Oscar Wilde once said “Talent borrows, genius steals” as a statement that there’s really nothing original out there anymore. Instead of focusing on originality, it’s just a matter of who does the best job of iterating on the ideas of others. When applying this comment to casual/mobile games, certainly one of the primary titles which gets iterated-on a lot is Plants vs. Zombies. As is the case with anything popular — but doubly so in the wild-west landscape of mobile gaming — a popular idea is inevitably going to be copied by another developer looking to make a splash. Nano Ninjas by Bad Chunk games is the latest entry into the Tower Defense genre. What’s it about, you ask? Well, to be brutally honest the developers might as well have called this game Ninjas vs. Robots, because that’s essentially what the game is. So, it’s definitely not the most original thing out there to be sure. The real question though is whether it’s worth playing. I’m going to get into the details after the jump, but the short version is that, actually, it’s pretty damn good.
The basic mechanic of Nano Ninjas is easy to figure out if you are even remotely familiar with the Tower Defense genre. In order to stop the invading hordes, you need to build and place units, each of whom has specific abilities and drawbacks. Hold them all off, and you get to move on. At the start of each round, you have the option of choosing a number units from your ever-growing list of possibilities. It does however throw a bit of a gameplay twist your way in terms of how you upgrade and reinforce your defenses.
As your points total incrementally increases, you gain ‘Zen Points’ which charge up on a five-point meter. You have a couple of options with them; you can use them to meditate and get more points for building units. This is very helpful for quickly building a strong defense and taking it to the robots. Alternatively, if you let the zen points build up to its fullest amount, you can launch a dragon attack on a single line. That’s useful if one line is in trouble with a bunch of bruisers lining up. On the other hand, it means you have to divert unit points to build it up. It’s a risk-and-reward system that does not guarantee victory one way or another. I have just as many incidences of using either one which has resulted in a huge turnaround or an abject failure.
The only real issue I have with Nano Ninjas has to do with its difficulty. It’s not so much that the game is hard (although I found it to be quite challenging at parts), but there does seem to be a point at which it decides it’s going to randomly steamroll you no matter what you do. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to these types of games, but I lost a few matches almost before the zen points started coming. It wasn’t common enough to ruin the experience, but a comparison I would draw to describe the frustration it caused is like some racing games where, if you don’t get a clean start, you have no chance of winning and just need to start over.
Besides the main game, Nano Ninjas also unlocks a series of timing-based mini games which are fun diversions from the constant tension of the Ninja/Robot war. In terms of overall presentation, there is nothing groundbreaking or particularly distinctive about this game’s style — but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it either. It manages to be cute, functional, and most importantly it does an excellent job of distinguishing between different types of enemies and units, and that’s good enough for me.
Nano Ninjas can be purchased for the paltry price of $0.99 on iOS. Naturally, there are the usual assortment of microtransactions available as they are in every other . On general principle I find microtransactions to be annoying, but I’ll give credit where it’s due that at least they provide something substantial ($2 unlocks the whole game for you) if you’re into that sort of thing. For those of you who enjoy…you know…playing a game you bought, you really can’t go wrong with a game like this for $0.99.
Nano Ninjas is cute, challenging, and a really solid tower defense title. Is it going to redefine the genre and make everyone forget about Plants vs. Zombies? Not likely, but there’s plenty of room out there for a title like this and Bad Chunk did a dandy job of creating a tight little game that will make you miss your bus stop at least once.
[+Cheap. Only $0.99] [+Solid tower defense] [+Clever gameplay twist with ‘Zen’] [+Varied units and enemies] [-Intermittent difficulty spikes]