1-Bit Ninja App Review – Skeptic into Believer

When I first heard about Ben Hopkin’s, a.k.a Kode80′s, newest endeavor on the iOS platform, I wasn’t too sure how successful the finished product would actually be. After all, the game was advertised as a platformer without d-pad controls, but instead with a different control scheme that did not allow you to travel backwards in its many levels. Any actual gamer knows that a platformer on the iOS platform must have virtual, on-screen controls. Though I was pretty skeptical about how the whole thing would work, the execution and the pure brilliance of the copy that was released today onto the app store has changed my mind; 1-bit Ninja is an elite among its fellow applications on the app store.

At first glance, 1-bit Ninja looks a lot like a Paper Mario replicate. The gameplay has you controlling a 1-bit ninja, with an overall object of getting from left to right, while avoiding the threat of 1-bit enemies and jumping across platforms. Though they share that in common, they also differ a whole lot. Through a series of clever, overlapping layers, developer Ben Hopkins has created a 3D illusion only visible when dragging the top part of the iPhone’s screen. This new view, able to be seen whenever, while playing, reveals secret passageways that would otherwise not be visible, unless you have a keen eye built to see 3D in a 2D world. (See below for example; another example can be found here)

The developer was aiming to incorporate a new control scheme into the game, rather than a regular, old d-pad, and that’s exactly what he did. I was pretty skeptical when I first heard about the control scheme, because most successful platformers on iOS have included d-pads, but after playing, my initial approach disappeared. Once you play for a bit, and get used to them, the controls feel natural. Pressing down on the left bottom side of the screen, will make the ninja run, while pressing on the right bottom side, will make it jump. The controls will involve timing to perfectly land your jumps, whether it be from platform to platform or landing on an enemy’s head (will kill it), as they don’t allow you to move backwards. In other words, you can only travel forwards.

That’s where the clever level design comes into play. Where there are secret passageways, there are also secret coins that can be collected to add more challenge. Not only do you have to look for them, but they can also be located in peculiar places, which often involve multiple tries to get to; plus, there are five in each level. In fact, you’ll probably play each level at-least a few dozen times before you finish. It would be nice if the game would display some basic facts, such as amount of times died, number of enemies killed, and so on.

Levels are unlocked successfully: you play the first, the second is unlocked, and so forth. There are four worlds, each with five levels. To move on to the next level, you do not have to collect all five of the hidden secrets; they are just included for extra challenge. Though if you do, then two additional modes will be unlocked for each level. These include a full 3D mode and an easier-to-drag-and-see-3D mode.

Progressively, the game gets more and more difficult. New enemies will be introduced, level design gets more tough, and other obstacles factor in. I’ve got to say that 1-bit Ninja is easily one of the most difficult, non-puzzle game I’ve ever played. From the beginning to the end, you’ll feel like pulling out each and every one of your hairs, putting them back on, and then pulling them out again. If you can successfully beat the game without ever thinking about smashing your iPhone on the ground repeatedly, you can proudly say you’re a relaxed person. I, sadly, cannot.

With chiptunes included for, evidently, every world, the music running in the background almost never gets too hard on your ears; unless you’re stuck on a level for an infuriating amount of time. Similarly, the retro artwork looks absolutely stunning with the patterns and shading.

When every element, that has been described above, comes together, the finished product is a flawless, iconic game that proves what single, indie developers can achieve. Developer Ben Hopkins, congratulations are creating such a wonderful game that oozes polish and love. Folks, you can’t pass down 1-bit Ninja – not for $100 and certainly not for $1.99.