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Ninja reflex Wii is a "party game" released in March 2007 developed by Sanzaru games published by Nunchuck Games and Electronic Arts. The game focuses on mini game style game play and claims to train the player's reflexes as he or she progresses through the game. The game features party play 4 way multiplayer and also contains a mode which guides the player through meditation.
Having had my Wii for quite some time and buying very few games I was much in need of increasing my catalogue and at £4 this seemed easily worth a gamble. Ninja Reflex appealed to me as I already harbour an interest in Ninjas, I have spent many years practicing various martial arts including Ninjitsu and Wing-Chun and also spend a lot of time watching martial arts movies and anime. Being a bit of a sucker for the genre I and given the low price I was easily swayed. Reading the manual and box I was really impressed by how the game promised to increase my reflexes and reaction times and help me along the path to becoming a Ninja.
My first impressions of the game were good from the menu I could see that the game featured multiplayer, solo play and meditation mode. I opted to play the solo mode and was then presented with a list of words with which to create my ninja name by combining two. The interface also allowed the player to simply choose a name at random and did feature some amusing choices. Since "Day Ninja" was not an option I went for "light Ninja" and started the game.
After a brief introduction from my master (who acts as the games host) I was able to select from a choice of 6 mini games and would have to complete at least 5 of the 6 to be eligible to undertake my belt test and progress to the next stage. The 6 modes are as follows:
1)Hotaru. This mode sees the player sat by a lake over which fireflies will sporadically light up and then disappear. The aim of this challenge is to press the "A" button as soon as a firefly appears. As the game progresses this mode becomes increasingly difficult by having the player click after a fly of a certain colour (thus enhancing perception) and having the player click within a smaller timescale or not clicking until after a set time such as exactly 1 second. This game is incredibly simple yet also provides a good challenge as the game progresses.
2) Hashi. This is a mode where the challenger must sit on a mat armed with only a set of chopsticks which must be used to pluck moving flies from the air and place them into the correct bowl. The controls for this mode are again very simple but feel relatable to the actions being performed onscreen, the Wii mote must be moved about the screen to move the chopsticks and then by "A" and "B" buttons the chopsticks may be closed to capture (or miss) the fly. This is one of the easier games but does present enough of a challenge to keep it fun and does have that Mr Muyagi training feel. The flies move fairly quickly and I always get a sense of satisfaction for capturing one. The games difficulty is increased by making the flies scroll across the screen, introducing super flies which move faster and more randomly, varying the bowl into which the flies must be placed and by increasing the number of flies to be caught and therefore the rate of capture.
3) Katana. This mode requires the player to hold the Wii mote as a sword and block incoming enemy attacks and return a clean slice from the correct angle. The block is performed by swinging moving the sword left or right (whilst held vertical) or turning the controller sideways and lifting it vertically, once the enemy is open an attack may be dealt by moving the controller from the blocking position through the enemy fast in a slicing motion. As I have some experience with a sword and train with a bokken I felt quite confident about this mode but found the movements it required to be somewhat awkward and hard to perform how the game required. This could just be my way of doing things confusing me but I did find this opinion mirrored during multiplayer. Perhaps this is an example of a movement that the new Wii motion plus technology may help to incorporate into games more seamlessly. The difficulty is increased in this mode by requiring the player to survive for longer or defeat more foes and allows little by way of variety.
4) Nunchaku. This mode simulates the deadly ninja art of nunchaku and involves the player swinging nunchucks to destroy incoming objects thrown by the master. The controls for this section require the play to move their wrist in a figure of 8 motion to gain momentum and then thrusting the Wii mote in the direction of an incoming object at the right time to break it. This requires the player to perform the figure of 8 motion steadily whilst constantly assessing the incoming objects type, speed and trajectory. As this mode progresses so too will the rules which will require the participant to only hit certain objects, avoid unessecary swings and only hit certain targets. The timings also become harder to judge and swinging at the right point can be hard to judge making this one of the more difficult modes.
