In a deviation from the norm, Cave Co Ltd have produced Nin2-Jump for XBLA. A game which, and hold on to your hats here, isn’t actually a shooter. As half of their hardcore fan base pick themselves up off the floor, and the other half try to stop themselves foaming uncontrollably at the mouth (either through rage or excitement, you can never be sure…) it’s undeniably refreshing to see the company trying something a little bit different.
Nin2-Jump follows the story of Nin-ja as he seeks to rescue his beloved Princess Sakura who has been kidnapped by an evil President (no, not George Bush this time). To get her back he must gather up all the power scrolls scattered throughout the land in order to offer them in exchange. It’s quite literally a story too, since the game is presented as a child’s shadow puppet play. This includes the visuals being given a washed-out look, each character having the little sticks protruding from their base used to move them, and children seated at the bottom of the screen who react to the action as you play along.
Not only is it different from Cave’s usual sort of thing, it’s also a very unique approach which makes the game stand out instantly and there’s certainly a lot of attention to detail. The stages take place during different seasons, during which birds fly gracefully along, clouds roll and winds blow, meaning there’s always something to see. However, as appealing as it looks, there are times when this style does backfire slightly. The washed-out, shadowy appearance of the screen means things aren’t as sharp as they could be where it matters most (where the action is occurring) which, given Nin2-Jump’s play style, is pretty crucial.
Even some of the initially nicer touches, such as the children screeching and reacting to the action, gets pretty annoying and tiresome after a while. Thankfully, just like Nin-ja’s constant groaning and grunting, those parts of the audio can be turned off and it will take a player with a stronger constitution than this reviewer to stop themselves from diving into the options menu to do this.
Unusually for Cave there’s no shooter element to the game at all, amazing given that flying, shooting Ninjas haven’t been outside the realms of possibility for them in the past. Instead it’s all based around score attack mechanics and collecting up the scrolls as quickly as possible. Once all of them in a level have been gathered up, a portal to the next opens and the player is given a ranking based on their performance. As the stages unlock Nin-ja will gain new abilities such as the grappling chain which allows him to anchor to parts of the stage and fire off in that direction (handy for trying to avoid spikes) as well as the ability to use collected scrolls to trigger his attack power. Hitting the bumper button triggers the power bar which then drains away, but for the duration it lasts Nin-ja will be able to destroy any enemies he comes into contact with instead of taking damage.
At the end of each set of stages there is a boss to defeat using the technique learnt. These are pretty quirky (fighting a giant mountain isn’t something you get to do every day) and are a fun way to break up the stages.
The key to obtaining good times in the story mode of the game is to learn the layout of the stage and the best path through it, gathering up the scrolls as fluidly and with as few mistakes as possible. As with any score attack based game there’s plenty of scope for replay to try and shave some time off your personal best and the online leaderboards help cultivate this. There’s also a score attack mode where the player has to collect scrolls within a stage whilst surviving for as long as possible. Its focus is sufficiently different to secure extended playtime if the adventure mode becomes tiresome.
However the game does suffer from an annoying quirk where sometimes scrolls won’t be collected, despite passing straight over them. Sometime it will, sometimes it won’t, and there seems to be no pattern to this, often requiring the player to do a quick jump on the spot to get the collection to trigger. It isn’t a major problem which occurs all the time but it is there, and in a game like this where reactions and timing are everything, it can cause pangs of frustration when it happens.
Currently priced at just 400 Points, Nin-2 Jump is something of a steal for what it offers. As charming as it looks there’s no denying that it won’t be to everyone’s tastes, not least some Cave fans who will probably see it as nothing less than blasphemous. However it’s to Cave’s credit that they’ve tried something different both visually and in terms of gameplay, making it worth a shot in anyone’s book.