Cubic Ninja Review
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On 06/22/2011 at 07:51 PM by Nick DiMola
Despite having great personality and charm, the controls and poor level designs make this game nearly unplayable.
I have a predilection for quirky Japanese puzzle games, so you can only imagine how high my hopes were for Cubic Ninja. Its bold move of only allowing motion control further piqued my interest. Surely, solving puzzles with cube shaped protagonist, CC, was going to be a blast. Unfortunately, after just a few short minutes with the game, my interest was quickly dissipated due to the broken controls and poor puzzle design.
Like many games, Cubic Ninja proposes a simple story that sets the premise for solving puzzles set in sterile testing environments. Here, players must avoid obstacles and enemies in order to reach the exit door. Though touted as a puzzle title, the game doesn’t really fit a clear genre; it’s probably most similar to the Kururin games from Nintendo than anything else, as it’s all about navigating the stages without dying, rather than solving true puzzles.
This fact didn’t become evident to me until I had completed nearly twenty stages without solving a single puzzle, and the first one I did encounter wasn’t very challenging, nor was it followed by another for quite a while after. Of course, this doesn’t make the game bad in its own right. Plenty of games, like Kururin (and Kororinpa, for that matter) have succeeded on the same premise. The problem here is that the motion controls are completely game breaking.
The game is set on a 2D plane but is given a z-axis so that you can move around in a limited capacity in the third dimension. Knowing that, imagine you need to move to the right at a rapid pace and quickly come to a complete stop in order to pass an impediment in time, but avoid the next. To do so, you’d tilt the 3DS to the right sharply and pull it back all the way to the left to produce the quickest stop possible. In doing so, you completely obstruct your view of the screen, making it nearly impossible to precisely perform the action as expected by the game. Moving in the third dimension proves to be frustrating and unnecessarily challenging. CC never seems to move straightforward or back, making it extremely easy to crash into enemies and die.
Most of this could be resolved by adjusting the tilt sensitivity, but no such option exists. Instead, players are given the choice to change the controls to use the circle pad and buttons, but this is hardly helpful in fully alleviating the problem.
For one, this makes the levels pathetically easy and takes away any possible interest you could’ve had. Even worse, though the controls alleviate part of the problem, they introduce new ones.
Now, you are forced to move your chosen ninja in the third dimension by pushing a button. By default, you will find yourself in the depths of the landscape and holding the button will only temporarily move you forward once you build up some momentum. At times, the game will require you to move through openings that exist between the front and back planes. Honing in on the exact middle is a massive challenge because you’ll constantly be fighting against the gravitational force that holds you to the back plane when the circle pad controls are on.
Regardless of which setup you choose, controlling the game is cumbersome, relying on a built momentum to move. The circle pad controls are absolutely necessary at a point, so if you do choose to play the game, you’ll be stuck fighting with both at some point. Circle pad controls also enable 3D, so that is at least a nice touch that does help in navigating the planes.
Beyond the lame levels are a few extras, like a level editor, for which you unlock pieces as you beat levels. You can also challenge yourself in the time attack and survival modes, as well the in-level time goals, but most of it isn’t interesting enough to warrant your attention. You’ll also unlock new ninjas as you beat sections of the game, but these just make the game more annoying to play as they just change certain properties of the character, making them heavier or bouncier.
The main game does offer some boss fights occurring at the end of each world, which consists of twenty levels. These are based mainly on precision play and are absolutely infuriating to play with the motion controls. They can even provoke some frustration with the circle pad controls because of the slow, clunky movement. I suppose that they break up the monotony, but I’d gladly trade them for more boring challenge levels.
While I love the personality and charm of the characters and levels, the actual gameplay is uninteresting with the circle pad, and frustrating – at times unplayable – with the motion controls. I’d love to see the team take another stab at the idea on another platform (like the Wii) with some better controls and sensitivity settings, but this product is so poor I doubt it’ll be revisited.