Feudal Japan, more specifically the vague period of Feudal Japan seen in Hollywood, is one of those points in history that is frequently visited in fiction. It's a time of sneaky ninjas, honorable samurai, and shoguns fighting for control over Japan. In their battles against each other, they'd sometimes raid the villages of the common folk for personal gain. When Shogun Moe has a small village raided for all of its carrots, it's up to a one-man army to protect these poor people from exploitation and get back those carrots!
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is an auto-running side-scrolling beat 'em up developed by Pocket Trap and published by Modus Games. This is the first game made by Pocket Trap, which is an indie studio based in Sao Paulo.
The game was released September 4 and can be purchased for $15 on Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Nintendo Switch. The game supports online and offline co-op, with online co-op being level-based. Not counting side quests, the game is about four hours long.
Story and Writing
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots has players controlling either the rabbit ninja Ninjin or the fox ninja Akai. The two of them live in a small Feudal Japanese village along with their old master. One day, their village is raided by minions of Shogun Moe's son, Moe Jr., and the village's supply of carrots is stolen. It's up to Ninin and/or Akai to chase after the thieves, defeat Shogun Moe's army, and get back those carrots!
As far as stories go, it's a pretty simple story. That's totally fine, though. Every game doesn't need an epic story that spans dozens of hours of gameplay. There are games out there where little to no story is required and still manage to be huge successes. Why, one of video gaming's most famous series has managed to go for decades with very little variation to their 'Princess in peril' stories. Despite the lack of change, players keep gobbling up those games because of solid gameplay, even in the games that have no real writing.
It's probably for the best that this game has a pretty generic story because the writing in this game can be pretty hit-or-miss. The game's writing is intended to be silly, but I didn't really find it that amusing. They tend to rely on puns and tongue-in-cheek meta humor, such as a when the game introduces a new enemy by having it wondering why the new enemy announcement is late. I'm sure there are people that find this kind of writing to be hilarious, but it really didn't do it for me.
The best way to describe this game is like Streets of Rage or Golden Axe if it were an on-rails auto-scroller. Each stage is divided into several waves of enemies that must be defeated to move onward. Your character is constantly running to the right and you move them around with WASD. Clicking the left mouse button swings you equipped a weapon in front of you and only in front of you. It's important to keep that in mind since most of the time you'll only be able to face to the right, and enemies behind you can't be hit with your melee weapon.
Right-clicking lets you throw your equipped projectile wherever you're aiming. Pressing space dashes in the direction you're aiming, and you can attack while doing it, allowing you to hit foes to your side or behind you. Dashing and throwing projectiles costs energy, however, represented by the blue bar below your health. Eventually, you gain access to elemental stones that allow you to become temporarily invincible and unleash a devastating attack when you hit enemies with your sword enough.
The gameplay itself is pretty solid. The controls feel tight and there's a wide variety of enemies, distinctive in both appearance and behavior, to keep you on your toes. You've got basic mooks that swing their weapons at you, enemies with shields, enemies that disable your sword/projectiles/shield, and many more. The wide varieties of enemies help keep the gameplay feeling fresh, even during those times when the game devolves into random button-mashing.
The game's difficulty might be a turn-off for some, however. The first two worlds of the game are awfully easy, and given the game's length of about four hours, this represents a good portion of the game. When you get to the third world, however, the difficulty curve suddenly becomes highly inconsistent and quickly switches between being too easy and too hard. It's late in the game and you likely have great equipment by that time, but it can be annoying to have to repeat stages multiple times because the game throw waves of explosive enemies at you.
As well as dropping carrots that can be used in shops, the enemies sometimes drop equipment you can use, and there's a good variety of different weapons to swing around. You've got your basic swords that act as a good balance of attack and speed, heavier weapons that hit a wide area for heavy damage, and also knives that hit close-up foes rapidly. The big variety of weapons encourages experimentation with a variety of different play styles in order to find the optimal strategy for each stage.
There are also some things you can do other than running around slashing at anthropomorphic animals. Between stages, you can spend the carrots you've collected at two different stores. The first shop takes the carrots you've earned and sells a variety of weapons, projectiles, and accessories that give passive boosts. There's also a shop where you can exchange glowing carrots for rarer items. These include weapons with elemental affinities that give special abilities to your strikes at the cost of energy per swing and masks that you can use to accessorize your ninjas. In a fun Easter Egg, which is how I first discovered this game, one of the masks represents the fursona of eSports player Dominique McLean, also known as SonicFox.
In addition to the basic story missions, there's also an endless mode available partway through the first world. You start out with your basic gear and get the opportunity to get/trade a new piece of equipment every three waves. Every ten waves, you can also earn a unique piece of equipment that can be used in the main game. It's a decent mode, but I really wish there was a way to tell what the equipment you swap out does before you pick it up. It's too easy to grab an item to replace your default gear and somehow get something worse.
Graphics and Audio
The music in this game, to be honest, is the kind you'd probably expect from a game set in Feudal Japan. If you've played video games that take place in this time period before, you probably know well enough how the music sounds. It's not memorable, but it's perfectly serviceable.
The graphics, meanwhile, are more unique. It's a cartoony, colorful appearance that fits the game's lighthearted nature. However, the art style is the kind that doesn't look as good when viewing it in a screenshot. It can often clash with how the game animates to look aesthetically off. To understand what I mean, you have to understand a bit about how animation in video games like Ninjin: Clash of Carrots works.
In games such as Ninjin: Clash of Carrots, characters have animation frames for when doing actions such as moving or attacking. If you look at a game such as, say, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, if you were to have Link move down and count how many unique frames he has, you would see that he has eight unique frames that transition very quickly to give the appearance of Link running. In Ninjin: Clash of Carrots, each character has two frames for every action, and the game alternates between the two very quickly. I personally found this to look rather jarring to me, especially when seen on characters with spindly limbs or those with big differences between the two frames, such as the carrot merchant "enemy" seen above.
At the end of the day, Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a pretty decent beat 'em up, all things considered. The core gameplay works great overall, even if it can fluctuate heavily in terms of difficulty and the game isn't very long. There are definitely some areas of the game that could have been shored up, but it's certainly not a bad game. If you're looking for a two-player beat 'em up experience, you could do a lot worse than with Ninjin: Clash of Carrots.
|+ Wide variety of weapons and enemies||– Hit-or-miss writing|
|+ Solid, fast-paced gameplay||– Short story mode (~4 hours)|
|+ Online/offline co-op||– Graphical style can look off|