Final Ninja, created by the same Nitrome team (Simon Hunter and Aaron Steed) that brought us Dirk Valentine, is here! This side-scrolling action adventure has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, and the word "ninja" alone will grab many players. In Final Ninja's case, however, I'm happy to say that it's one of the few ninja-based titles that really is fun (and faithfully ninja-like, for that matter).
In Final Ninja you play an anime-inspired ninja armed with throwing stars, a grappling rope, and the ability to stealth-hide into the shadows. The stealth mode is a pretty fun tactic, as you'll be met with lots of security systems and enemies that will require a delicate touch to overcome. The grapple is definitely the key mechanic that makes this game shine. Without it, it'd be just another run-and-gun ninja platformer (although still noteworthy).
You're charged with the task of completing each level by reaching a black data access card, all with the intent of facing down your nemesis, Akuma. It's the classic "student tries to rebel against old-and-wise master" story, as you're called into action once again after 10 years of meditation to don the special ninja suit and vanquish your arch rival. You can use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to run and jump, while the mouse button fires your throwing stars and grapple (aimed by the mouse cursor). Pressing [down] or [S] will let you enter stealth mode, a state in which you'll become virtually transparent except for your cool green, glowing eyes. This state allows most enemies and security lasers to pass you by you undetected. And it wouldn't be a ninja game without wall-jumping, would it? You can push against any wall to latch onto it, slowing your fall until you jump in the opposite direction.
The real acrobatics come from using the grapple. Throwing stars can be fired in quick succession by tapping the mouse, but if you click and hold it instead of releasing, you'll fire the grapple that hooks onto most surfaces and lets you swing from ledge to ledge. The grappling system will be most familiar to those who have played the Worms series. Once deployed, you can climb up and down the rope by using the applicable directional key or gain momentum by swinging back and forth. You can even gain enough momentum from a standstill to pull a complete 360 (if you can master the right timing between the up-and-down and side-to-side movement).
Analysis: Nitrome didn't stray off the beaten path when it comes to the look and feel of Final Ninja. The cartoonish pixel graphics are exactly what we're used to seeing and they're just as good as ever. Aside from a seemingly "sticky" wall jumping mechanic, I was a bit hard-pressed to find many faults in Final Ninja. Level progression tempo is tuned perfectly, introducing new elements level by level with signpost tutorial hints along the way. Within each level, no matter where you are, you'll never find yourself far from an arrow indicating which direction you should follow so you don't get lost.
As you get past the fifth level or so, a larger variety of enemies and security systems are introduced, keeping your environments interesting and dynamic. Things get a bit tougher when electric platform edges are introduced, limiting your grappling options. Tto quote the game, "Even a ninja cannot defeat electricity...I respect its ability to bring death to those who are slow".
An interesting, atmospheric and all-around fun grapple-based platformer from Nitrome!