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access_time June 1, 2020 at 6:00 AM in Previews by David Poole

Impressions from the Ninjala Open Beta

It’s hard to believe that Splatoon 2 came out nearly three years ago, but the Switch title remains popular to this day. Even though Nintendo has mostly stopped support for the title, the community is still thriving. With that in mind, it doesn’t mean there aren’t still opportunities to take. GungHo Online Entertainment saw that opportunity, and they decided on making Ninjala, an upcoming free-to-play multiplayer action game. After a handful of betas, we’ve got our own impressions on the game. Here’s what we thought.

First thing’s first, this game definitely has a lot of potential to be a big hit. Ninjala takes the concept of teenage ninjas fighting in a tournament organized by the World Ninja Association. Using special bubblegum, it combines with their DNA to form weapons and perform special abilities. It’s an interesting idea that feels just as fresh as Splatoon’s squid-kids felt when it first arrived on the Wii U. While ninjas are no stranger to games, they’re rarely displayed as colorfully and charming as they are in Ninjala.

For a free-to-play title, it has to be said that Ninjala definitely has some impeccable style. The presentation is inviting and the customization options seem limitless. Like Splatoon, you can customize your ninja kid, but it goes a bit deeper with the options. Clothes, hair, skin tone and even faces are all customizable, and it even has fun emotes. You’ll also have a selection of weapon types, each with their own unique gameplay traits. While I couldn’t tell in the beta, it seems like there may even be variations of the weapon types themselves.

Gameplay is focused mostly on melee combat, though there’s a surprising amount of depth. Each weapon type will have a few normal attacks, a special attack, a ninjutsu, and even a couple passive abilities. Players can double jump, disguise themselves, and even run on walls to traverse areas. The combat itself is pretty unique, as players will strike with their preferred weapon, or even use their gum shoot projectiles. Attacking opposing enemies can result in a parry clash, starting a rock-paper-scissors style mini-game. The map will also have drones for players to destroy to fill their S-energy gauge, which will give them the potential to increase the size of their weapon. Bigger weapons mean longer range, more power, and even access to secondary abilities.

During the open beta, there were two stages to play on: the WNA Academy and Eagle City. WNA Academy is a small and simple stage, giving players no real place to really run or hide. It’s reminiscent of a cage match wrestling ring, even with an area to run around outside the cage. Eagle City, on the other hand, is a large stage with tall buildings, overpasses and stage gimmicks. Both make for great stages that provide unique experiences, and they give a great demonstration of the potential of the game. It’s implied that there will be at least one more stage when the game launches, though it also seems the game will get a lot of support for a while.

As mentioned earlier, the game offers various different weapons. There’s the katana, the hammer, the ninja yo-yo, and now, the newest weapon type, the drill. After trying out each weapon, I can see how someone might gravitate to a certain play style. Of the options available, I found the hammer to be pretty satisfying. With powerful blows and tricky net traps, I had the most success with it. I especially liked using the gum ninjutsu, interestingly named “Tenchi Muyo”, like the old 90’s anime. This ninjutsu tosses out a quick net, capturing an opponent, and flips them into a killing blow. It even has a special ability that gives super armor after defeating opponents. The hammer really packs the punch that suits my style.

Even though I enjoyed the hammer, I still took time to practice with the other weapons. The katana is your average weapon, with quick attacks and a balanced play style. The ninjutsu, the Ninja Tornado, is great in crowds, though it seems to lack the power to defeat enemies with decent health. Using it seems to deal a strong attack, but at the cost of pushing the enemy out of range to deliver a killing blow. The ninja yo-yo was interesting too, seemingly the weakest weapon, but offering a powerful ninjutsu, the Fujiyama Rocket. It delivers a devastating explosion, though one you don’t want to be near after launching the projectile.

Finally, the drill offers a lot of versatile options. The special attack, Here and There, allows players to dive into the ground, coming back up for a surprise attack. It feels similar to Splatoon’s mechanic of diving into ink, though it grants a bit more freedom of where to use it. Interestingly enough, the ninjutsu turns the drill into a powerful sword, shooting projectiles with every slash. Being a drill, I expected something a bit different, but who knows if this is the only option for this weapon type. It could easily be like Splatoon where different versions of the weapons exist and offer mixtures of properties.

As far as game modes go, the beta only offered the free-for-all battle royale mode. Eight players compete for points, defeating opponents and earning points in various ways. After four minutes, the match ends, and the game offers bonus points. 500 points go to the one that destroys the most drones, and 1,000 points go to the Ippon Master, the one that got the most Ippon-style kills. It feels sort of like Mario Party, where there is always a chance your win can be taken from you if you didn’t focus on a certain aspect. In this way, Ninjala mixes up the competition, and it’s a pretty welcome feature. Though it wasn’t in the beta, there’s also a Team Match mode that pits two teams of four against each other.

Online matchmaking seems spotty, though it is still a beta. The game ran smoothly for the most part, but I did notice a few moments of lag. Surprisingly, most of this was in the training dojo while waiting for a match to start. During the actual matches, it felt pretty polished, with only a few weird instances here and there. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have room for improvement. One match in particular started with the game freezing, and no sign of an error in sight. Other moments had errors that sent me back to the main menu, though luckily not during an actual match. Hopefully the team continues to work these issues out in time for their launch this month.

Ninjala was originally releasing last week, but thanks to COVID-19 concerns, it had a delay to June 24th. If the developers can iron out the connectivity issues, I can see this game being a big hit. It might not take the entire Splatoon audience, but it will be a nice bit of fresh air nonetheless. If you’re looking for an interesting multiplayer experience that you can play on your Switch for free, check out Ninjala. It’s coming exclusively to the Nintendo Switch in just a few weeks, so keep it on your radar.

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