Those no-achievement games that appear on the Xbox Store are getting a bit big for their britches. Not only have three released over the past week (no doubt we will get to reviewing them all eventually), but they are raising their prices. Normally, you could guarantee that the shovelware would cost you 79p a pop: Masked Ninja Action is expecting £2.49.
To be fair to it, Masked Ninja Action has more than a couple of mechanics and a few sprites. It feels like an actual game, which is a nice bonus for the extra cash. But it’s still a far cry from deserving your cash.
Most of the cheapo platformers are endless runners, but this one actually lets you go in two directions. You are a masked ninja (curiously, looking nothing like the masked ninja in the marketing art), and your aim is very un-ninja-like: you have to get to an exit at the end of the level, but killing anything on the way is entirely optional. Also optional are three golden stars that can be found on the level, offering a sense of completion.
What surprised us most about Masked Ninja Action is that it felt reasonably satisfying to play. The controls do what you want them to do, and navigating the platforms and enemies was intuitive as a result. There are full price platformers who don’t get close to the tightness and precision of the platforming, so credit is due here.
Even better is a small nod to ninja-ness in the form of shurikens. These can be found scattered about the level, and they can be fired at enemies for a one-hit kill. Tossing them and killing a skeleton or bat before they’re even on the screen is a minor joy.
It made shurikens just about the only collectible worth paying attention to. The stars and coins in the level can’t be cashed in for anything and they only bolster an overall score, and you can easily get low on shurikens. So, shurikens are what your eyes will be scanning for.
Masked Ninja Action, after the first few levels, felt like an off-brand shot of Super Mario. We were pleasantly surprised, particularly for the £2.49 price. But as the levels continued, that shot of Super Mario got diluted to the point that it was basically water.
Masked Ninja Action’s downfall is that level one contains everything you will see in the game. There are thirty levels here, split into three lots of ten (backgrounds change, but nothing else) and every single one of them contains the same enemies, same spikes and – in many cases – incredibly familiar level layouts. Once you’ve seen one level, you have seen them all.
No amount of competent platforming can cover over the thudding repetition. Masked Ninja Action doesn’t so much as run out of ideas, as not have any to begin with. By level twenty, we’d given up on the prospect of a new creature or obstacle being wheeled in, and started zoning out completely as we played.
Which is Masked Ninja Action’s second mega-issue, looming over the game like Godzilla, threatening to ruin everything. There just isn’t any challenge here. Levels are short, no more than a couple of minutes from post to post, and you are given three hearts to soak up any damage you might receive. Except, you’d struggle to find more than three enemies in a given level, so actually finding something to knock those three hearts off is a challenge.
You can fall to your death, which resets your ninja to the start of the level, and that happened a few times over the course of the thirty levels. But otherwise, we breezed through Masked Ninja Action without touching the sides. There’s an argument that it might make for a family-friendly experience, but in any other circumstance it will feel almost insultingly trivial.
It makes for a strange proposition: for £2.49, you’re getting a fine-feeling little platformer that gets its basics right. It’s cheap as chips and controls well. But it’s also numbingly easy and repeats itself from the second level onwards. And lest we forget, there are no achievements.
Masked Ninja Action is not a bad game, particularly for the price. But it’s a meagre one, and as each platforming level passed us by, we wondered whether we would have to switch our brain on and actually pay attention.
You can buy Masked Ninja Action from the Xbox Store