I used to like the guys at Four Circle Interactive. I’ve been following the development of 10 Second Ninja X for a couple of years now. Having played the game, I know hate them. Not because the game is bad, but because it’s really, really good, and really, really hard.
The story is pretty bare-bones: Captain Greatbeard (who has an infatuation with his computer -who hasn’t?-) has kidnapped your friends and you must rescue them. A pretty obvious nod to games from Mario to Angry Birds and beyond. And I’m fine with that, because the very few pieces of story are delivered in a really funny, adult-humor, I-have-been-playing-games-since-MC-Hammer-was-cool kind of way.
The heart and soul of 10SNX is the gameplay, and boy, does it not disappoint.
Actually, let me rephrase that: this game is a masterclass in videogame physics and level design.
Let’s start with the physics: you move from side-to-side, you can jump, you can use a sword and you have 3 shurikens you can use in each level (let’s not pretend you don’t know what a shuriken is, please). Considering you only have 10 seconds to complete each level, and the faster you are, the more stars you gain (more on that later), physics are really important: if your jump landings are a bit slidey, or your shurikens take forever to deploy, the whole premise of the game falls apart. But it doesn’t, because physics here are so tight, I’m sure you could develop a new String Theory based on the calculations. Every jump lands where your heart tells you it will, and shurikens fly as soon as you think about pressing the button.
It’s extremely satisfying, and really, really needed. Because the levels get really hard, really quickly.
The other key aspect of the game is level design, and again, it’s so on-point it brings me joy just thinking about it. You see, you can over-complicate storylines, you can beautify menus, you can hire Erin Fitzgerald to voice your game… but if your game isn’t well designed, if the levels are not fun… your turkey, my friend, is cooked.
10SNX has some of the best levels I’ve seen in a platformer since… Donkey Kong Country, maybe? In a very different way, though. Actually, let’s make that Donkey Kong Country Returns. Not because it’s a better game, but because it’s a faster game, like in the mining cart parts?. More like Mega Man on Adderall? Anyway, I digress.
The thing is, when your game relies on splitting 10 seconds in a way that rewards players for even a hundredth-of-a-second improvement, you better make sure the game is designed so that each jump is just that bit further than expected, and that enemy is just between those electric fence things that are the spawns of Satan. They are.
I found myself playing each level and seeing that counter go down “0.09 seconds to next star”, where those 0.09 seconds were actually 30 minutes of me frantically trying to improve my time.
It’s challenging without being frustrating, it’s rewarding without holding your hand… I really, really like it.
So, if the game is so good, why does it get a 9 and not a 10? Well, I thought the levels could have done with a bit more resource variety. If you look at the screenshot above, the stones are a bit… uniform. I know it’s a throwback design call, but I wish that even though we only have 10 seconds to look at a level, we wanted to stay more just to look at it.
Also, I wish that the level selection could be done from within each level. You can go forward, but you can’t go back to the previous level without going to the level selection screen. Sometimes you discover a new technique that might help in a previous level and have to go back to the ship and select it from there.
And that’s about it. The sound design is perfect, the game runs so smooth it may as well be butter on Paraguayan toast (you know I’m liking a game when I get Paraguayan on you), and all in all, there’s a ton of replayability.
It’s hard to fault the game, but I’m sure many will. It’s not Uncharted. It’s not Assassin’s Creed. It’s not Call of Duty. It’s not a triple-A experience.
Listen, it doesn’t pretend to be. It doesn’t need to be.
It’s one hell of a fun game, and I dare you to pick it up, play it for 10 minutes and then give it back without any reluctance at all.
- Title: 10 Second Ninja X
- Publisher: Curve Digital
- Developer: Four Circle Interactive
- Format: PSN Download
- Memory Card Space Needed: 520mb