Article by FTG Contributor Michael Alan Jones
The free-to-play model is becoming increasingly more prevalent in gaming, as is cheap gaming on mobile devices. Go Ninja, developed by Hiptic Games, combines the two ideas into slightly fun, consistently annoying, and deceptive package on the iPhone app store.
Players will mostly let their little ninja avatar run across a 2D plane (the screen moves with the character, keeping him in the same location onscreen) as he chops up enemies. When obstacles, like glowing red ninjas with explosives or spears, start to show up the player will be forced to dodge. This is accomplished by tapping the top of the screen to jump, or, if a building is in the background, swiping upward on the screen. However, this particular move doesn’t always respond. I frequently found my character simply jumping and face-planting into an enemy’s spear. After you die, you will start all over from the beginning. Whatever enjoyment you got out of it will slowly seep away as you realize you can put in a lot of time into this game and receive very little in return.
Here’s where the free-to-play model rears its head; you can buy ninja points: $0.99 for 8000, $4.99 for 60,000 and $9.99 for 200,000 points. The cheapest upgrade is 10,000 ninja points. In one 10-wave run, I got 678 points. You’ll play for hours until you can afford one upgrade. There are missions you can accomplish for some extra ninja points, but again, it will take forever to accomplish some of them, and some of them are confusing to boot. I’ve died way more than once, yet the ticker for the death missions (basically achievements) stands at 1/500.
Go Ninja is a perfect example of a free-to-play game that abuses the microtransaction model. Sure, it’s free to play, but you will have to pay to progress. Well, if you want to progress without spending several hours of your time on an iPhone game. Even damn good players will spend too much time trying to earn points to unlock multiple upgrades. If you’re not willing to pay money for the Ninja Points, you’ll have to plow through the same levels over and over again for hours to get real progress and unlock more things. If you do become really good at it and unlock the toys, then you’re still going to have to start at wave one.
Also, it has a long introduction for an iPhone game. It spends about a thirty seconds to tell you the situation, and that’s if you skip the dialogue. Thirty seconds is way too long to load up any iPhone game with little to no storyline; your ninja will run from left to right, chopping dudes in half and their blood will splatter. We get it.
The game isn’t terrible. It is sort of fun. Getting a high kill streak and unleashing one of the powers available to you after a high streak is rewarding in and of itself. And when you get into a rhythm of dodging lethal enemies, swiping up and down and clearing the entire screen of enemies can be rather fun. Then, for whatever reason, the game determines that your finger-swipe was not sufficient enough to dodge someone and boom, you’re dead. Fleeting enjoyment is intrinsic to an iPhone game, and Go Ninja shows that. However, the game is mechanically flawed, frustrating, and abusive of its free-to-play conceit. Look for something a bit more rewarding and enjoyable.