Nano Ninjas Review: More like Nano Nonjas

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Nano Ninjas is a tower defense game for iOS devices from indie developer Bad Chunk. It sets angry robots who look like samurais and ninjas against actual ninjas. It’s built very similarly to Plants vs. Zombies, giving you the main adventure as well as some smaller minigames that unlock as you play the game. Your ninjas unlock as you go level to level as well, with the robots also increasing in difficulty. While it seems like a simple enough formula, does copying something popular make it work?

Platforms: iOS
Publisher: Bad Chunk Games
Developer: Bad Chunk Games
Genre: Ninjas vs Robots vs Plants vs Zombies
Release Date: December 12, 2012
iTunes App Rating: 9+

nanoninjas-boxSadly, the game is nowhere near as enjoyable as Plants vs. Zombies, though I really wanted it to be. The game has you fighting as ninjas, who range from simple shuriken-throwers to monks who slow down the enemies and also meditate to build up your Zen, which is the monetary unit in the game. You can use Zen to buy more ninjas or items (like bombs and shields with pigs behind them) or to upgrade what you’ve purchased. Zen builds up slowly (though it builds up more quickly the less you use it).

The first things you start using are basic ninjas with basic attacks, monks with slowing attacks (who can meditate and generate Zen), bombs (one to destroy and one to slow), a ninja who shoots a rocket, and a pig with a shield made of bamboo in front of him. The Zen generation happens when you store up a prayer gem – you can then make a monk meditate. The amount of Zen he can create depends on whether or not you’ve upgraded him, so you have to pay attention and choose carefully.

There are several different levels, each with several stages in it. As the levels get more difficult, you unlock more and more ninjas and items. One ninja has a sword and, once an enemy arrives before him, he slashes everything down the row. You can get an acid pool, which is especially helpful if you drop it down in front of a pig with a shield. As long-range ninjas go, the rocket ninja always remains pretty good, but he’s expensive. You can also get ninjas and monks who shoot on multiple rows.

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But there’s just something lacking in the game. First off, the pacing is way too slow. The early levels seem to take forever, because there’s no way to speed things up. But then, in later levels, your Zen generates far too slowly to be helpful at all. I got to a point where, no matter what strategy I employed, I simply could not get past the very first part of the stage. I began to get very frustrated as I started to wonder if I needed to purchase something in order to get past this part, which is one of the main factors keeping me from playing more games on my iPad.

Another frustrating part of the game is that there are no real indicators when you power something up. Except for a circle around their feet, when you upgrade your ninjas, it’s impossible to tell if they’re doing more damage or not. They don’t seem to throw more shurikens, or throw them more quickly. There’s just no physical indicator that anything has changed at all. The only time that an upgrade was noticeable, as far as I could tell, was when I put down the deity statue that makes everything around it move faster (though not everything adjacent – it doesn’t count things that are diagonal to it). The shurikens were obviously coming out more quickly, making me feel like I hadn’t wasted my Zen upgrading them.

The “Ninjapedia,” which is supposed to help you figure out what to choose before each level, is not very helpful. It’s vague in its descriptions – the ninja “Katana Jones” has a “Low Defence,” but so does the “Sacred Flame.” The ninja takes a few shots to go down, but the Sacred Flame goes down in fewer hits. While I don’t need to know exactly how many hits it’s going to take, it would be nice to have things be a little less vague so I have an idea of how much I need to protect everything.

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But by far the most aggravating thing about the game is its difficulty level. It goes from simple, to normal, to challenging, to practically impossible. I’m no stranger to tower defense games, and even after playing one of the later levels 30 times, I still couldn’t beat it. As I mentioned before, I’m assuming that the trick is in some sort of in-game purchase, which I think is unfair.

The minigames are lackluster and uninspired. To go into just a few – in “Melon Drop,” you drop melons for ninjas to catch. That’s the entire thing – just timing the dropping of melons from above. In “Bamboo Chomp,” you hit the alternating buttons to eat bamboo as a panda. And in the only one I actually enjoyed, “Warthog Dash,” you tap quickly to smash all of the Warthogs that run across your screen. Considering these are some of the most annoying enemies in the game, this can be very therapeutic.

I’m sad to say that this game isn’t very good. The art is very nice, the achievements are cute, and the concept behind it is great. There’s just so much about it that I wish worked, so many moments when I thought to myself, “if only it was like this, then the game would be fun.” I did play it for hours, but the more I played it, the more I wished I was playing Plants vs. Zombies again instead, or one of my other favorites, Ninjatown. You’d be better off buying one of those two games than you would spending your time with Nano Ninjas.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Nano Ninjas was provided by Bad Chunk Games for the purposes of this review.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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