Long ago, The 84-year-old ninja stealth "Gigi"is a friend of the people as ordered by the generals, Broke into the house and fraud Akudaikan took the gold coin acquired by evil, Sprinkle rose went to the task of the masses. Well, that'll do! Listen, the trap-loaded mechanism. Gigi will be able to do the missions? Now, go!

I never thought I'd see another Xbox Indie game contest Apple Jack for being the best value, but with 99 levels itself to offer, Ninja360 can definitely hold its own. What initially sounds like a dull generic title soon proves itself to be an apt name to describe the game given its rotating worlds chock full of ninjas. It's a time trial platformer which pushes players to use a bevy of techniques to grab all of the gold in a level as quickly as possible. Ninja360 is a tough game, particularly for players who hold any hope of gaining the highest rank on each level, and level runs lasting just a few seconds will take numerous restarts to get it right. It's the Trials HD of platform games, and it's pretty fantastic.

Gigi, the little 84-year-old red ninja players control in Ninja360, is quite nimble as he makes his made dash to reclaim the stolen gold. A tutorial demo allows players to see him in action, running, jumping, and gliding his way to glory. Running may seem like the primary way to get around, but it's chief function is in rotating the world. Most levels have curved pieces which will spin the world around in 90 increments, and rotating the level is often key to being able to reach otherwise inaccessible parts of a level to grab gold pieces. Leaps can be interrupted at any time by pressing down, which forces the ninja's drop and hastens his fall, a technique vital for shaving precious seconds from one's completion time. Gigi can also scale walls with ninja jumps or gently descend them, a maneuver which also rotates the stage when applicable. Finally, when Gigi has to cross great distances, he can ninja glide to his ninja gold. With no enemies to speak of but plenty of obstacles to encounter, Ninja360 is first and foremost a time attack platforming, urging players to use Gigi's abilities to their fullest extent while also coming up with creative paths to collect all of the gold on a given level. While there's no penalty for death, respawning typically begets lengthy gold runs which will lead to the player being barred from the later stages until Gigi improves his technique enough to place in this medal race.

All of the 99 stages are encased in a small spike lined circle, tiny platforming vignettes which emphasizes speed more than anything. Later levels get tougher to complete with moving spikes and tighter pathways, but the biggest enemy is always time. Each level rates Gigi on how fast he has completed the stage: nice, good, great, and excellent. A "nice" rating is the game's equivalent of a special education award, a pat on the back for trying but no trophy to show for it. A "good" rating will award the player a bronze medal, and the awards improve from there on to silver and gold. Players must earn the privilege to play the later rounds by placing in the medal count on the preceding stages; gold run times will unlock levels much faster than silver and then bronze, but anyone familiar with platform games in general should have little trouble obtaining a bronze rated time for most stages. A silver time grants players the ability to watch a demo of the Developer's run through a level, clips which often considerably beat the initially impossible gold times displayed. Ninja360 will challenge players' conceptions on how to best approach a stage, giving the game a more puzzle aspect than one would expect, the same style of gameplay which made Trials HD so brilliant, challenging, and fun. The game follows its tutorial with five "technique" Videos which allow players to check out a bronze, silver, and gold run to help acclimate players to the kinds of creativity expected from the best completion times.

The game controls well though there are times where the player may become frustrated with the collision detection. There are times when the player intends for Gigi to leap over a half-pipe but he starts running on it and shifting the board, a split second difference in timing impacting the game significantly. It's not that the game plays poorly at all, but rather that so much of the game hinges on perfect play that it's not uncommon to find oneself resetting the game just a second or two into the run to retry again. Thankfully, it takes but a couple of seconds to restart, and the background music does not reset with each try. Gigi can toss out a harmless shuriken with the X-button which does a ghost run of the player's best performance on a level, and the Y-button will point to the location of the gold pieces for players who prefer to zoom in on the action with the triggers (the viewpoint preference is automatically saved, so there's no need to fiddle with it on each level). My sole gripe is how Gigi likes to release the ninja smoke when gliding, a cloud of gas which obscures the action and can make it a pain to see what Gigi is doing at that moment. It's a pain to accidentally trigger the glide while scaling a wall and not being able to get instantaneous visual feedback to make the corrections. Then again, anyone this uptight about a second's worth of delay will have surely already paused the game to restart the level having wasted too much time as it is.

Ninja360 looks great in motion. I love how the little background ninjas peek out in the distance, leaning out from columns or revealing themselves hiding behind their invisible ninja cloaks. Players can press up or down at the stage select screen to choose from one of four backgrounds, each with its own fitting music. The four otherwise throwaway backgrounds feature a bit of parallax for depth and are detailed enough to look good without distracting the player from the foreground. I do wish the game offered more variety in the foreground graphics; even though players can mess around with it with the right bumper -- including turning off all textures or replacing when with one's Gamertag picture -- their wooden style just doesn't match the non-default backgrounds in the game. Gigi himself animates excellently; Doerai Games even gave Gigi a sneaking motion when the analog stick is lightly held, something which players are sure to miss during typical gameplay. The time recap and forfeit screens are well illustrated, and the game progresses at a steady pace with no loading to bog things down. While Ninja360 could benefit from having its options made a bit clearer to the player, there's no arguing how polished the game looks, plays, and sounds.

It's plot may be barely legible, but that doesn't stop Gigi's gold chase from being one of the best video game bargains on the 360 or anywhere for that matter. Ninja360 short but instantly replayable levels will ensure hours of bronze level gameplay and many more for those willing to truly go for the gold. It's a fantastic self-contained platformer which presents a character and explores the limits allowed with its gameplay and level design, offering a fair if trying at times challenge and tons of content no platform fan should miss.

February 14, 2011
February 10, 2011 | 80 points
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