Cave is a Japanese developer best known for its expertise in creating traditional, skill-laden "bullet hell" shooters that appeal to a devout niche audience. Recently, however, the company has been making its attempts at other game genres more visible to the public. It's latest effort, Nin2-Jump, is a tightly focused platformer that urges you to complete stages as quickly as possible to achieve a good ranking. Coming to grips with the challenges in each level provides an addictive hook, and posting a great time on the leaderboards makes all of your hard work worth the effort. Although the short length ends this platformer before you're willing to part with the controller, Nin2-Jump is still a lot of fun while it lasts.
The story, as best you can decipher, involves a ninja attempting to rescue his beloved Princess Sakura from "AOMEKAKUSHI Party" by collecting the secret ninja scrolls the party demands in various trap- and enemy-laden stages. The story's not a particularly significant part of the game, and it's presented primarily in text and still images, but its utterly bizarre translation makes it particularly amusing. The weird charm of the broken English works in tandem with the game's unusual choice of theme, however. The stages are presented in 2D on a simulated projector screen, with Ninja (your character) and other moving objects represented as semitransparent shadow puppets, complete with visible wires making them bounce along the screen. Along the bottom of the screen are the silhouettes of some very excitable Japanese children watching the show play out, and they react and cheer Ninja along based on the events happening in the game. The detailed, beautifully illustrated backgrounds and effects, along with the dramatic pans and the surprisingly, amusingly gory "deaths" poor Ninja can suffer (complete with translucent red ink splattering the projector), make Nin2-Jump's visual style distinct.
The adventure mode of Nin2-Jump consists of 50 short stages. Ninja must collect all the scrolls in each stage and then make his way to a gate to clear the level. The stages tend to be short: you can clear each one in under a minute, provided you know what you're doing. And you're encouraged to finish each stage as quickly as possible, because the game grades you based solely on the time taken to complete a level. Nin2-Jump is all about rushing through stages for the best time, and leaderboard rankings and achievements are available for those eager to compete and challenge themselves to shave milliseconds off their best score.
Don't expect getting good times to come easily, however. Stages are filled with all manner of tricky traps and devices to prevent Ninja from getting his scrolls. Ninja can take up to three hits from enemies and hazards, after which he's torn to bloody paper shreds and must restart the stage from the beginning. Damage comes fast in Nin2-Jump, and Ninja's invincibility window after taking damage is very short, making it necessary to get away from the source of damage as quickly as possible--a difficult proposition with all the traps and enemies. Once you have managed to finish a gauntlet of 10 levels, Ninja encounters a particularly tough boss enemy. Each boss has a pattern and a weakness you must figure out, and some of their projectile-heavy, screen-blanketing attacks can be difficult to dodge--that is, until you figure out specific tricks that can turn the attacks to your advantage. After each boss, new abilities or twists in the gameplay open for Ninja, such as the ability to use a grappling hook and limited use of ninja power to destroy enemies.
Despite its fairly simplistic gameplay and inherent charm, Nin2-Jump can be trying at times. Figuring out the particulars of new abilities Ninja earns can be a process of trial and error, which makes stages that require skilled use of these abilities frustrating on the first playthrough. However, going back to these levels after you've advanced further in the game and gotten a better sense of the controls and obstacles might leave you wondering why you thought these stages were so tough in the first place. Gradually making you hone your play skills as you advance is one thing Nin2-Jump excels at. You won't have too much time to become a superplayer in the course of a normal runthrough, however, since the standard adventure mode is quite short; you can probably polish it off in a single sitting if you are so inclined. Thre is a bonus Score Attack mode, where you play for survival and points against increasingly large enemy hordes, and the presence of a downloadable content option give hope that more stages may become available in the future. Nevertheless, for the time being, Nin2-Jump is a brief experience.
Though it may be brief, Nin2-Jump's engaging gameplay and distinct presentation make it worthwhile. If you're the sort of player who strives for perfection, replaying the stages for better and better times will keep you enthralled for quite some time. Even if you don't fall into this category, however, the striking visual style and challenging stage design are well worth Nin2-Jump's low 400-Microsoft-point ($5) price of admission.