First off, allow me to make the same observation everyone else has made: Ninjala is reminiscent of Splatoon. That’s not to say it’s a copy of Splatoon — if anything, sufficient playtime with the E3 demo proves they play rather differently — but take one look at the above header image and tell me it doesn’t remind you of Nintendo’s break-out shooter. Still, aside from being a fun time, it does succeed in presenting a similar hook through an absurd, yet strangely appealing concept: whereas Splatoon has kids turning into kids, Ninjala has kids engaging in ninja bubblegum action.
No, this isn’t a joke: as you can see in the header, GungHo’s new action game for Nintendo Switch has kids duking it out with tools utilizing chewy bubblegum. While we were limited to only four characters, one stage and one weapon (two of whom you can see above, the city setting also up there, and the weird bat you see above), the bizarre concept still shone through as an entertaining battle royale. It works something like this: armed with your weapon of choice, by blowing a giant bubble of gum, you can either fire it as a projectile or use it to reforge your weapon.
Wait, reforge? Let me put it this way: say you’re walking around with your bat and you encounter the opposing player. While you could just go ahead and smack them, you’ll find its default state doesn’t have very good reach, and is especially no match for foes who’ve upgraded their bat to double the size. By using your bubble gum to extend its length, however, you’ll then be on equal standing or perhaps even at an advantage. How, exactly, the gum powers up the weapon was unanswered, but I’m sure some fun lore will provide details in the final game. (And if you’re still having trouble visualizing it, perhaps the game’s trailer can help)
She’s all outta bubblegum. Not.
Of course, the true star was the cast’s wall-clinging abilities. Just as the actual ninjas once did (supposedly, anyway), you run up walls and hang down down from bridges. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to combat other players while hanging upside down, but I imagine it makes for a trippy, albeit way cool experience (not that walking upwards/downwards in itself wasn’t). Naturally, such creativity demands balance; for instance, it’s possible to run out of gum, so you’ll need to retreat and chew up to restore your gauge. Meanwhile, getting hit with gum bubbles, or even having your own gum bubble popped renders you immobile in a sticky wad, and you’ll be jamming buttons like mad to escape all the while being easy prey for your opponents.
Still, Ninjala wasn’t without its imperfections. Perhaps the most pressing issue was the the camera, which wasn’t very reliable in honing in on your opponents; in fact, there wasn’t even a lock-on feature. Thankfully, the rep informed me it was absent for the demo, so I assume it’ll be in the final version. I had also encountered some tokens in the form of Japanese lanterns which contribute to one’s score, but their use wasn’t immediately apparent and they felt haphazardly placed around rather than being enticingly natural pick-ups. Again, a work in-progress — we’ll see if they’re handled with more care when the game launches.
Splatoon clone or not, Ninjala seems set to successfully carve out its own niche. With some more polishing and a strong emphasis on its multiplayer deisng, we could end up with a third-party Switch classic down the road. Set for release in Spring 2019, we’ll certainly be keeping our eyes on this one.