The first open beta for GungHo Online’s Ninjala didn’t go particularly well. A flood of connection issues kept most players from giving it a go. Its second beta, open to players around the world for several hours on Sunday, went a lot smoother. You know, we were actually able to play the game. I experienced a single connection issue, but it’s actually a good thing that happened.
If you haven’t been keeping on eye on it, Ninjala is a free-to-play online multiplayer brawler that people keep comparing to Splatoon. While they may look similar at first glance, you’ll realize it’s nothing like Nintendo’s kid-or-squid shooter once you get into the weeds of it. This is melee combat through and through, and victory will hinge on how well you know your weapon, the arena, and what the other fighters are doing.
Like with the first open beta, this weekend’s trial of Ninjala centered on the battle royale mode. Here, eight ninjas face off against each other going for the highest score at the end of the match. Before you fight, you can go into your base and design your character. There are a lot of styles available with some pretty funky looking threads. The base is also where you can pick your weapon of choice and for the beta, there were four available.
The katana is the most basic, all-around weapon with good speed and decent damage. The drill is more aerodynamic than the katana. The hammer is the slowest of the four, but it also does the most damage. Finally, the yo-yo is designed for attacking from a distance and was my most-picked weapon. Your speed and health in a match will depend on which weapon you pick. Your weapon choice will also decide which Special, Gum Shoot, and Gum Ninjitsu moves you can use in battle.
Gum Shoots are attacks that literally fire gum at your opponent. Hold ZL to blow a gum bubble and fire it at your enemy. The hammer, for instance, will fire off a bubble that’ll trap opponents in a damaging bubblegum web. Specials appear to differ depending on the type of each weapon you have equipped.
For the entirety of the beta, my yo-yo weapon was the Trick Shot, which looks like a basketball. For its Special, if I hit an opponent with it, they’d turn into a little yellow poop emoji for a couple of seconds. However, on the Ninjala website, the basic yo-yo’s Special shows a teleporting maneuver. My Trick Shot also had a different Gum Ninjitsu, which is a super move that, if you hit it right, may eliminate one or more players. There are two types of eliminations in Ninjala. The first is the basic K.O. which you get simply by draining your opponent of all their energy. The second is the Ippon, which is a devastating blow that knocks them out.
One of the things that caught my eye about the weapon system, and perhaps how GungHo will monetize this free-to-play game, is you can unlock different colors of each weapon with victories in battle. However, those colors you unlock, presented as different flavors of gum, have a limited number of uses. So if you like the look of the blue drill, you better hope you unlock a lot of them lest you get stuck with the basic model.
This actually brings me back to that connection issue I mentioned in the lede. In one of my matches, I went with a one-time-use pink drill. As the match loaded up and I readied to fight it out, Ninjala froze. I had to exit out of the game, convinced I’d just lost that pink drill. However, it was still available once I logged back in. With the monetization schemes GungHo is implementing here, it’s nice to know players won’t necessarily lose out when they have a bad connection.
Of course, once I got into battle, the look of my weapon didn’t much matter. What mattered was figuring out the best strategy for victory as Ninjala offers two ways forward to that first-place finish. Nearly everything you do nets you points during matches, from fighting your opponents to collecting the little golden orbs that dot each stage. Destroying a drone, apple-shaped robots that are scattered about, is also an option for driving up your score and it will allow you to increase the size of your weapon and the power of your gum shoot attack. While it might seem like the best way forward is to just attack all the other ninjas, the strategy that kept me in the top three for a majority of my matches focused more on bashing those drones.
Fighting other players can be quite chaotic. You have a limited number of basic attack types and if two identical attacks hit, you’ll go into a “pick the right direction” parry mini-game that doesn’t always feel like it makes sense. It also leaves you susceptible to strikes from other players, perhaps players who have spent most of the match destroying drones and are now powered up and ready to lay waste to those who oppose them. If you are ever in a jam with multiple people coming at you at once, the S-Burst maneuver might help get you out alive.
I did just fine for most of my matches, not only in my ranking when all was said and done but also in how I learned the ins and outs of each weapon. However, there were times it felt like I didn’t have control of anything going on. This is especially true when there were four or five of us in a very small area. That’s why I kept to the shadows, for the most part, taking down drones and building up the size of my weapon. When it did come time to engage, I’d usually have my Gum Ninjitsu at the ready. For my Trick Shot, that ninjitsu is a rocket that obliterates anyone caught in its blast. The closer everyone is grouped together, the more devastating it will be and the more points it’ll net me.
There’s a lot more here, but I’m walking away from the second beta a bit more excited about the final product. It doesn’t appear to have much depth, but it’s certainly a satisfying way to spend an hour or two. As someone who spends way more time than he should with free-to-play shooters, it’ll be nice to change it up a bit with a bubblegum brawler when Ninjala launches on June 24 for Nintendo Switch.