What is the concept? Like any good puzzler, there’s more to Ninja Usagimaru – The Gem of Blessings that a first impression might imply. On the surface, the game seems downright simple, as a succession of sixty single-screen stages each task Usagimaru with rescuing a trapped villager. 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 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? While the player’s toolset is formidable, Ninja Usagimaru quickly runs through nearly every puzzle permeation. Thankfully, beating a stage rewards players with items, which are automatically assembled into new tools like a kunai which allows players to free cracked blocks or a ninja kite which allows players to soar upward on the irregular air current. These tools help to broaden Usagimaru’s puzzling lexicon, without ever overwhelming introductory players. The title’s progression system is just as friendly with entire sets of levels unlocking at once, rather that restricting players to a rigid succession of stages.
Although the game’s uses a limited amount of art, what’s exhibited is quite beautiful. Ninja Usagimaru’s menu screens offer amenities like falling sakura, 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, The Gem of Blessings’ 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 complexity of Ninja Usagimaru’s puzzles, repetition is often necessary. Save for a handful of tutorial stages, many of the conundrums provide no margin of error. As such, if you flub a jump or push a block in the wrong direction, expect to restart the entire level. Ideally, The Gem of Blessings would include some time of rewind functionality to soften the tedium of performing the same tasks repeatedly.
Is it worth the money? Given Ninja Usagimaru – The Gem of Blessings’ reasonable $4.99 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 eight hours in an attempt to rescue each last captive.
Ninja Usagimaru – The Gem of Blessings was played on the 3DS with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: F K Digital
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release date: June 11th, 2015
Price: $4.99 via Nintendo eShop