Sometimes the simplest things are the best. A really good steak doesn’t need anything other than some salt, for instance. We think games are the same way. Sure, you can overcook the meat, or use a poor quality cut of beef, but if you do it right there’s nothing better. We feel the same way about Space Ninja, a stripped-down flying game that nails the details and kept us hooked for hours. Even if you’re a vegetarian, Space Ninja is a great game.
Your screen is in portrait mode, bereft of anything other than two buttons at the bottom, one for the Menu and one to access your Items. The spaceship is delicate but nimble, flying upwards towards the finish line while avoiding a host of fatal objects, all atop a series of backgrounds that call to mind some of the grander Hubble Telescope images. Tilting your iDevice steers you around, and the clever in-game calibration option means you can continually adjust your angle.
You’ll need it, because finding the balance between full-tilt and subtle steering speed is rather difficult and quite important. The screen is littered with mines and missiles and other lethal items that will kill you instantly. Fear not, though, for there are forces for good in Space Ninja, and every now and again the little green plus signs dole out shields or neutron bombs or missile repellents that help to keep you alive.
That’s really it. So what, you may ask, is so special about a vertically scrolling spaceship that has nothing to do with ninjas at all?
Space Ninja’s secret weapon is what truly sets this game apart–slow motion. Touching the screen slows time to Matrix-bullet-dodging speed. It’s truly beautifully done. As you press the screen, you also zoom in on your spaceship, and the game objects look fantastic up close. The graphics really excel here, scaling perfectly as the tempo decelerates, and your ship responds wonderfully while slowed.
Mastering this bullet-time ballet is absolutely necessary to complete the increasingly difficult missions. There are 40 of these levels, each unlocking the next, and five substantially longer Challenges that are immediately playable. Space Ninja isn’t easy to immediately excel at, and the controls and game require a rather steep learning curve for the App Store. Sticking around for a few tries, though, will probably be enough to get you hooked, and you’ll need that practice once you get to the ridiculously harder courses later on.
The fit and finish here are top notch. The game loads quickly, restarts levels immediately, and has yet to freeze or evidence a glitch. The menus and option screens are, like everything else, simply and beautifully done. We would like a few more options, though: the music, while cheerfully scored in a polyphonic type way, gets repetitive, and a difficulty setting would mitigate an awful lot of frustration. However, the little touches–Futurama fans should keep an eye out for one power-up in particular–and the sense of humor (the big FAIL screen after death) really shine here.
Even if you’re not into certain cartoons or internet memes, the $3.99 Space Ninja is a great value and a must have for your iDevice.