Until recently, ninja games on the iPhone had been about as much fun as ritual suicide. Then December rolled along and brought with it Mika Mobile’s OMG Pirates!, the App Store’s first (and only) Must Have ninja game. And then Christmas hit, and while sugar plum fairies danced ’round our heads, another ninja game did stealthily creep into the App Store: Gamerizon’s Chop Chop Ninja.
It should come as no surprise that Christmas has been such a ninjaful time. After all, Santa is one of the greatest ninjas of all time.
Chop Chop Ninja is a ninja platformer in which you will run, jump, climb, fly and
chop tap through 10 unique levels, collecting masks and coins, and ninja battling baddies into submission. You play as the ninja Iro on a quest to save a princess who has been transformed into a jade statue. Mario style, collecting 100 coins grants you an extra life, and punching question-marked boxes and blocks along the way will cause them to spout coins.
The game’s art and animation greatly resemble an episode of The Powerpuff Girls, but work well within the context of the game. Chop Chop Ninja is a good looking title with vibrant cartoon settings resembling a storybook version of ancient Japan, full of Torii gates, pagodas and the sorts of mountains and clouds you’d expect to see in a Japanese watercolor painting. The game is extremely colorful, and each level is a treat to behold. In fact, I daresay Chop Chop Ninja is a nicer looking game than Plushed, which has recently been in the spotlight for its artwork.
Chop Chop Ninja also has a unique control scheme that, unusually, works both in its favor and against it. The game’s controls are entirely tap-based. Tapping in the lower left or right will cause Iro to run in that direction. Tapping anywhere above Iro will cause him to jump in that direction. When jumping against a wall, you can tap towards to the wall to rebound off it, climbing higher. To attack, you tap on the opposite side of your enemy and Iro will begin punching and kicking it to death. Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap. Neither position nor distance matter in combat; you can attack in any direction, from any distance. You can attack in mid-air, and you can rebound off your enemies to reach coins, power-ups and out-of-reach locations. Just tap on the opposite side of an enemy from Iro, and he will fly to meet it.
Where the controls work in the game’s favor is in the fact that you needn’t attempt to platform with an awkward virtual d-pad. Playing the game feels pretty intuitive, and it’s easy to send Iro in any direction you please, and to pummel samurai, scorpions and cobra into a pulp.
Where the controls work against the game, is that they don’t always allow you to do what you intend. In 2-1, when you earn the double-jump ability, airborne navigation becomes tricky. You’re up in the air from your first jump, and while you might tap intending to make a small correction in your trajectory, Iro will instead intiate a double-jump, rocketing away in that direction. Several times I’ve missed platforms because of this. In general, Iro is very floaty. And because movement, leaps, rebounds and attacks are all tied to the exact same trigger — a tap — any notion of precision is lost on Chop Chop Ninja. Instead, every act takes place in a very vague direction and you will often just sort of bounce your way to where you need to be, though it might take you a few tries, and you might bump into a few things — sometimes dangerous things — along the way.
The other problem with the controls is that because all you do is tap, the game begins to feel pretty repetitive. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to do anything in Chop Chop Ninja; there are no combos, no special moves. Just. Tap.
Visuals: As I said, Chop Chop Ninja looks fantastic. The colorful landscapes and well-drawn sprites are a lot of fun. The animation is extremely minimalist — for example, the cobras don’t really move; they just distort — but it works somehow, and comes off feeling more like a stylistic choice than the result of laziness. Overall, the entire game feels like something you’d see on the Cartoon Network.
Music: Comprised of traditional Japanese instruments, the music is what you’d expect for the setting. It slips quietly into the background, and never really stands out, but neither does it offend.
Controls: I’m glad there’s no awkward d-pad. Glad, glad, glad. The controls work for the game, and couldn’t possibly be any more accessible than this. You could hand this game to your kid brother, your mom and your grandmother, and they’d all be able to play it in a matter of moments.
Tutorial: You tap to do everything. But just in case you might not get it, every time the game introduces something new, it tells you what it is, what it does and how to use it. And it does it all in a fluid, natural way that rolls with the game. You never feel the game is grinding to a halt to deliver new information. It’s just a part of the experience, and we call that “Tutorials Done Right”.
Repetitive: Move? Tap. Jump? Tap. Climb? Tap-tap-tap. Double-jump? Tap-tap. Fight? Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap. There’s a fine line between accessibility and tired repetition, and Chop Chop Ninja walks it, and sometimes teeters a little too close to the edge. Tapping is fine to a point, but some swiping might have been nice to mix it up. Also the music — which I like — but there’s only one track, and it does get old.
Enemies: There’s not a lot of enemy types in the game. Mostly you will fight evil samurai, all of which are based on the same sprite and which then comes in various sizes and colors, like t-shirts at the mall. You will also fight the same scorpion many times, also in different sizes.
Combat: Tap-tap-tap-tap. What with all the tapping, there’s not much room for innovation or variety in the combat. No patterned attacks, no dodging, no narrow victories. Combat essentially amounts to Iro and his enemies bumping into each other until one of them dies. It’s like watching Weeble-Wobbles fight.
Controls: Yes, the controls get filed under both likes and dislikes. The innate lack of precision can make platforming unnecessarily difficult. Traditionally, platforming games have always been about precision and control, and Chop Chop Ninja takes a miss in that department.
Performance: There’s some slowdown playing on the iPhone 3G; probably not an issue for 3GS owners. The slowdown doesn’t make the game unplayable, but it can be a little frustrating. Also, I hit a bug that prevented me from advancing my first time through stage 2-1. A door that was supposed to open when the enemies were all defeated didn’t open. I had to restart the game and replay the stage. On the second time through, the door triggered and I was able to complete the stage.
Despite some shortcomings, Chop Chop Ninja is overall a fun game, a welcome entry to the App Store’s mostly underwhelming line-up of ninja titles, and likely to be the last sleeper hit of 2009. I definitely don’t regret making it my final gaming purchase of the year. The game can feel clumsy at times, but it’s a clumsy charm that’s sure to win you over in the end.
Chop Chop Ninja is developed by Gamerizon, and sells at a regular price of $3.99. At the time of this review, the game can be had on sale for $1.99. A free lite version is also available. Reviewed on an iPhone 3G.