Editorial | 10/20/2011 at 2:43 PM

Indie-Ana Co-Op and the Ninjas of Dysnomia

Ninjas battle it out Castle Crasher style and a sci-fi shooter with substance

Developer: Belcro
Genre: Action & Adventure
Available On: XBLIG
Co-Op Mode: Local (4 players)
Price: 80 MS Points ($1)
Demo w/ Co-Op Available: Yes 

Castle Crashers was one of the bigger XBLA successes – bringing together beat ‘em up action with RPG elements and co-operative gameplay that’s reminiscent of the days when you’d get together with your buddies at the local pizza joint to pop quarters into the arcade cabinets. Ninja War STOLEN SCROLLS takes those exact same ideas as its inspiration and manages to execute them with only a few missteps.

At the start of the game, you can chose from one of four different ninja warriors that draw power from one of the elements: fire, air, water, and lightning. You are then treated to a brief scene where you witness an evil ninja slays your master and steal his sacred scrolls before you set off to seek vengeance and retribution. Enemies that cross your path are felled with a few rapid taps of the X button, or by summoning your magic using the B button and left thumbstick to direct its fury up, ahead of you, or down along the ground. Your magic points don’t regenerate as you use it, and instead you’ll have to pause from time to time to fill it back up again using the right bumper. As foes fall before your ninja skills, you’ll earn a little bit of experience and at the end of each level all surviving ninjas will earn 100 experience points. All of this goes towards increasing your ninja’s level and making him tougher, faster, and able to deal more damage with both his fists and his magic. Once the level’s cleared, you’ll go to a map screen where you can choose your next destination, though the path is fairly straightforward with only a couple of branches along the way.

Much like Castle Crashers, Ninja War can get rather stagnant in solo play after a few levels and is much better experienced with friends. While there aren’t any more enemies around, or the enemies that are present suddenly get tougher, the game as a whole just feels better when played co-operatively. You and your friends can do a little “divide and conquer” with the enemy groups, or team up to juggle around a particularly tough enemy. The latter becomes more important later in the game once the opposing ninjas start to regularly pull off some ninja moves, like vanishing in a cloud of smoke and leaving behind only a wooden log. This can be very frustrating in single player, but a breeze when playing with friends. The party’s progress as a whole is saved, so if you decide to take a break from the action for a bit, you can always come back to it again with the same character and level advancement.

As I mentioned before, Ninja War manages to execute those very elements that seemed to make Castle Crashers so popular, but it doesn’t do so flawlessly. Perhaps the biggest flaw in Ninja Wars’ otherwise shiny façade is the lack of novelty in its levels and enemies. The first several levels you play through are “forest” levels and you’ll see them for about 7 or 8 of the game’s 20 plus total. Added to a similar backdrop is a similar foreground where the enemies don’t change much, either. Little groups of ninjas and dogs enter stage left on such a regular basis you may wonder if you didn’t accidentally stumble upon some heretofore unknown “dog park for ninjas.” So even though you have proof via the map that you are, in fact, progressing closer to the end goal, it may not feel like it, at least initially. Once you reach the first mini-castle, where you are assaulted by traps and gigantic ogre-type creatures, all of this changes, but it does take a bit of determination to get there. The other flaw that mars Ninja War is a lack of any method to revive fallen comrades. When one of your ninja brethren succumbs to his wounds, he is out for the remainder of the level and doesn’t earn any experience for that level. Fortunately (but also unfortunately), this isn’t likely to happen too often as enemies rarely get tough enough to put your life in any real danger.

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and based off my play time with Ninja War, the developers over at Behemoth should feel very flattered. While it may not have all the polish as its inspiration, Ninja War STOLEN SCROLLS is a very fun beat ‘em up title that comes in at a good price.

The Co-Op Experience: Team up with up to four friends locally as you hack and slash your way through over 20 levels in order to avenge your master’s death
Ninja War STOLEN SCROLLS is For: Beat ‘em up fans looking for a little more Castle Crashers in their lives

Developer: Team Mango
Genre: Shooter
Available On: XBLIG
Co-Op Mode: Local (2 players); Drop-in, Drop-out
Price: 240 MS Points ($3)
Demo w/ Co-Op Available: Yes 

There is, without a doubt, a swathe of twin-stick shooters out there in the gaming world today. Some of these fall into the “rack up a high score” methodology of gameplay, while others lean towards providing a little more story and depth to the experience. Dysnomia falls into more of the latter, providing you with plenty of opportunities to shoot aliens and other creatures, while giving you a little more than the same five or six backgrounds at which to look.

There you are, cruising through the galaxy, when suddenly your ship starts blinking its “out of fuel” and “maintenance” lights. Not really a good thing to have happen in the great vastness of space. So you pull over at the nearest outpost to get the necessary supplies, a little hesitant about it as no one seems to be responding, but hey, maybe they’re all visiting the little spaceboy’s/spacegirl’s room. Upon your arrival at the outpost, you begin your search for all the components necessary to repair your ship and hope to get on your way again immediately. You come under attack from alien bugs (not that kind) immediately, as well, and the assault almost never lets up. As you explore the different areas of the outpost, searching for what happened and a way out of there, enemies come pouring in from all around without end. While Dysnomia wants you to explore and do a little searching about, it also doesn’t want you spending too much time just standing idle.

As far as defeating those enemies is concerned, much of the standard twin-stick shooter mechanics apply. The left and right thumbsticks control your movement and aim, respectively, while the right trigger shoots your weapon and the right bumper toggles through the different weapon types (once you collect them). Once you’ve gotten the enemies off your back for just a bit, you’ll find in the environment around you the occasional terminal or display with which you can interact to learn about what’s going on around here. Additionally, you’ll find turrets and other devices controlled by “AI boards,” components that you not only need for your ship, but for those aforementioned devices as well. These boards can be used in turrets to help provide you with some defense and a little breathing room, in bridges to help you cross gaps, or in a few other interesting pieces of equipment that will help make your traversal through the outpost easier.

While the adventure and story aspect of Dysnomia help to set it apart from other shooters out there, the co-op is definitely a feather in its cap. There are quite a few games out there where having a friend along with you is great, but it sometimes feels like he or she is just there; in other words, the game doesn’t make you feel like a co-op partner’s really needed. The opposite is the case with Dysnomia. The never ending stream of enemies makes you grateful at every moment that you have someone there to watch your back. This becomes especially true during the game’s boss fights, where you can flex your co-op gaming muscle a little more and employ the tried and true tactics of having one person draw attention/provide cover fire while the other doles out the damage. Should you or your partner fall in the midst of combat, all hope is not lost as you will respawn after 10 seconds. If the alien swarms prove to be too much for both of you, then you’ll go back to the last checkpoint, or the last time you saved – which you can do at any time except boss fights.

It’s easy to get burnt out on the shooter genre given the saturation of titles out there that fall within that particular milieu, there are still shooter games out there that use that particular style of gameplay as the starting point and then build on it. Dysnomia may initially feel like it’s “just another shooter” at first, but given even the brief 10 minutes you get with the trial, it becomes clear that there’s more to it than that. The story’s got enough of a hook to keep things interesting and the varied levels/enemies/bosses lets it stay fresh all the way to the end.

The Co-Op Experience: Drop-in and drop-out with a friend locally as you blast through hordes of aliens in order to repair your ship and discover what happened to the colony upon which you’ve unfortunately landed
Dysnomia is Geared Towards: Sci-fi twin-stick shooter fans that want a little story and adventure mixed in with their guns