Heavily influence by multiplayer brawlers that have preceded it such as Power Stone, the original Smash Brothers, or even the recent PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale; Atomic Ninjas aims for frantic and light heated communal combat. The problem is that while it does it’s best to emulate those experiences and at times can very well be surprisingly enjoyable, it is ultimately held back by its lack of content and tremendously “laggy” gameplay.
Opening with a cutscene of a dozy security guard falling helplessly onto a comically large bright red button, it is a nuclear explosion that destroys much of the earth and leaves its people helpless; except for a few unusually altered ninjas that is. The blast may have ended the lives of many but it strengthened the minute martial artists, giving them near immortal power.
I hope that you enjoyed my brief summary of the games plot because moving forward I’m afraid there won’t be much else. Atomic Ninjas is game built around multiplayer, so much so that beyond a tutorial and a quick match mode that offers to recreate a social experience with bots; the game is devoid of much else. Multiplayer-brawlers typically don’t require much to justify the chaotic brand of gameplay they utilize but it was admittedly disappointing to see the plot relegated only to the intro cinematic.
Let’s begin by exploring what Atomic Ninjas does right; frantic fun with friends. Like many of its aforementioned peers Atomic Ninjas’ main death match modes drops four players into an arena filled with thematic death traps based on the landscape of one of the games’ eight stages. However unlike its contemporaries these environmental hazards are not just another wrinkle, they are the entire bed. You see the powers given to these diminutive ninjas has given them unbelievable strength and vitality.
No longer vulnerable to damages of the flesh these super powered munchkins shrug off shurikens, survive dastardly drops, and rebound from tackles; leaving danger isolated all but solely to these pitfalls. Using a variety of offensive powerups such as throwing telekinesis, boxing gloves, and shurikens players traverse platforms intent on knocking one another either out of the level entirely or into a level specific trap. As dangerous as these attacks sound they are typically intended to knock opponents in a direction, and hopefully to their demise. The individual/team with the highest point total by the end of the round wins. It’s obvious that Czech developer Grip Games aim to achieve digital anarchy and in that way they succeed.
Deathmatch is only one of the gameplay types that Atomic Ninjas has to offer. Additionally players will have the choice of Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Treasure Hunt, and the all-encompassing Objective mode. Each mode plays as they sound and most of these modes can be tackled either alone or divided into teams. The way that Atomic Ninjas sets itself apart from its peers in this sense is by including a pair of traversal items in the rocket jet-pack and grappling hook which allow players to move freely within the stages. You never quite know where an opponent will sneak up on you and this constant vulnerability keeps you on your toes. However to truly spice up the format from game to game; the real paradigm shift comes when Objective mode has been chosen as the mode of play.
Objective mode is the crown jewel of Atomic Ninjas. In my experience online it was many players’ mode of choice as it offers up the entire list of modes in a timed buffet of gameplay. During objective mode the game randomly shifts modes changing up the gameplay on the fly, contributing even more to the poetic chaos Atomic Ninjas inspires. One moment you will be working in tandem in Capture the Flag, the next the level can become a battlefield as players seek to destroy one another in Team Deathmatch. This is where the true spirit of Atomic Ninjas is on display and truthfully the only mode that managed to completely hold my attention past the ten minute mark.
Where at first Atomic Ninjas can feel like an exciting breath of fresh air with its ingeniously simplistic gameplay, the wheels fall off as you sink your teeth into the game and ultimately realize there isn’t much there to chew on. While the game does offer overarching goals that when met unlock boosts to your offensive power (a la Jetpack Joyride) it just isn’t enough to justify hours of dedication. Perhaps the game was intentionally designed to offer players a short burst of action packed joy to be consumed and forgotten, but the best of these types of games addict players by offering incentives to return. Furthermore without a full suite of options afforded to the player the straightforward gameplay becomes a hindrance and deterrent rather than the snack sized package of fun it could be. For example each one of the seven included ninjas seems interesting, whether they be a zombie ninja or a soviet era Russian-ninja; and it’s a shame they weren’t explored more.
Additionally in my time with Atomic Ninjas I experienced a tremendous amount of lag, which frustrated me even further. Atomic Ninjas delivers players the power to create their own matches or join others, neither of which fixed the slowdown. I though initially that the issue could be with improper match making or a bad host I was joining, but no matter whom I chose my fate (to varying degrees) was the same. Then it struck me, could this be a problem with my own network? The answer was no. I created a game offline in an attempt to find the culprit and as it turns out he was in front of me the entire time. In nearly all the games I created offline I experienced the exact same lag found in the online component.
The PlayStation Vita is a powerful system capable of many things and while I do not know for certain the lag was caused by software, I struggle to put the blame on the hardware. The problem often teetered from annoying to making the game virtually unplayable; and in the end it made Atomic Ninjas an unfortunate chore to play.
Though Atomic Ninjas does come baring some rather easy Trophies, Cross-Buy and Cross-Save it is hard to recommend it based on its $9.99 price tag. As much enjoyment as the game may offer in short bursts it just simply does not have enough polish or content to warrant repeat visits. Moreover if you are looking to play Atomic Ninjas on the go (which many owners of a portable system very well may) you are relegated to playing with bots. Fixing the lag issue and some basic additions to the single player could make this destructive snack a staple of the Vita’s library (much as Towerfall is for the Ouya), but as it sits Atomic Ninjas feels as small as its diminutive warriors.