Ahhhh. This takes me back. An old school platform game that looks like it belongs on the SNES or the Megadrive. Once upon a time, games like this were ten a penny. Now, when games are all about shooting people in fully immersive 3D environments they are quite rare. A shame, really, because Akane the Kunoichi shows there's still life in the old game yet.
Akane is a warrior. One day, whilst going off to meet the love of her life, she sees him being kidnapped by some other woman and a bunch of bald headed geezers (I'm not making this up - it's all in the game's intro). Akane, of course, does what any self-respecting warrior woman does: sets off to rescue her loved one, taking on all the bad guys in her way over 15 levels of platforming fun.
Akane the Kunoichi might not be terribly original, but it's great to play. The platforming element has been well implemented so that each level is nicely designed without being overly complex. It's one of those games that rewards patience and learning. Enemies are always in the same place, so each time you die, you learn from your mistake and next time you make it that little bit further. It's this element of constant progress that is so rewarding. You never get to a point where you feel completely stuck and even if you fail a level, the temptation is there to go and try it again immediately.
Like any platformer, of course, it does have its frustrations. There are a few jumps which require pixel perfect positioning, some that require a leap of faith off a platform with nowhere obvious to land and, of course, that annoying staple of the genre, the disappearing platform. Still, for the most part the levels are well designed with some nice touches which add to the gameplay and are not just there for the sake of graphical niceties (getting swept away if you linger too long in a waterfall or flood is a particularly good one). In short, Akane the Kunoichi contains enough familiar elements to make platform game fans feel at home and enough new elements to stop it feeling like you've seen it all before.
If you bear in mind that this imitating a 16 bit game, presentation on Akane is excellent. Level graphics are on the small side, but have that cutesy, appealing old school look, as though they have just stepped out of a Megadrive console. Graphics are crisp and clear with nicely animated and colourful backdrops that really set the scene and add to the atmosphere.
Each of the characters is full of appeal and easily recognised (different bad guys have different abilities and remembering this will help you defeat them). Everything is well animated and looks fluid on screen. Top prize, though, has to go to the end of level baddies. These are scarily big and whilst they retain the overall cute look typical of the rest of the game, they are also quite disturbing in their own way!
Sound is excellent - again, providing you turn your mental clock back 25 years. An array of suitably oriental sounding tunes accompany the levels and, like the graphics, really help to give the game a distinctive atmosphere. Sound effects are fairly sparse, but what there is works well, although the shouts from your character every time she does something amazing can be a little wearing after a while.
For once on an iOS game, I'm happy to report that the controls are actually rather good. The main basic controls work extremely well (you can configure them according to preference, but most people will be happy with the default options). A virtual D-Pad controls movement, with separate buttons for jumping, shooting and smart bombs. The buttons are all expertly placed and just the right size so that they don't get in the way of the action or risk your fingers falling off them. Crucially (and rarely for iOS games) they are extremely responsive. Press the Jump button and the left button at the same time and (wait for it), your character actually jumps up and left! Wow! What a revolutionary concept. True, leaping off walls (to climb them) can be a little bit of a pain but it's not too bad.
The game scores even more highly because it supports the iCade. If you have one you can just plug your game in and use it with the physical controllers which makes it even more responsive and more fun. There are a few developers who could learn a thing or two from Akane the Kunoichi.
Akane is not the most challenging of games. With only 15 levels, it's not going to take long to work your way through the game. Even going back to each level to make sure you grab each f the three hidden treasure bags is not going to take that long or prove that tricky. And this is probably the game's most serious flaw. Most games offer several hours of fun and lots of challenges; Akane the Kunoichi is more limited. There's probably less than four hours game time in total and whilst it's fun, once you have full completed all the levels, there's no real reason to ever go back to it again.
Still, the game only costs 69p to download, which frankly is criminal. I'd happily pay the slightly higher £1.49 or £1.99 price tag for this one. It might not be the most long-lived game in the world or offer the greatest challenge, but by 'eck, it's a belter!
(c) copyright SWSt 2013