What is the concept? Like any good puzzler, there’s more to Ninja Usagimaru – The Mysterious Karakuri Castle than a first impression might reveal. On the surface, the game seems downright simple, as a succession of sixty single-screen stages each task Usagimaru with rescuing a trapped villager. As with the game’s predecessor, Ninja Usagimari: The Gem of Blessings, standing between the shinobi and success are Mononoke– dark spirits who strive to stop the protagonist from escorting the captives to a Usagi Statue. Not only are these immobile and shifting onryō lethal to the touch, but when a villager is adjacent to one, the hapless hostages becomes paralyzed with fear, refusing to follow their rescuer.
Fortunately, players are given an authoritative arsenal. Movement is accomplished with the directional pad, allowing Usagimaru to nimbly traverse the game’s two-dimensional levels. Although the characters leaping abilities are limited to elevations no more than one block high, the character’s block moving abilities are much more potent. Standing next to a movable block permits players to push or pull the object, while a throw allows the item to be hurled horizontally. These capabilities are invaluable, as captives are typically out of reach, with the weight of a rock on a trigger switch causing the Mononoke to release its prey.
What are the game’s strengths? Although the player’s basic toolset is formidable, Ninja Usagimaru would quickly exhaust every puzzle permeation that used this block moving capabilities. With The Mysterious Karakuri Castle, players begin the game with the arsenal cultivated in the first game, allowing Usagimaru to drill through soft rock with his kunai, use a grappling hook to seize a block from across the screen, or even use a kite to catch an air current and ride to the top of the screen. These tools help to broaden Usagimaru’s puzzling lexicon, allowing puzzles to be intricate trial and error conundrums instead of obvious applications of specific tools. While The Mysterious Karakuri Castle’s stages are significantly thornier that’s its predecessor, the occasional bit of assistive text of the bottom 3DS screen provides helpful clues. Repetition was an issue in the The Gem of Blessings, with players often restarting levels until they figured out a solution. With Karakuri Castle some of the tedium is lessoned by allowing Usagimaru to drop a pinwheel on-screen, allowing for a one-button warp that get you out of the sporadic impasse. Like Blessings, the campaign follows the same format, unlocking entire sets of levels at once, rather that restricting players to a rigid succession of stages.
Although the game’s uses a limited number of assets, what’s exhibited is quite beautiful. Ninja Usagimaru’s menu screens offer amenities like falling maple leaves, while levels extend picturesque, sumi-e-styled backdrops. While Usagimaru has a limited amount of animation, his jumps and ducks manage to convey adorability. Likewise, Karakuri Castle’s soundtrack has a limited number of tracks, but what’s there is quite exquisite, with the gentle strains of the shakuhachi accented by the signature sound of a shishi-odoshi.
What are the game’s weaknesses? Given the increase in difficulty, some of Ninja Usagimaru’s puzzles would benefit from a stronger help system. While the hints provided will certainly help players, by the end of the first set of stages, the proceedings can get pretty touch. Ideally, the game would offer additional hints if players were stuck on a stage, thereby allowing progress without consulting a FAQ or gameplay video.
Is it worth the money? Given Ninja Usagimaru – The Mysterious Karakuri Castle’s reasonable $5.99 price and plentiful collection of puzzles, the game comes recommended for fans of brain-teasers. Given the intricacy of each stage, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to devote upwards of ten hours in an attempt to rescue each last captive, extending a equitable cost-to-play ratio.
Ninja Usagimaru – The Mysterious Karakuri Castle was played on the
3DS with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: F K Digital
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release date: September 29th, 2016
Price: $5.99 via eShop