Francois the chubby French ninja needs your help. He’s on a series of 40 classified missions that require him to sneak around rooftops, collect stars, and escape via helicopter. The problem is that he has eaten a few too many pastries and baguettes, so you’ll have to do this without expending all of his energy.
If that sounds like a lot of fun, you’re right– it’s a great premise. In practice, however, the game quickly loses its appeal for two reasons: The constant drain on your energy (health) bar, and poor controls.
One way you lose energy is by getting hit. In each level you’ll encounter a wide variety of enemies, from spiny spheres, hovering tadpoles, and rock-dropping bats, to environmental obstacles like spikes, pits, and cannons. The enemies are generally cute, and they offer plenty of variety, but getting hit even once often results in death.
That’s because jumping, a basic form of movement in this game, also expends energy. To jump, you place your finger on the screen and drag it in the direction you want Francois to go. When you release your finger, he launches himself in that direction. But since each jump costs energy and brings you closer to death, you’ll have to seriously consider your jumps.
Compounding the energy problem is that the controls feel very stiff. First of all, you can’t climb up anything. You can latch onto poles and the sides of buildings, but you can’t climb them. This makes you feel less mobile than it seems a ninja– even a chubby one– should be. Second, you can’t control the distance of your jumps, which makes for some awkward hopping. The net effect is that you feel like you’re working against the controls rather than with them.
A leap of faith.
Which is too bad, because the levels are well designed. You’ll encounter plenty of platforms, poles, bubbles, and zip lines that would be a lot of fun to navigate if moving around didn’t feel like such a chore.
From its cute characters and clever level designs, it’s clear that more effort went into Urban Ninja than goes into a lot of games on the App Store. But because the controls are clunky and the constant energy drain from jumping feels like a disincentive to explore, we ultimately can’t recommend Urban Ninja. Maybe it’s time for this Frenchman to go on a diet.