Ninjatown Hands-On

Ninjatown's cute martial artists are bounding onto the Nintendo DS soon. We grabbed a first hands-on at a London preview event.

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The brainchild of ex-video game magazine editor Shawn Smith, Ninjatown is an action/strategy hybrid for the Nintendo DS. The game puts you in control of squads of tiny martial-arts characters, all of whom have different skills and abilities. By managing resources and using the right ninja for each job, you can stop your bases from falling under enemy attack. We got to play a level from the game at a recent SouthPeak games event in London, and we're happy to report that it has an interesting concept behind its disarmingly cute looks.

 Ninjatown may be cute, but there's an original game concept underneath its charm.
Ninjatown may be cute, but there's an original game concept underneath its charm.

With the game still deep in development, we were shown only a single level. The general concept is a bit like Tower Defense--you defend your ninja base from waves of attacking enemies, who become stronger and more evasive with each wave. You need to build huts at strategic points around the map to block the path to your base, and your ninjas will automatically fend off advancing foes with a variety of attacks. The Wee Ninja is fast and can move quickly to stop enemies, but considering that he's not particularly powerful, he's more of a stopgap for the Anti-Ninjas, who are much stronger but slower. Ideally, you want to combine the two so that the Wee Ninjas can catch the enemies and the Anti-Ninjas can finish them off.

The currency for building resources is ninja cookies, which are earned by killing enemies or demolishing your existing buildings. You need to constantly upgrade and rearrange your buildings because waves of enemies come from different locations as you progress. In the level we played, some enemies started sneaking through our defenses and making it to our main base at the bottom of the map. If more than 20 enemies infiltrate your base, then it's game over and you lose the level. Thankfully, you can also call on an old master ninja who surveys the battle from up in a hot-air balloon. If you get into a problem, you can use two of his special powers called the "hickory lunge" and "get off my lawn." With the former, you tap the screen with the stylus to kill enemies with a single blow, and with the latter you blow on the microphone to push them away from your base.

 The hickory lunge is one of the special moves from the old ninja master.
The hickory lunge is one of the special moves from the old ninja master.

It's clear that Ninjatown DS is just one part of a large merchandise effort, with dolls, key rings, and badges all scattered around the demo we played. However, the game itself is fun to play and even quite challenging when it comes to resource management. It's also an original idea, and one that appears to have plenty of appeal when it comes to its quirky storytelling style. The game is due for release at the end of Q3, and though there are no official announcements as yet, SouthPeak did hint that other versions would be on the way.

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