I have only a passing interest in the alternative toy community. Sure, I see the artistic vinyl toys that some people collect, and it makes me wish I had more disposable income. When it comes right down to it, I’d rather spend what little money I have on something that’s a bit more interactive. So it’s great that Shawn Smith — who has always been “a guy who used to write for EGM” to me despite the fact that he’s made a name for himself as a toy creator with his Shawnimals line of toys and dolls — has become involved in the video game industry again. This time, though, he’s on the other side of the fence. One of his Shawnimal characters, the Wee Ninja, is being spun off into Southpeak Interactive’s Ninja Town.
Unfortunately, it’s slated for late October, when it’ll be fighting for shelf space against higher-profile releases like Fallout 3, Fable 2, and Dead Space. This seems like a perfect candidate for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it files, and that would be a shame. I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a hands-on demo of the game narrated by Shawn, who guided me through the first level. Ninja Town’s mechanics are easy enough to describe if you’ve ever played Desktop Tower Defense or Pixeljunk Monsters, as it falls into the same slice of the strategy genre as them. In most tower defense games, you fend off incoming waves of enemies by strategically placing towers mounted with ranged weapons. Different towers have varying effects against enemies, so the key to success is using the right mix of towers to repel all the different enemies. For example, you might have to ward off flying enemies, so you build anti-air towers; but if you build too many of those and neglect mortars, ground based monsters will make it through your defenses and destroy your base.
[[image:vs081002_ninja.jpg:Ninja Town Gameplay Screens:center:0]]
So how is Ninja Town different? For one, instead of building towers you’re building barracks. While towers simply sit there and spew ammo, Ninja Town’s barracks generate different classes of ninja that emerge to attack the incoming enemies. Ninjas need to stay within range of their barracks, but as the barracks increase in level that range increases. In the mission I played, I set up barracks with White Ninjas who threw snowballs at the enemies, which caused them to slow down. This gave my Wee Ninjas more time to deal with them before they marched out of range of the barracks.
The first level offered four different classes of Ninja available, and it wasn’t too difficult to figure out the best places to put them in order to stop the hordes of bad guys from attacking you. As you play through the game, though, many more classes of Ninja will become available, exponentially increasing your strategic options. As anyone who has lost hours to Pixeljunk Monsters can attest, this style of gameplay can be very addictive. Fans of portable or strategy game (and anyone looking for a smaller experience to balance all the epic triple-A releases this holiday season) should keep Ninja Town in mind. I had a really great experience with it, and now I’m starting to look into getting a few of those Wee Ninja plushies. And hey, a vinyl toy sure would look nice on my desk…