Ninjas and explosions: two great tastes that you would think taste great together, right? Throw them in a pot, mix with weapons, gadgets, and frenetic multiplayer action, and you have a recipe for an awesome adventure.
Sadly, I don't think this one cooked long enough.
Atomic Ninjas (PlayStation 3, PS Vita [reviewed])
Developer: Grip Games
Publisher: Grip Games
Released: October 8, 2013
Cooking metaphors aside, the story of Atomic Ninjas breaks down like this: a security guard at a nuclear plant falls asleep on the big red button and the planet goes boom. Ninjas, using their natural survival instincts, are altered, and...um...must fight each other. For reasons.
And that's it. I hope you weren't looking for more plot or depth than that, because you just ain't getting it, Johnny. In fact beyond that intro, the only interaction you have with "characters" is the sensei in the tutorial. There are no alternate characters to select to play as, either -- you're just a ninja, fighting other ninjas. There are costumes to chose from, but only once you increase your rank through battles.
The main game plays out like Super Smash Bros.; you and three other players are let loose in an arena and must beat the living snot out of each other until they succumb to being flung into a pit and die. There are three weapons to chose from (punch, shuriken, and force grab -- used to chuck boxes at foes) and three gadgets (grappling hook, wall claw, and rocket) that allow you to travel around the arena and basically push your opponents to their doom.
The game is built for multiplayer -- and not much else. You choose an arena, a game mode including the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag, and try to connect to a room to duke it out with other folk. However the matchmaking is a bit lacking, as often times I would choose a room to play only for it to wind up already being full, or not really there.
While fighting your opponents is the whole point of Atomic Ninjas, its execution is hampered by a poor camera and minimalist attacks. The camera is zoomed in on you, and never zooms out, so you never know if you're leaping (or swinging, or rocket-blasting) towards a foe, or a large pit in the floor. Thankfully in the games where there is a goal such as capture the flag, a small arrow points to where you need to go.
Once you find a foe, you spam the attack button until they're pushed away. The shurikens are pretty effective, but using the right analog stick to aim while pressing the right trigger for your attack is a bit cumbersome, especially when trying to leap around, or hit a target that is also leaping around. The punches are usually the most effective and when timed right can knock shurikens away from hitting you.
At least the game looks nice. The character models are cute and colorful, and the arenas are varied, even if there's not many to choose from. The layout can be confusing the first time you play through due to the camera, but once you learn where the hazards are, you can travel through them well enough. I will say that each stage seems a bit small at times, and the cramped camera angle doesn't help that.
There is a single-player mode, but it's basically just a practice arena (strangely labeled "quick match") where you fight against bots rather than live players. It's effective if you're taking the game on the go or just can't connect in multiplayer, but the AI is a little high on the difficulty at times. There's at least cross-buy and cross-play included, so you can feel lonely when the room doesn't connect on either system of choice.
The main problem with Atomic Ninjas is that there's just not enough to do. Each battle has Ninja Trials: different objectives to be completed during matches, such as killing three foes with shurikens, or stealing opponents weapons after defeat. While those help vary how you play each level, the limited number of weapons, gadgets, and especially arenas make the quick play even quicker, as I found myself getting bored doing essentially the same thing over and over. Still, there were minimal rewards as I leveled up, as different costumes and abilities were unlocked, but not enough to keep me playing for long periods of time.
Atomic Ninjas isn't really a bad game, nor is it a good one. It just sort of exists. What the title does it does competently, but there's not enough options or variety to warrant many matches, unless you're absolutely dying for some multiplayer brawling on the cheap. It's inoffensive and fun, but like the radiation, only in small doses.