Made popular by the Angry Birds series, the three-star-system is something that has seeped its way into most mobile games of a certain variety. For those that need an explanation, the three-star-system is simply a system of awarding players for varying degrees of completion reliant on factors such as speed, efficiency, and high scores. One star is usually received for the basic achievement of finishing a level, three stars are commonly obtained for the optimal completion of a level, and two stars fill the gap between them. This three-star-system often lends itself to level-based puzzle games, and so in theory it should work well with a puzzle platformer like 10 Second Ninja X. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
For a member of the speed-running community, I could see this game being a fun new challenge. However, for an average completionist, 10 Second Ninja X can be a rage inducing nightmare. Because of its implementation of a three-star-system, 10 Second Ninja X effectively relinquishes the simple goal that the game’s title would suggest for a far more annoying objective. The main target of each level is to finish in 10 seconds or less, and the plain completion of each level will net you one star. Every world contains 10 levels and in order to move on to the next world you need to obtain at least a 67% star completion. That means you essentially have to reach two stars in every level if you want to continue with the story. Luckily, this isn’t the incredibly frustrating part. To get two stars in a level you need to discover the fastest route, and that can just be found through some good old trial and error (or google searching).
Now all that’s left is that pesky third star. But wait, I thought two stars was already as fast as I could go. How am I possibly going to top that? Well, by being as excruciatingly quick and precise as humanly possible, that’s how! By the time you’re going for your third star, 10 Second Ninja X drops the “puzzle” and goes hard on the “platformer” aspects of the game. You must be swift and accurate with all of your movements, sometimes to such an extreme degree that you might start questioning your adequacy as a gamer. Try and try again, you still may never succeed, but at least the game lessens the blow of endless retrying with instant restarts and levels that only take a matter of seconds to complete.
“It’s too hard” might be an oversimplification and poor judgement of a game, but it’s one that 10 Second Ninja X could’ve avoided by not having a three-star-system. By staying true to its name and having the only objective be completion within the time frame of 10 seconds, this game could have evaded being considered painstakingly difficult, and instead be seen as an enjoyable challenge. Even for those wanting an arduous test of skill, 10 Second Ninja X already accommodates them with an active leaderboard. You can still revel in time maximization while not being at the cost of those who just want to 100% the game and move on with their lives.
Moving on from what I see as the one glaring flaw in an otherwise exceptional game, the style of 10 Second Ninja X has a very apparent inspiration. A speedy blue protagonist facing off against a villain with large facial hair and his army of red robots that each hold captive innocent birds waiting to be set free? Sounds an awful lot like The Blue Blur to me! Yes, this game is pretty unabashed when it comes to taking influences from Sonic the Hedgehog, and it manages to parody those games in a silly and endearing way too. All of this finds itself in the writing and visual design of the game and not so much the actual gameplay. 10 Second Ninja X isn’t trying to be Sonic, it’s just trying to poke fun at it a little.
The writing itself is quite amusing, as it also tries to poke fun at various video game conventions both within and outside the Sonic series. One example of this would be the acknowledgement of the silent protagonist and how the main villain is annoyed by the fact that his adversary doesn’t speak. The story only becomes more humorful as the game progresses, this was partially due to the time it took me to warm up to the characters. I didn’t think too much of Greatbeard and his crew members when they were first introduced, by the time the story reached its climax I was delightfully surprised by how much I was enjoying these characters and the roles they had to play.
As a quick note on the game’s visual design, overall it feels fairly simplistic. This isn’t a bad thing, the character art is cute, the backgrounds are fine, and there isn’t anything that looks especially “dull”…but there’s nothing particularly breathtaking in this game either.
For those who prefer awesome and exciting hub worlds to basic and boring title menus, you’re in luck! 10 Second Ninja X has one, and it’s full of game modes, unlockables, and secrets. The best thing to find in this hub world however, is the secret unlockable game mode known as Nunnageddon II. Finding all the hidden pieces of the shattered game disc will reward you with the ability to play this astonishing arcade masterpiece. In it, you are a nun fighting off hordes of zombies with nothing but your fists and ultimate nun powers, building up your high score with every kill and climbing up the prestigious worldwide leaderboards of which I briefly held 15th place (not to brag or anything). It’s exciting and addictive, and arguably more entertaining than the core game of which it is held in.
One last quick note on the hub world, it does a fairly good job at labeling its areas and doors, but neglects to do the same for the televisions that act as the access points for the main levels. A simple “World 1, World 2, etc.” would’ve been nice.
10 Second Ninja X is a great game with an easy-to-get-behind premise of beating levels within a 10 second time limit. Sadly, the experience is hindered by an imposing three-star-system which makes the game feel like it should be renamed to 3 Second Ninja X if you truly wish to complete it. Aside from the infuriating and unnecessary challenges it creates for its players, 10 Second Ninja X is a delightful adventure full of amusing characters and secrets. One secret minigame in particular might even be considered better than the actual game it’s hidden in.