Developer: Sanzaru Games/Nunchuck Games
Release Date: March 4, 2008
It's a universal truism that ninjas are cooler than you. No matter how smooth your game and tight your look, you will never be as awesome as a ninja. With that in mind, EA has brought us a method of training to be a master of the shadows on the Wii, and it is very obvious that whoever thought this would be a good idea needs more training themselves.
Ninja Reflex is a casual party game masquerading as something that will help you improve both mind and body. The title is composed of six minigames, each of which are meant to help you enhance particular fast-twitch responses that are apparently important to all those studying to stab things with a katana or pierce them with throwing stars. The game offers lessons in Hashi (fly catching), Hotaru (dragonfly catching), Katana, Koi, Nunchaku and Shuriken. Hotaru is a reflex game where you need to press the button as soon as you see a firefly light up. Koi and Hashi are very similar, with Koi requiring you to catch fish with your bare hands, while Hashi tasks you with catching flies with your chopsticks. Katana pits you against a number of ghostly oni, whose attacks you must block and then slash, and Nunchaku requires you to twirl the deadly weapon and then bash back the projectiles thrown your way. Finally, Shuriken is like target practice, with you locking onto ninja cutouts and flicking the Wiimote to shatter them.
There are two modes to Ninja Reflex, a single-player campaign and then a multiplayer component. The single-player mode pairs you up with your sensei, who will set forth tasks for every minigame and then provide you with a belt test when you have passed enough stages. There are six belt levels, and you will start with white in the hopes of working your way all the way up to black. This mode starts off well enough, but very quickly, you'll see that there are two fatal flaws. Not only are you forced to play the same challenges over and over again with little variation, but the whole experience is exceptionally short, as in two or three hours max.
Even with such a short campaign, you'll still likely grow bored long before the end due to the fact that there's really nothing about any of the games that makes you want to come back for more. All of the challenges are embarrassingly easy, and each mission is over so quickly (rarely does any level continue for over one minute) that you'll no sooner get underway than it's already finished. These simple, quick challenges could have been a fun component of a larger game, but they just aren't enough to carry the whole experience.
The title was clearly made with the casual group in mind, but really it doesn't offer much on that front either. The already-paltry gameplay modes are further stripped down for the multiplayer, meaning that you'll only be getting the barest of bones. With more full-bodied fare like Super Smash Bros: Brawl in the Wii library, there doesn't seem to be much reason for anyone to pick this up and challenge their friends.
On top of the actual game modes, Ninja Reflex also throws in a meditation section, allowing stressed-out players the chance to calm their nerves and loosen their muscles. While many will write this off as a dumb gimmick or simply skip it altogether, it is actually a rather nice addition to the title, assuming you take it seriously. However, it's kind of hard for Nintendo to ask $40 for what is essentially a poor man's yoga simulator, but maybe this game is aimed at those who don't want to pay $100 for the full yoga experience that Wii Fit is promising later this spring. Sadly, I had more fun playing the ninja name generator in the game than I ever did actually playing the title.
The technical side of Ninja Reflex is just as bland and unnoticeable as the gameplay itself. The graphics are fine, with vivid colors and crisp animations all around, but nothing you're looking at is all that interesting, and none of it will ever drop your jaw. The "Engrish" voice acting by the sensei is just a shade above racist, considering he at least tries to sound profound while introducing challenges. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have much to say and will begin repeating himself pretty early on, which is sad considering how short the game is anyway. The controls are also passable but unimpressive, with most games doing just enough with the Wii's motion controls to rise above being more than a simple gimmick. There are a couple of big issues, however, as the control schemes for Katana and Nunchaku are not very tight and can sometimes border on broken.
You know it's a bad sign for a game when you enjoy the name generator and meditation mode more than any of the actual gameplay. It becomes obvious fairly quickly that all EA has done with Ninja Reflex is put out yet another mediocre minigame collection for the Wii's already-choked catalog, but gussied it up with a ninja premise in order to sell more units. This one is a weekend rental at best, and there's really no reason to ever buy, even once it's marked for clearance. Sadly, I am no more of a ninja now than I am when I started this game, and I'm beginning to think that I ate all that sushi and killed all those shoguns for nothing.
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