Written by: Bernard Julius Paje
Title: Ninja Usagimaru - The Mysterious Karakuri Castle
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Aksys Games
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: September 29, 2016 (3DS eShop)
No. of Players: 1 player
Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle is a single screen 2D puzzle/platforming action game that tasks you as the titular ninja in his quest to rescue villagers captured by evil Mononoke, monsters which are mostly based on spirits from traditional Japanese literature. Armed with his trusty kunai, grappling hook, kite and superb block manipulating skills, Usagimaru makes his way through more than 60 stages of brain-bending puzzles. If you like block lifting puzzle games in the vein of 8-bit classics like Babel, then you should definitely check this game out.
The game has fairly simple graphics, considering it is designed to be a budget-friendly title developed by small Taiwanese studio F K Digital. The art of the game has a heavy Japanese influence and the sprites of Usagimaru and the cute, super deformed Mononoke are all nicely animated in the game. The usage of 3D is noticeably absent in the game, but I personally do not think it would have added anything to the experience because it would most likely only be used to make the sprites ‘pop’ from the background. The music of the game sounds like they are actually played on traditional Japanese instruments. Everything from the game’s background music (like the stage select and main theme) as well as the various sound effects (like when you finish a stage or get defeated by an enemy) has a distinct Japanese vibe to it. Most of the music is very repetitive though; reminiscent of how old 8- or 16-bit games endlessly looped a music track that is a few seconds to a minute in length.
One of the core gameplay dynamics of the game requires you to release captive villagers (who oddly are all cute ‘chibi’ girls) from a Blue Oni (ghost) by placing a rock on a springy Red Oni. In doing this though, you have to be careful and make sure the villager does not fall onto spikes or other hazards. Once you rescue the villager you then have to guide her back to a Rabbit Stone. It sounds simple on paper, but most of the stages are designed to be solvable via a very precise solution. A stage is oftentimes made unsolvable if you make a mistake, like put a block where it is not supposed to be or fall down a space you cannot jump back up from. Because of this, a little trial and error may be involved at times. Thankfully, the game employs a Pinwheel checkpoint system, enabling you to rewind time in case you screw up. By the time you reach the 9th or 10th stage of the first area, you are already given some pretty tough puzzles to solve. So when I mentioned above that the game’s puzzles are brain-bending, I really meant it! :D
The game also tries to make the physics in the game realistic despite it being only 2D in nature. In a tight and cramped space for example, you cannot throw or release a block unless you have enough headroom. Controls can also get confusing in the beginning, particularly when you are carrying a block and need to drop it (done by holding down while pressing Y), hoist it overhead (done by holding up while pressing Y) or throw it (done by pressing Y by itself) – you are going to get these actions mixed up often early in the game.
Overall, Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle is an enjoyable game that is great for short bursts of gaming. The puzzles are cleverly done, and some of the harder ones will definitely challenge even seasoned puzzle game fans. Once you get used to the controls (which can get confusing at first) you will be lifting blocks, smashing Mononoke and rescuing villagers like a pro! On a further note, this game is actually the second game in the Ninja Usagimaru series. Even better, the first game, Ninja Usagimaru: The Gem of Blessings, has a demo on the 3DS eShop. Download it so you can try the game’s mechanics out for yourself.
- Clever puzzles
- Simple but charming graphics
- Ninjas are AWESOME!
- Controls may get some getting used to
- Puzzles can get too hard at times
- No 3D whatsoever