Aug 21, 2013

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Hands-On Preview: 10 Second Ninja

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I’m pretty sure what Dan Pearce (@GameDesignDan) has created in 10 Second Ninja is both brilliant and cruelly devious. My fingers are aching as I type this right now after sitting down to play “just a few minutes” of the beta only to end up sinking hours hoping to finally get that second or third star on each level.

What is 10 Second Ninja? Imagine a game that challenges you to brutal platforming ala Super Meat Boy but gives you only ten seconds to complete each level. Then imagine that each level requires careful puzzle solving (in addition to skill) in order to complete each stage for the coveted two- or three-star ratings.

The premise of 10 Second Ninja is an evil robot Hitler has gathered his robot army to set about to destroy all ninjas (because nothing is more awesome than a ninja, and no one is more awesome than them). The game has several themed levels (such as forest and canyon) made up of various stages, with difficulty increasing as you go. For example, you can earn a three-star rating on the very first stage with a time of eight seconds, whereas other stages will have far lower times due to the complexity of the stage.

To pass a stage, the only thing you have to do is beat it within the ten-second time limit, which means jumping, avoiding obstacles (such as deadly spikes), and hitting all the targets/robots before time runs out. Sounds easy enough in theory, but it’s amazing how fast that timer winds down while you struggle to make that jump. Additionally, in order to unlock the boss at the end, you’ll need to earn a certain number of stars. This means that just barely passing each stage won’t cut it, and each level has a higher star limit required to pass. The good news is you don’t need to earn those stars on that level, you just need to have a certain number of stars total. This means you’ll be spending a lot of time restarting levels, but with that addictive quality (especially since the game clearly tells you how many seconds you need to get the next star), you’ll find yourself restarting over and over, pushing yourself to the limit, often puzzling over how you can improve.

Long story short: it’s incredible addictive, but in just the right way.

01

The controls are simple, and though Mr. Pearce recommends using a controller, I tested the game out first with the keyboard and found the game to play surprisingly well that way. In fact, when I went back and played with two separate controllers (an NES-style one that mimicked the keyboard controls more closely and a Logitech PS3-style that gave a more console-like level of control), I found I vastly preferred the keyboard setup. Part of it may be that the game seems intended for use with a 360-style controller, and without doing some serious out-of-game mapping, the controls just didn’t feel as fluid or intuitive to me, something that’s absolutely necessary for a game that requires you to act precisely and quickly. Of course, this is a pre-release build, so it’s possible any control scheme issues will be ironed out before the final release.

Like the game itself, the controls aren’t complicated: jump and move with the arrow keys, throw your shuriken with “Z” and attack with “X”; restart with the spacebar. You’ll find you quickly get into a rhythm, and there’s an unbelievable moment of satisfaction when you finally beat your last best time and unlock that new star. I know my dogs looked at me oddly more than once when I finally got the second star on a challenging level and threw my hands up in the air screaming in triumph. It’s a game that’s challenging, but if you’re patient, dedicated, and persistent, you’ll be rewarded.

Its simplicity is part of what makes 10 Second Ninja so enjoyable, though it’s really the puzzle aspect that delighted me most. Completing a level in time to get the higher star ratings isn’t simply a matter of “do everything faster”; instead, you have to carefully analyze and learn each level and figure out which path will shave off precious seconds of your time. What makes the game so special is you don’t even necessarily consciously go through this process, but when you do realize you can run across a path of rocks to knock out extra enemies as you go, or discover you can hit several enemies with one shuriken in one blow if you jump just right, that’s when the game’s magic really shines through.

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The graphics are simple, with a kind of 16-bit feel that’s reminiscent of the Super Nintendo or many games you play on iOS these days. That’s not a bad thing, as the simple graphics also work well with the platformy focus of the game. Likewise, the music (by Tim Rurkowski) is simple, but it fits the intensity of the gameplay and also has that kind of old-school, arcadey feel that reminds me of my childhood playing NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and arcade games with my friends.

The build I played felt like a final product, and though there’s no clear release date yet, I’m looking forward to playing the full game when it hits. Right now, the game is planned for a PC and Mac release sometime within the next few weeks.

For now, I think I’ll give my fingers a brief respite before I dig back in for those coveted third stars.

Thank you to Dan Pearce for offering a pre-release copy of the game for this preview. For more information on 10 Second Ninja, check out the official site: http://10secondninja.com/

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About Rebecca Quintana

Currently playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I've fallen in love with twitter; follow me if you're interested in some good game-, writing-, or book-related conversation: @rrquinta.