This week’s developer challenge is by no means a new one, reaching all the way back to January when nullptrstudios’ sent us a request to give Ramen Ninja a shot. So, almost a year later, I did. Let it never be said I am not a man of my word…unless you urgently need me to rescue you from falling into a sudden magma flow or something. Then I’m probably not your best option and you should call your mother, she’s worried about your sudden interest in being an unpaid volcano tour guide.
Let’s talk about ninjas though, shall we? Personally, I think ninjas kind of peaked for me back in 2002 when realultimatepower was circulating and it’s all basically been downhill from there, with a notable exception for Dr. McNinja because it combines almost everything I love about doctors, ninjas and the Irish. That’s popular culture for you though, if one or two people do something funny or interesting, everyone else is going to go nuts trying to imitate it. Ours is a culture of memes. I wish I could say it annoys or enrages me anymore, like a proper nerd, but the older I get…the more predictable the cycles are and the less provocation they elicit. It’s not always a bad thing either, some truly bright stars can emerge from the clamoring seas of “me too!” imitators.
The aesthetic here plays off of one of the multitude of inevitable iterations of this idea: the “cute” step. You know, like the one where people make plushies out of an ancient, maddening priest of the Old Ones who sleeps in his ancient home beneath the sea. It starts off well enough with nullptrstudios’ most comical idea in the game, our titular ninja’s antagonist: a corporation that makes Udon (and apparently employs satyrs) that have nothing better to do than steal a farm full of ramen. Seriously. The absurdity of that opening scene is charming, but there’s nothing approaching it for the rest of the playthrough and I think a bit more of that would have gone a long way toward making the progression in the game tolerable. As it stands, the game is a series of disconnected stages that never feel like there’s any purpose for the Noodle Ninja to be there. Then, after 20 of them, it just ends with a similarly brief exit cutscene.
If the ninja had been say, climbing a tower or infiltrating Udon’s “base” or something, it might have felt a bit more fluid in presentation. Also, by the time the incredibly pointless zombie levels show up, something justifying that would have been nice. Anything, really. They feel so tacked on and out-of-place with the rest of the game that they stand out even more.
If there was an award for “Most Generic Screenshot of 2012” – this is it.
At the end of the day though, it’s all just window dressing. A competent game is still just that, no matter what it’s wearing to dance. Unfortunately, the design suffers from the same lack of originality as the theme it embodies; from start to finish, there’s almost nothing to be excited about in Ramen Ninja. This is a stealth game, and it is stealth only. Despite the general expectation of ninjas to flip out and kill people, this ninja seems to be more of the pacifist mindset. I personally prefer making the choice between leaving a level full of recently frappéd corpses or perfectly healthy, unwitting dudes with their blood safely tucked away inside. Making the fight or flight decision in stealth games lends some real weight to the consequences of screwing up and unless you’re specifically making a title about being terrified and powerless (Clock Tower, Amnesia), I can’t help feeling there’s only half of the game that could be here. There are plenty of ways to penalize players or encourage them to play through on an “ideal” run without removing options from them entirely.
I’m willing to grant that wasn’t the designer’s intention and say that as a pure stealth game, Ramen Ninja still has problems. First off, the general controls will be evident to anyone who’s played a title like this before: walk softly for little noise (“sneak”), crawl for none, or stomp to get a guard’s attention so you can run somewhere else. While having to choose between sneaking and crawling seems like it might matter in some situations, the truth is that you should never, ever use “sneak”. The distance sound carries in the game just isn’t obvious enough and even sneaking past guards, I would alert their attention often enough to make me entirely distrust attempting it. Then again, sometimes I would run around the level like a total asshole and never alert anyone.
The actual vision cones for the enemies worked fine, and even accounted for differences in height (crawling under counters in front of someone for instance) which I have to admit I really liked. They weren’t particularly attractive and didn’t help to draw me into the experience but Ramen Ninja isn’t really a looker. I would say the graphics are serviceable at best, and mostly just feel like amateurish copy/paste tile work. The soundtrack is simple, repetitive, short, repetitive, and annoying.
The question I still have is: who put all these ramen bowls everywhere?!
There is no control for the camera that I can find, which I thought was a huge shame, because the ability to pan around would make a huge difference. The difficulty in these games should be figuring out timing and making a perfect run, not a trail-and-error series of mishaps until you learn the level. Which isn’t to imply that Ramen Ninja was particularly difficult – even taking all of the various complaints into account, I’d wrapped it up in about an hour and a half. I didn’t five star everything, so if that adds anything to the game, I don’t know but I didn’t really feel any particular compulsion to do so either.
At the end of it all, do I feel like Ramen Ninja deserves a spot on the leaderboard? If you’ve read this far, that pretty much answers itself. So, is it worth a dollar? Well…kind of, but no. As much as I hate to continue a string of zeros, the fact remains I only put in about as much time with this as FromPulse – which at least feels like a work with some real heart, even if I didn’t think it was put to particularly great use. It felt like the kind of game someone wanted to make. Ramen Ninja feels like any one of dozens of other games; everything here has been done before and better, even what works well doesn’t stand out. It’s bland and uninspiring. I can’t bring myself to hate it, but there’s nothing that really makes it worth recommending either.
If you’d like a copy of Ramen Ninja, just drop a comment below and let me know what you think the best thing ever related to ninjas is.