From Four Circle Interactive, a company living off the success of its one completed IP (for now), comes 10 Second Ninja X: the sequel to their 2014 10 Second Ninja on Steam. The franchise blurs the line between blistering speed with original content and galling control issues with unoriginal content.
10 Second Ninja X is the ‘story’ of a ninja living in a forest when all the animal inhabitants are kidnapped and put inside robots by a bearded space pirate. Just for good measure, he kidnaps you as well, apparently well aware how many sh*ts the average gamer gives about animated forest creatures. Sort of makes you wonder why space pirate guy kidnapped the animals in the first place, but that’s just the level of ‘who cares, let’s have fun’ the developers want to maintain. Four Circle Interactive are a scrappy little company with only a few people and the lack of suited supervision is evident – their products drip with the sense of humour of a bunch of young people having a laugh. The advantages of this are genuinely funny text with excellent comedic timing, while the disadvantages are the lack of someone to reel them in when a joke stops being funny, even if it still is for the developers.
If the earlier story description sounded familiar then you’re not alone. First impressions of 10 Second Ninja X is that it is almost exactly Sonic The Hedgehog from the Sega Mega Drive. A fast, blue character is blowing up robots that have animals stuffed inside them while the chastising villain is exactly Robotnik (Dr. Eggman? Whatever) with a pirate motif. The challenge is figuring out how much they think we’re supposed to have noticed. Luckily, gameplay operates by its own rules. Levels are separated into different environments with several stages to each level (again, very similar to Sonic). Each stage consists of a small room or obstacle course filled with hazards and bizarrely passive robots. You can double jump, attack with a sword and have access to three shurikens per turn. The goal is to destroy all the robots within a time limit, and the faster you go, the more stars you’ll win, which in turn helps you progress.
The pace of the game is perfect – Four Circle Interactive definitely didn’t want you to have to spend any time thinking about how worthwhile your time was spent on this – you have a restart button on the controller that will immediately reset the stage, which starts literally as soon as you move. The fast pace means the white flash that happens every time you restart or kill a robot was perhaps misguided. Those with sensitive eyes might want to beware, but eventually, you’ll have figured out your rhythm and be blitzing through levels with nary a headache.
Once you have your head around the mechanics the game comes into its own. Completing a dauntingly complex labyrinth in under three seconds will leave you with a feeling that can’t really be described without shouting the phrase ‘YEAH BOI’ and swearing at your neighbours. It’s elements like throwing a shuriken at a target and not even bothering to watch it destroy five robots as you leap over electric traps to sword-slash another robot while cluttered remains of your foes fall to your feet that make you feel like an actual ninja. You’ll be walking in slow motion away from an explosion.
The bobble-headed characters are graphically styled in a fashion reminiscent of Cloudberry Kingdom, which makes the environments both clear and adorable, with the main loss of coordination being the aforementioned flashes. The controls being so simple is essential to the pace of the game, which is a little too short to attempt any major gameplay evolution. The audio and music (composed in-house by Tim Rurkowski) are at that level of competence that makes you barely notice it – definitely a good thing to help with immersion. Explosions feel and sound satisfying and the music helps set the pace of gameplay while not distracting from the action. The physics remind me (again) of Sonic the Hedgehog because, despite the ability to steer yourself mid-air, precise platforming can be a nightmare. Like the legendary hedgehog/catherine wheel, the 10 Second Ninja X‘s protagonist has terrible trouble stopping when landing, as if all the surfaces are littered with icy ball-barings on skateboards.
The challenge isn’t up there with games like Super Meat Boy and doesn’t have the entertainment endurance of Sonic since you’ll be finished with it in a couple of hours, but this is definitely one to go for if you’re looking for puzzle-based, lightning fast gameplay. Despite being limited, it’s funny, challenging but not frustrating and hugely satisfying. There are few other games that can make you feel quite this rad.
10 Second Ninja will be out for Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita and PC on July 19th