While I am a huge fan of ninja and ninja accessories, I'm not all that fond of mini-game collections, so when EA announced Ninja Reflex for the Nintendo Wii I was understandably conflicted. On one hand, the game offered many traditional ninja-friendly activities - throwing shuriken, twirling nunchaku, swinging your sword about, and catching flies with chopsticks. On the other, mini-game collections aren't exactly known for offering the sort of deep experience I crave in my ninja games. It was the sort of internal conflict that could only be sorted out via heated battle.
Blue Ninja versus Red Ninja - Ready, fight!
Presentation and Atmosphere: Everything from the traditional music to the ink-painted menu-backgrounds help foster the feeling of being trained by a wise Japanese martial-arts master. The theme is treated with respect, aside from perhaps the included ninja name generator, but anything that calls me Naughty Panda is a plus in my book.
The Ninja Factor: The mini-games, particularly in the nunchaku category, really lend themselves to standing in front of the television in your best approximation of a ninja stance. You could still play sitting on the couch, but it isn't half as fun.
Built-In Meditation Break: The game includes a guided meditation session, which is unbelievably relaxing after spending a half-hour of trying to catch a god damned koi without scaring the 30 other fish swimming around it.
Lack of Variety: While there are six mini-games in each of the six categories, they don't vary enough to feel like they stand alone. "Use your other hand" doesn't really count as its own game.
Repetitive Gameplay: Once you unlock all of the mini-game variations at the blue belt level that's pretty much it. Repeat games at slightly harder difficulty up to third degree black belt. Rising difficulty plus no new games equals boredom and frustration.
The Katana Mini-game: While most of the mini-games perform well, control in the katana portion, which finds you blocking and countering attacks by demons, feels completely sloppy. It's only one section of the game, but when there are only six sections total that's a sizable chunk.
When I started playing Ninja Reflex I was completely charmed by the atmosphere Sanzaru Games had created within the game. The art style, music, and the mini-games themselves all combine to create one of the most cohesive and compelling mini-game collections I have played. Unfortunately, once all of the variations are unlocked and the repetition starts the game's charm begins to fade, which can easily lead to frustration. I honestly don't think Ninja Reflex is meant to be played through as quickly as possible. At its heart it is a reflex training game, and like a brain training game it works best in small doses.
Like the titular stealthy assassin, Ninja Reflex strikes fast and moves with unnatural grace, but unfortunately dies off far too early.
Ninja Reflex, developed by Sanzaru, published by EA, released March 4, for $US 40. Available on Nintendo Wii, played to first degree black belt.