Many entries in the puzzle genre allow the player to spend time contemplating before executing their careful solution. Shadow Zin, on the other hand, adds a little push as your ninja tries to sneak into a castle, by using fire, arrows, and watchful armed parrots to keep you sneaking (sometimes frantically) along.
Shadow Zin: Ninja Boy has a simple concept: sneak into a castle by working your way through its floors, each of which has twelve stages. Each stage presents a different combination of traps, guards, keys, and other tricks. You’re rewarded with up to three shurikens upon completion, along with a medal if you’ve made it without dying too many times. You have to collect enough shurikens to proceed to the next floor of the castle, which inevitably forces you to replay a few stages.
Very sneaky, sir.
We enjoyed the variety of traps and enemies in the game, from the typical timed spikes to the motion-sensing ones that the ninja has to crawl over. Some guards walk patrol routes through the stages, while others are stationary sentries, like the thematically-confusing parrots mentioned earlier. You can see every enemy’s line of sight, and if you come up behind a guard while he’s stationary, you can kill him. Sometimes this is permanent for the level; other times the guards respawn in seconds.
Fast enemy respawn is one of the features that gives the game a frustrating difficulty, especially in the later levels. If an enemy spots your ninja, he freezes and the enemy kills him, sending him back to the beginning of the level. Another level of difficulty is added by redundant mechanics. The ninja is controlled by path drawing input, but the camera is moved around by touching and dragging the screen, which is almost identical to path drawing. This often results in unintentional camera panning if you touch even slightly away from the ninja, and this disorienting loss of time can result in the ninja’s death.
On your knees, boy.
The other major issue we have with Shadow Zin is that the app employs a freemium-like pay model while not actually being free. There’s no rule about in-app purchases, of course, but the punishing difficulty in later levels seems to be designed to drive you towards power-ups, which are available in the game’s store. You can buy them with the coins you collect, but the one-use items quickly deplete your stash, making purchase more attractive, as freemium games do so well.
Shadow Zin has several good elements, including variety, challenge, and thematic character. When we first started playing, it seemed quite promising. Once immersed, however, we found gameplay traps that held this ninja experience back. Even so, it’s a good, quick-paced puzzler.