Any time a game is promoted as “free-to-play”, the grizzled gaming veterans among us raise our eyebrows; the youngins on the other hand wouldn’t have it any other way. Ninjala is among the many recent slew of these titles; but, unlike the money-grubbing exemplars of this rather exploitative model, developer GungHo have created quite the tempting “free” proposition.
Splatoon quickly became one of Nintendo’s quintessential IPs—ever since its Wii U debut—and is still as strong as ever: with Splatoon 2 being part of the first-year lineup for Nintendo Switch. When Ninjala was first revealed, it turned heads and rolled eyes as the similarities with Nintendo’s squid-kid shooter were just far too obvious. In the build up to the eventual worldwide launch—and after many delays—those similarities are very much still the case, but to the extent of Pepsi being similar to Coca-Cola.
Right on the title screen graphic you see a soda ad with the caption “Taste the Difference”. Subtle.
Ninjala may resemble Splatoon in its style and use of fonts, but when you get right into the bubblegum-ninja action it is the furthest thing from painting with squid ink.
Despite all the speculation and scepticism, Ninjala is unquestionably a very cool game. It oozes a style that doesn’t necessarily knock off Splatoon, but still feels familiar—yet fresh in its own right. These ninja kids have a fashion sense to be sure, and plenty of cool weapons—such as a giant yo-yo.
When you get right into the action, the similarities to Splatoon immediately end: as this is a closed-quarters combat game, and a surprisingly deep one at that too. As ninjas, these kids can run up walls and jump all over the place for some pretty cool aerial attacks—with the main city map giving of serious City Escape vibes, à la Sonic Adventure 2.
The actual combat system lets you string together combos and counter-attacks like it was BlazBlue or something: special attacks, dash attacks, and clever use of bubblegum to create attack bubbles of sort. There is a lot to learn here; it is button-masher friendly, but reward to those who take the time to learn the ins and outs.
Ninjala is here and it looks like it is here for the long haul. These ninja kids are all about chewing gum and kicking butt…and they’re never out of gum.