5) Shuriken. This mode sees the player stood in a courtyard and presents various pop up wooden targets which must be dispatched by throwing shurikens to destroy them and much reminds me of the pregame difficulty selection test on Modern Warfare 2. Firstly the player selects a target by aiming the Wii mote and readies the shuriken by holding "B" this is then hurled at the enemy by flicking the wrist, the speed of this flick determining the speed of the shurikens flight. The controls for this mode are really intuitive making this a really fun game to play. Some of the wooden targets have friendly geisha on them which will cost the player points and on most levels cause the mission to fail. As the game progresses the targets will become mobile (moving on rails) and will appear for only a short time, this really does up the ante by making the player quickly asses priorities of multiple targets in terms of level of threat, distance, mobility and then rapidly, yet accurately, hurl off a series of shurkien to dispatch of them in the fastest most efficient manner.
6) Koi. This mode presents the player with a pond full of koi which the player must catch barehanded to gain points before the timer runs out. This is achieved by spotting a target , then moving the on screen hand over the fish and exactly tracing its movements, when the fish briefly surfaces the player must press "A" and "B" together to close the hand and catch the fish. This mode does require a fairly steady hand and fast reflexes as the fish only surface briefly and messing up the catch will spook it causing it to run away, thus wasting time. The pond is stocked with up to 3 sizes of fish; small, medium and large with the small fish being significantly faster and more agile than the large and therefore worth more points. The difficulty is increased by requiring the player to gain more points in less time or to catch specific sizes of fish and even by hiding a tiny fish in a large pond.
The game progresses by allowing the player to undertake a belt after completing at least 5 of that levels 6 challenges (1 from each section). The belt test comprises of 3 randomly selected stages at a difficulty above those already encountered and aims to test that the player has indeed improved and as such is ready to attempt the next 6 challenges. This is I great idea but seeing as each belt contains only the same challenges only harder the game does become quite repetitive, especially at the tougher difficulties and as such is not something I could sit and spend hours in a row playing. If there was a way to replay stages which have already been completed this would probably mix up the gameplay but as there isn't the only option is to continuously attempt the challenges which you failed at which can become frustrating. Part of this frustration is due to the fact that it always seems to be the nunchaku or katana stages which I end up having to repeat as they are always the hardest.
The multiplayer mode is worth a laugh but isn't going to keep a group entertained for several hours. Don't get me wrong I have had this out on several occasions and it has been an enjoyable experience but it's definitely worth having something to follow it with as the repetition can quickly dull a party atmosphere. It is also worth noting that the levels consist of some stages being taken in turns and others being played at the same time (either in direct competition or for different coloured objectives). Online is not an option but this is hardly a problem as I doubt most people would want to play this game online.
The meditation section of the game is not so much a game as a tutorial on some basic meditation techniques and some breathing exercises. Throughout my martial arts training I have been taught several such exercises and do appreciate the need to clear the mind and gain focus. Most people will probably never click this feature but for those that do choose to, it will provide a nice change and really helps to cement the vibe of the game.
This is a game that I would love to love but cannot bring myself to do so. It is a fun and novel title and is definitely worth buying if you can find it at a good price. I think if I had paid much more than £10 I would have been slightly disappointed but at £4 I found it to be well worth the money. Unfortunately it does lack replay value and if you do manage to complete the game (which is very difficult) you will be forced to start again from the very beginning, loosing all unlocks except the ninja titles. The controls for the game are a bit hit and miss; some sections really lend themselves to the action being performed whilst sections such as katana feel quite restrictive and very much unlike actually wielding a sword. The graphics are adequate for the game as is the soundtrack.
Overall I would recommend this title only if you can find it cheaply and don't expect too much. You will probably be able to improve your reactions but only if you are willing to really stick at it which I doubt most people will. Ninja Reflex is really great attempt at a novel idea which sadly falls short of the mark. Hopefully with the release of Wii motion plus, we may see a title which picks up where this left off and deliver what could be a great game. Metacritic scores this game at 49% based on 26 critic reviews which span a whole spectrum of ratings from 86% right down to 15%, personally I would give this game 65% on the understanding that it were sold as a budget title representing that the stages are fun with what for the most part is a great control system whilst also reflecting the lack of variation in gameplay.