Side-scrolling experiences represent a huge part of gaming history and throughout the years we’ve seen some classic titles come out of the genre. But in recent console generations it’s certainly become much more of a forgotten thing amongst developers, with the number of decent scrollers dwindling. Until now that is. See, now we have seen Ninjin: Clash of Carrots arrive on Xbox One, to deliver a quirky title; one that has an even quirkier nature and plenty of fast-paced scrolling action for fans to jump on.
If you want an engaging story, you probably won’t want to be found playing Clash of Carrots. After all, whilst the name certainly raises a few questions as to what’s going on, and may even have you intrigued, it hardly shouts epic story-driven adventure from the rooftops. That said, there is a story, with this linear adventure taking players on a trail of retrieval through Japan at a time of unrest. There is a war going on you see; a war between ninjas, samurais and shoguns. However, at the height of the great battle, tragedy has struck, and your home village has been pillaged for every carrot it holds following the orders of the evil Shogun Moe. That’s where you come in, stepping into the shoes of the local martial arts trained ninja-rabbit – or fox should you so choose – before heading out to track every last carrot down.
In each level, players battle their way through an automatically scrolling play area, hacking and slashing at all the various enemies that step in their path, whilst running to collect every last carrot they drop once defeated. With auto-scrolling, the game does play very much like an endless runner, in fact the only thing preventing this being an actual endless runner is that each level is only comprised of around 10 or so different waves of enemies – with plenty of hacking and slashing to break things up a little and a bullet-hell type experience thrown into the mix later on.
Of course, no matter what the game, simply hacking and slashing can get tiresome quickly, and to keep things fresh the developers have brought in a mix of different abilities that come into play – a dash that allows players to break through groups of enemies, some rather exciting projectile weaponry including caltrops and Kunai, as well as a consistent flow of new enemies that are frequently added in to the mix as well.
Another aspect that helps keep things feeling a little fresh, at least early on, are the sheer amount of customisation possibilities available. As you defeat enemies, you’ll collect the many carrots your village are so keen on getting back, however it seems not all are so dear to them as any carrots collected in battle are also used as in-game currency within the shop.
Now the shop itself is something I tried to visit as little as possible, thanks mainly to a rather irritating yapping corgi and the most annoying 8-bit barks you’ve ever heard, however should you be able to look past that irritation, you’ll find an entire store of new weapons and projectiles, as well as artifacts and buffs that can then be used throughout your adventure.
Getting the best weapons will certainly require a fair bit of carrot saving, but with multiple options to choose from – 101 swords, 40 different projectiles and 28 unique artifacts can be found within the game – there are plenty of options for everyone to at least find something they like to be going on with. What’s more is each of the items comes with its own unique stats, meaning should you find a certain level rather difficult, it is possible to grind an easier level for some simple carrots in order to save for a much more powerful piece of weaponry.
You may well need these too, as whilst things are supposed to get a little harder as you progress further into the game, the difficulty isn’t always as you’d expect with some later levels proving a breeze while others can take several attempts for you to crack, especially when you are learning what each new enemy actually does. The bosses on the other hand though can prove severely testing with a huge difficulty spike.
The biggest challenge in Ninjin: Clash of Carrots however is actually figuring out just what and who the target audience of the game actually is. Visually, it’s hard to argue it’s not aimed at the younger audience, with the irritating yet child friendly dog mooching about in the store, a rabbit and a fox as your protagonists and colourful pixelated visuals ensuring a bright and friendly journey throughout. The audio would back that idea up too, with rhythmic retro inspired sounds that resemble similarities in their notes to the soothing tones of the old Gameboy Pokemon games.
If you look at it from a gameplay perspective though, then this isn’t a game that children, or even many casual gamers, would be able to enjoy thanks to a difficulty spike that raises and lowers at will, and gameplay changes that flit between simply hacking and slashing in one level to an over-bearing bullet-hell onslaught in others. With bosses that show no mercy whatsoever thrown in on top, you can be guaranteed to find frustration from time to time.
Even If you are a fan of difficult retro inspired games however, there is still one issue with Ninjin: Clash of Carrots that takes away from the enjoyment of a good challenge – the repetitivity. As I mentioned earlier, there are a vast variety of weapons and items in the game, and a nice collection of enemies as well, but unfortunately, there isn’t very much of a difference in the levels and it doesn’t take long for things to feel overly repetitive as you hack and slash or throw projectiles at enemies. In fact, the constant rinsing and repeating is a bit tiresome.
This is something that is impressed upon further when you make it to the end of the game and unlock another mode – Oni TV Show – that provides the true endless runner experience in its complete form, allowing you to take on an endless number of enemies for rarer rewards.
It is important to note that Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a game that can be played both online and offline in co-op, with one player taking up the ninja rabbit Ninjin and the other the ninja fox Akai, and for what it’s worth both work and play as seamlessly as you’d hope them to. It is pleasurable to see some co-op included, especially as it makes the gameplay feel a little easier with two players.
Overall though and Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is an interesting game. It brings a unique – albeit rather dull – story, and a rarely seen gameplay style to Xbox One, but with a repetitive nature only covered briefly by the vast nature of customisation options and enemy types, there isn’t enough here to keep players intrigued for the long haul. Hack and slash fans will like what they find, as will endless-runner fans and those hardcore enthusiasts out there, but at the end of the day Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a game that struggles with its own identity too much to be fully enjoyed.