So this must be what Stockholm syndrome feels like. After countless hours of punishingly repetitive, 2D speedrunning, platforming mayhem, I have come to love 10 Second Ninja X in spite of its initial abuses, with each failure galvanising my resolve to shave precious 0.01 seconds off of my best time in order to obtain that elusive three-star rating. Simply, if you’re not a fan of games like Super Meat Boy turn back now; your sanity demands it and you’ll thank me later, for the rest of you though, feel free to join me in the abyss.
Super Ninja Boy
The narrative setup for 10 Second Ninja X is simple but face-creasingly humorous. The latest salvo in the eternal war between pirates and ninjas, the horrid Captain Greatbeard (his beard isn’t that great to be fair – I’ve seen better) has captured a clan of the fleet-footed folk and has challenged you to come aboard his massive airborne battleship to destroy his robots across a hundred different levels in ten seconds or less in order to rescue them.
Each of these stages has a trio of different time tiers with one, two or three gold stars awarded depending on which bracket you fall into. Afterwards, accumulated stars can then be used to gain access to other areas of the ship where new levels await as well as other characters that can be chatted to, uttering some pretty funny dialogue in the process. It’s this sort of connective tissue which links up the myriad of pad pounding levels that separates 10 Second Ninja X from the status quo, in so far as it feels far less like a series isolated skill-tests and much more like a fully-formed effort.
The Fast and the Furious
For those unfamiliar with this particular brand of blissful torture, in a sense, 10 Second Ninja X feels like a puzzle game played out at breakneck speed with each level requiring you to destroy every robot you can find without ending up six feet under yourself. In order to make those higher time tiers, 10 Second Ninja X is all about identifying the fastest route to completion and then going through the motions of shaving precious milliseconds off your time until you reach the desired rating. It’s not just about creating the perfect plan; you have to execute it too.
Principally, successful runs can only really be made if you have the kill order nailed down. For example, destroying a robot on a higher ledge before taking out the one you spawn right next to would be inefficient, and thus you end up with a slower completion time as a result. Equally, your ninja protagonist is granted a finite number of ninja tools that can be deployed on each stage. Thrown shuriken for instance, allow you to save precious time by vanquishing a foe without having to get close to them and so must figure into your planned route. Luckily before your ten seconds kicks off, you get the chance to move the camera around and scout ahead for potential paths through the level and even when you fail (and you will fail) an instant restart is just a button press away, neatly avoiding the scenario of you giving birth to a stress baby in the process.
Complicating matters in later levels are switches which when flicked, alter the layout of the map and so must feature in whatever plan you have going forward, giving you one more thing to worry about during your ten seconds of misery/glory. Elsewhere, bonus levels can be uncovered which when completed lend hints which can be used as useful pointers to improve your chances at scoring that coveted three-star rating in more troublesome levels.
It also doesn’t hurt that 10 Second Ninja X boasts a colourful art-style, that when coupled with oodles of buttery smooth animation, all adds up to create an effort that not while perhaps not visually spectacular, nonetheless remains easy on the eyes and wonderfully conducive to the manic brand of speed platforming that it proffers.
10 Second Ninja X is ruthlessly punishing but because its namesake precludes levels from being any larger than ten seconds, you don’t feel it at first; much akin how I would imagine being in shock and feeling utterly numb while you get punched over and over might feel like. Ultimately, it creeps up on you and because the game requires two-star completions for most of its levels so you can have enough stars to proceed further, you can often find yourself utterly absorbed in shaving off split-seconds from split-seconds as real-life trundles on around your enraptured husk of a body.
That’s all there is at the end of the day really; just you, some of the most accurate and responsive platforming controls known to man and masses of failure before a momentary bask in glory gives way once more to that nihilistic cycle of repetition. It seems like a tall, almost repulsive order at first but it grows on you; the need to continually better yourself gnawing at you over and over as the game effortlessly enables instant retries for you to shatter your confidence one more time. As a side note, it’s probably for the best actually, that during play there is nothing breakable either within immediate reach, or, within the range of thrown controller; y’know, just to be safe like.
Arguably if there was even the slightest issue with the platforming mechanics, the appeal of 10 Second Ninja X would be hugely dulled but developer Four Circle Interactive has excelled here; fashioning some truly formidable platforming fundamentals that make learning a level and improving your times a pleasure rather than a chore. So precise is the platforming that failure never ever feels like it’s the fault of the game, with blame falling squarely at the feet of you, the player, and really, that’s how it should always be, right?
10 Second Ninja X is a pressure-based platformer that while very much in the mould of Super Meat Boy et al, evolves the formula with blisteringly swift, well-designed levels that can be played and re-played at a moment’s notice. As always the usual caveat applies that if you’re not a fan of this subgenre then 10 Second Ninja X will do little to convince you, though it’s fair to say the rest of us will find substantial solace in the thrall of glorious repetition in the pursuit of the fastest times possible.