In my first match of Ninjala, Gung-Ho Online Entertainment’s free-to-play brawler for the Switch, my baby Hatsune Miku-looking character smacked around my kid-sized competition with a giant bat made of bubble gum, beat-up random robots, was transformed into a pile of poop, and then exploded. I am not exactly sure what happened. I got second place.
Ninjala is a free-to-play competitive multiplayer brawler for the Switch. Think Splatoon, only with much more chaos and slightly less character. The core game is limited to online matches in which eight tiny ninja, alone or in two teams of four, use gum-themed special abilities and wacky weapons to beat each other into submission. The game is available now in the Switch eShop. It’s just sitting there, waiting.
There are many aspects of Ninjala I normally would not like. It’s filled to the brim with microtransactions, including single-use “gums” that can seriously enhance players’ weapons. It’s strictly online multiplayer unless you opt to purchase story content, the first batch of which is currently on sale for $US4.50 ($7) (normally $US10 ($15)). Gameplay feels disorderly, and battles can quickly become confusing as tiny ninja engage each other in clumps across jumbled cartoonish cityscapes. I barely ever feel completely in control when I play.
Despite all of that, I am having a blast. Watch me almost get first place.
Note that when the timer reaches zero and the short round ends, I am firmly in first place. I killed several fools, collected those little spheres, and whacked drones as best I could. All of those activities earn points, so you don’t have to get the most kills to win. However, at the end of each round the game awards bonus points for having the most kills and taking out the most drones, which can transform a first-place triumph into a second-place disappointment (or worse).
I do not like going from first place to second, third, or, or fourth place post-match. That’s another feature of Ninjala I’m not pleased with. But I do like shooting through the sky with a bubble-gum dash, running up the sides of buildings, and sliding across rooftops on chewing-gum rails. There’s a lot more to this multiplayer mayhem than smacking each other with things until someone falls down.
The game’ art direction keeps me coming back. These chibi-ninja are adorable. Their hammers, yo-yos, lances, swords, and bats are super cute, and I feel like I need to collect as many variations of each as I can, even if the coolest ones are of limited use. I need to collect gold, silver, and bronze medals so I can unlock new card slots to augment my weapons. My ninja needs better clothes and cooler gear. She deserves it, probably.
While it has a firm grasp on me right now, I’m not sure how long Ninjala will hold my attention. Though there’s plenty of weapon variety there are currently only two competition maps and two game modes, team battle and free-for-all. It’s got that whole competitive season thing happening, and I am not great about keeping up with that sort of thing. The single-player story content I paid $7 for only lasts about an hour, so that won’t keep me occupied for long.
I’ll probably stick around Ninjala long enough to get a firm grasp of each of the game’s weapons, to the point where I am as comfortable fighting with a sushi hammer as I am a fire lance or a bagel yo-yo. Or at least until saying “bagel yo-yo” stops making me giggle.