Go Ninja! Go Ninja! Go! Restart! Restart! Restart!
Back in Medieval times, certain monks used to wear vestments filled with hay to scratch their skin. They would also flagellate themselves: whipping their own backs till they were raw and bloody to show their penitence before God. If these sorts of masochistic monks were around today, they’d eagerly snap up 10 Second Ninja X: a punishingly, unfairly, brutally difficult minimalist 2d platformer.
10 Second Ninja X casts you as a legendary stealth assassin who has been kidnapped by the wicked pirate: Captain Greatbeard. Now you’re stuck aboard his labyrinthine airship and forced to face his savage series of challenges: where you have to destroy all the robots on a level with sword and shuriken before a time limit runs out. It sounds simple enough, right? You’re even offered the opportunity to pan the camera over the surroundings to plan your rapid robot killing spree in advance. This is what makes 10 Second Ninja X as much of an intriguing puzzle game as an action-packed run n’ jumper, since route planning is just as key to success as pixel-perfect platforming. This is especially true on more advanced levels with shielded robots who are immune to your sword – requiring you to position yourself so your shurikens can take out multiple targets; preserving as much precious time as possible in the process.
You can earn hint tokens to help you theorise a plan of attack, and these hint tokens can be earned via a refreshingly easy crossing-cups style minigame (though this feature doesn’t appear to be fully implemented in the preview). Even if you work out a brilliant plan though, the course of your ninja-ing doth seldom run smooth. Though the controls are tight and responsive, the level of precision required is extraordinarily high. Trying to play for maximum speed will frequently send you careening off into pits or electronic zappers. But dying is the least of your problems, as the slightest delay will shave precious second-fractions off your time. Maybe as you’re running; you skid half an inch too far forward before turning for a jump. Maybe you double jump when a normal one might have been slightly faster. You’ll learn to tap the restart button with irritation at the most miniscule mistake. No matter how perfectly you think you’ve played, your time will still fall short.
To progress past the very first stage, you need 20 stars – an average of two stars each for the ten challenges available. I was ranked 7th in the leaderboards for one of the challenges. That’s right, I had the 7th best time in the entire world, but still only earned 2 out of 3 stars. That is this game in a nutshell.
Though the gameplay is unforgiving, there is some levity offered through the cutscenes and characters of the game. The rounded Weebl and Bob style 2D character designs and the adorable warbling they make gives 10 Second Ninja an instantly lovable aesthetic. It’s amusingly raunchy too. If you take a little trip down a secret passage you find a shocking portrait of Captain Greatbeard in the buff, and receive an explanation from one of his crewmen about how she secretly loves his deliciously doughy figure. Greatbeard himself is struck with unrequited romance, such as when he declares his undying love for the ship’s computer and receives an awkward “okay” in response.
Though 10 Second Ninja X is definitely a giggle, it’s also finger-blisteringly hard – and it will make you yell, scream and swear like a bawdy sailor being kicked in the nethers. When the score screen pops up at the end of the level to show you’re 0.02 seconds short of getting that crucial star you need to progress – it’s keyboard-smashingly frustrating.
When previewing games, there’s a certain code of honour we tend to observe. Since the developer has been kind enough to provide us with an advance copy, we can’t be too negative about it – as it is, after all, an unfinished product.
Having said that though: fuck you, 10 Second Ninja X. Seriously. Fuck. You.