game progresses.

The biggest feature of the game is moving blocks. There are locks of blocks you can physically move by pushing them or pulling them towards you with a hookshot. Most of the puzzles use blocks. You’ll use them to make bridges for you to cross. You’ll push them on top of enemies to kill them. You’ll even use them to hit switches and change other parts of the stage. You also have other tools at your disposal like swords and knives used to destroy fragile objects blocking your path.

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This sounds pretty simple, and really, it is. The mechanics are very simple across the course of the game. The game, itself, is not. Under a normal puzzle game, puzzles are very easy and slowly get harder. Ninja has puzzles that go from easy to hard almost instantly. You’re going to get stuck and lost even in the first 10 levels of the 60, and it gets a lot harder from there on. It has a complete lack of balance in its difficulty scale. It’s like it took Normal and Intermediate Difficulties out and puts you straight from Beginner to Expert, and from there to Master and beyond.

That’s really the only thing I don’t like about the game. The difficulty imbalance. Everything else comes together pretty well. Stages are nice and short for the handheld experience and the tutorial does a great job of explaining how everything works. While the game is also very short, there’s not a whole lot to complain about when the game is very cheap.

Controls

As far as controls go, you will only need to access the system’s buttons for this. No reason to have to use the touch screen at all. The controls cannot be altered, either, so if you want to use the touch screen, you’re out of luck here.

Moving around stages is done either with the Circle Pad or the D-Pad, whichever feels more comfortable to you. I personally prefer using the D-Pad for side-scrollers, but that’s just me. The A button lets you slash with your knives and B lets you jump. X plants manual checkpoints, and Y lets you push blocks. Finally, R fires your hookshot and L lets you respawn at a placed checkpoint.

It’s pretty simple, and there’s a tutorial stage for each of these.

Presentation

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Visually, the game captures the Asia Mythos theme really well. Everything really brings out the feel of it. The graphics themselves look fine. The 2D models look retro and pretty sharp, unless you zoom in and hold the system a few inches from your face. Unless you actually do that (I hope you don’t actually do that), the game looks pretty good.

Performance is also on the good side. No real issues here. Load times are quick and there aren’t any frame drops. Not that you would expect there to be out of a 2D platformer indie-type game.

Summary

Ninja Usagimaru is a game for someone who likes constant challenge. The difficulty balance is really wonky and while the story is fitting for the theme, it just doesn’t fill enough to draw you in. However, if you like 2D puzzle games that provide a big challenge, you won’t be disappointed.

8/10

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