One Player Only: A Review Of 10 Second Ninja

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I’m going to do it. I’m going to review 10 Second Ninja without mentioning that game.

And don’t be so daft as to ask, “What game!?” It’s clear–very clear–from the first screen what game will immediately spring to everyone’s mind. This is completely understandable, though. The setup is similar, and the feel is, too. But there’s one crucial difference–the audience is different.

Highlighting the feel of these games first, it’s the one thing that game nailed completely–developer Team Meat made every death feel deserved, and the player never felt out of control. Never. 10 Second Ninja was developed by Dan Pearce to deliver the same feeling, which was an essential part of the equation to lock down.

And if you’re going to ape that game, this is how it’s done.

Hilariously enough, the title 10 Second Ninja is all you need to know about the game. You’re a ninja, and you’re presented a one-screen stage with several enemies and hazards to avoid. Kill the enemies, survive, and do it under ten seconds. Your ninja has a sword and three throwing stars to use on each level, and success is based on how well you use them.

There’s a deceptive amount of strategy involved; your time will depend on which enemies you’ll slash with your sword and which you’ll shoot with a throwing star, the order in which you eliminate them, and which way you hop across the platforms. Because remember, you’ve got to do this all under ten seconds.

If it sounds hard, it is. The hardest part comes if you want to take your time to strategize. It’s not like the screen is presented to you and then you choose when you start. The level starts, and then you have ten seconds. You don’t have any choice but to jump in and start flailing around. It can take dozens of playthroughs of a single level before you even get a grasp on how you even want to move through it, let alone find the best strategy.

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I found this infuriating. That game would let me chill as long as I wanted to, and let me assess my situation and form my strategy, but 10 Second Ninja seemingly says, “Fuck you–just move.” (Without the time limit, the game could still be the high-score chase that it is, but would give those of us who like to strategize a chance to shine, too.)

And that? That’s not my jam. At all. For someone who plays games the way I do, it almost feels unfair. The pressure is too great, and it ends up being prohibitively frustrating. Just completing a level alone can be challenging, but then you get to a point where advancement is locked behind better finishing times. Seeing the next “world” will mean having to knock a couple of seconds of some individual levels, which at times just feels like an annoying, insurmountable task.

In this way, 10 Second Ninja doesn’t really respect the player.  It plays amazingly well, with impeccable controls and excellent feel, but even speed-runners wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of slowing down for a minute to get the lay of the land. 10 Second Ninja does not allow this.

But that game did. It was for everyone. And 10 Second Ninja? It isn’t.