Speedrunning with Shurikens
HIGH A pixel-perfect run of a particularly difficult level.
LOW A distinct lack of wall-jumping and wall-running for a ninja game.
WTF Benji is the worst sidekick ever.
Over the past few years, escape rooms have become a popular activity for groups of friends looking for something novel to do on a weekend, or for reluctant co-workers forced into team-building exercises. These rooms task people with solving puzzles in an enclosed space in order to escape within a predetermined time limit. Depending on the group and the room, these exercises can be enormously uplifting or disastrously frustrating.
Four Circle Interactive’s 10 Second Ninja X feels like a single-player version of an escape room. The game drops players into a series of small spaces and asks them to eliminate a set number of enemies before a ten-second timer reaches zero. The emotional effect of this gauntlet depends on the player’s interest in rinse, die, repeat gameplay loops—or, in other words, his or her willingness to fail and fail again 10 seconds at a time.
After the nefarious Captain Greatbeard abducts the titular ninja, players are forced to navigate over 60 increasingly-difficult levels aboard a floating battleship in order to thwart the villain’s plans and rescue a cadre of friendly forest animals. Like many indie titles, the story hearkens back to the narratives of the 8- and 16-bit era, particularly the Sonic the Hedgehog games. It is no mistake Greatbeard floats around in an egg-shaped vessel, or that all the captured animals have been placed within the bodies of robot enemies. Along the way, players encounter several ironically-amorous crewmembers who, one by one, all side with the ninja against their corrupt captain. However, the story is simply a themed container into which the developers can plop a series of dexterous challenges for players to overcome, and then overcome again for better rewards.
In each level, most no larger than a single screen, players use their ninja sword and throwing stars to dispatch a small number of robot enemies. It’s a straightforward premise. The twist is, per the game’s title, players must accomplish this in less than 10 seconds. Depending on how fast they vanquish the enemies, players earn one to three stars. Stars are used to unlock additional sets of levels until the game’s laughably lackluster ending.
Earning three stars on each level requires a careful study of the environment, the position of enemies, and any level-specific gimmicks such as reflective surfaces that re-direct shurikens or shifting platforms that block or open paths to the player.
Unfortunately, the ninja’s abilities are limited to the aforementioned weapons, environmental variables, and a double-jump. Oddly, players do not have access to otherwise standard ninja maneuvers like wall-jumping or wall-running. As ninjas, players are quick and fleet-footed, but they are certainly not acrobats. Given the game’s choice of hero, this feels like a missed opportunity, and an example of a game’s minimalist design getting in the way of its thematic promise.
Between each set of levels, 10 Second Ninja X offers players brief narrative snippets to break up the sometimes-grueling challenges. During this downtime, players also have the chance to explore the floating fortress, look for hidden collectibles, and play mini-games that reward players with tokens to purchase hints about getting faster times on particularly aggravating levels. This feature becomes especially helpful in later stages that require some mental gymnastics from the player in order to beat them with three stars. They are, however, fully optional, which means players can control their degree of frustration.
Beyond the challenge of earning three stars across all of its levels, 10 Second Ninja X does not demand much from its players in order to reach its default ending, and in the end, it’s a rather straightforward adventure. It knows what it is and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything more. It’s a slick, if understated, little title that delivers a frenetic, yet rewarding experience—like the best escape rooms.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Four Circle Interactive and published by Curve Digital. It is currently available on PS4, PS VITA, Xbox One, and Steam. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes, but friends can compete for the best times on individual levels.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Teen and contains fantasy violence and partial nudity. Players destroy robots using sword slashes and throwing stars.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game can be enjoyed without sound. All dialogue is subtitled.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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