The Nintendo Switch has already amassed a stellar lineup of games, but with the arrival of Ninjala – a free-to-play online multiplayer game that focuses on melee combat (and blowing bubble gum) – it might have just gained another one.
But what is Ninjala? Well, that’s a good question. If first impressions remind you of Splatoon 2, don’t worry – you’re not alone. While the sugary-sweet personas of the child-like characters and neon-hued color palette certainly are reminiscent of Nintendo’s squid-based shooter, developer GungHo Online has done more than enough to help Ninjala distinguish itself.
Similarities aside, Ninjala’s vibrant design has clearly resonated with players. With two million downloads to date, even though it’s squirreled away in the depths of the eShop, Ninjala is off to a flying start. The fact that it doesn’t require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to play will only help its chances of success as well. Simply download it from the Nintendo Switch eShop, sign in using your chosen method and booyah, you’re in.
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Considering Ninjala is aimed firmly at a younger audience, explaining the core mechanics is an area where the developers could do a much better job. After sitting through a number of videos that give you a quick overview of the game, you’re basically left to figure it out on your own after completing a rather bare bones tutorial.
And when the videos omit to tell you about the counter-combat aspect of the game, where you have to input the correct direction to get the jump on an opponent, your first couple of matches could put you off entirely. Stick with it, though, as Ninjala’s appeal soon becomes apparent.
You’ll need to get up close and personal with your other rival ninja friends and whack, wallop and slap them silly. As mentioned above, players can block your attacks, which triggers a rock, paper, scissors-style mechanic. Guess the correct direction and you’ll be placed firmly in control. Get it wrong, though, and you’ll end up on the receiving end of a beating.
Weapons aren’t the only way to defeat your opponents, though. You’ll need to make use of your abilities, which revolve around blowing Ninja-Gum. You can blow up bubble gum and use it as a projectile, to craft a stonking-big weapon, or dash across the air. Depending on the type of Ninja-Gum you chew – sorry, use – the appearance and type of weapon your character wields will change. There are large foam swords, yoyos and oversized hammers to try out – and they all add to the frenetic, cartoony action.
What makes Ninjala so fun, then, is it’s quick-fire matches and satisfying melee combat. Matches are battle royale in nature, but only in the loosest possible the sense. There’s also a four on four mode, but ultimately it’s a fight to be number one.
The player (or team) who earns the most points over the course of a match wins, and points are earned by defeating opponents, destroying drones that appear across the stage, and taking down your foes with an ‘IPPON’ – a fancy finisher of sorts. Bonuses are also awarded at the end of the match. Matches can often to and fro until the final seconds, so there’s always something to play for.
One more round
Although Ninjala is designed around multiplayer mayhem primarily, you can purchase a brief story mode which is sold separately. It provides a bit more of an explainer of how the game works, but it’s a shame that for a title that’s relatively light on content at this stage (typically, it’ll expand greatly over time), GungHo decided to make it a standalone mode.
Still, Ninjala offers lots of unlockables, missions and customization items for players to focus on, as well as the usual battle pass that we’ve become accustomed to in free-to-play games ever since Fortnite introduced it.
Whether Ninjala has the staying power to keep players entertained is one thing, but in an industry that’s saturated with shooters, survival games and competitive esports titles, Ninjala is a fun, fresh and charming alternative that won’t cost you anything to try out.
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Adam was formerly TRG's Hardware Editor. A law graduate with an exceptional track record in content creation and online engagement, Adam has penned scintillating copy for various technology sites and also established his very own award-nominated video games website. He’s previously worked at Nintendo of Europe as a Content Marketing Editor and once played Halo 5: Guardians for over 51 hours for charity. He is now an editor at The Shortcut.