The familiar image of a ninja is a master of stealth and deception using their skills to assassinate targets from the cover of darkness. Atomic Ninjas, on the other hand, dress in vividly colourful outfits and prefer direct confrontation using an assortment of explosive weaponry. Atomic Ninjas is also a multiplayer-only arena fighter. As with other games of this type, this is both its greatest strength and its downfall.
Once the slightly baffling introduction is out of the way, you’re thrown straight into the game and immediately struck by the curious bounciness to the character controls which initially feels a bit weird. Movement-based items are introduced (activated by the left shoulder button) — grappling hook to swing from vantage points, claw hand to stick to any surface, firework rocket jet packs for short flight boosts. It is then that the bounciness starts to make sense as you find yourself chaining together an impressive series of manoeuvres — both purposefully and accidentally — which become really satisfying. Swing, jump, bounce, punch and the enemy flies off-screen to their death.
The range of offensive weapons, activated by the right shoulder, feed nicely into the high-speed, bouncy sense of awesome. Powerful punches that must be timed, thrown shuriken bursts and (strangely) telekinetic crate throwing are all on the menu. The contests are always enjoyable but, for a game called Atomic Ninjas, it all feels a bit quiet and understated as you are always expecting more OTT feedback from impacts, deaths and point scoring events.
There are a range of game modes that provide variety, but they are all formed from the usual template — Deathmatch, Domination, King of the Hill, etc. I was disappointed that there weren’t more imaginative game modes that pushed the theme of the game or exploited the power-ups a little more. The level designs were also underwhelming with a basic visual style and similar layouts making it hard to distinguish one for another, especially when you are only given single world descriptions in the game setup. There are hints at interesting elements such as being able to hide piles of rocks hidden in the levels but this idea isn’t really pushed and feels like a missed opportunity.
As you play you gradually unlock different ninja characters and passive abilities. Each character has a different abilities layout, but through an unfortunate preference I found that I liked the setup of the very first character most, making the others a little redundant. However, you can change your configuration once a game has started so it would be unfair to mark it down for that.
As with all multiplayer-only games, it is the other players that often make or break it. With a small game like this you wonder how long it will be before it becomes impossible to find a populated lobby. But, due to the simplicity of the gameplay and level configurations along with no other interaction with other players, you often feel like you are playing bots anyway.
I had fun while I was playing but it all felt very superficial and a bit of a missed opportunity in places. I always had the feeling that there should be more to what I was playing – more OTT feedback during gameplay, more attack options, more game modes that played with the concept. Which makes it feel a little overpriced compared to the quality and depth of content of some of the other Vita store offerings. Stealth Inc is the same price for example, as is the fantastic Lone Survivor.
There’s the seed of a great game here and I would love an update or two to see Atomic Ninjas grow into something special. If you’re looking for fast-paced, disposable, multiplayer fun then you’ll like this game, but get it now before the lobbies empty and you’re left fighting with bots.
[review pros=’Instantly playable and great, bouncy fun with a satisfying selection of character powers.’ cons=’Feels lacking in content and depth for the asking price.’ score=75]