Tricky puzzlers make for great brain workouts. Thankfully, Ninja Usagimaru's second adventure is full of them so let's check it out.
Although I have yet to play the first Ninja Usagimaru game, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to play this one. For the unfamiliar, you control a little ninja named Usagimaru while solving practical puzzles in order to rescue villagers from evil entities. To accomplish that, you'll need to push, pull, lift, carry, and throw blocks, perform tricky jumps, and utilize an assortment of gadgets. Once you work your way to the captured villager, you have to cut them free from their ropes then keep a keen eye on them as you carefully travel to the exit. Luckily, you have a magical pinwheel that you can plant in the ground whenever you wish that acts like a checkpoint. It may seem simple, but just passing the first handful of stages will take the average gamer many attempts. Even though it's quite challenging, at least it always feels fair and it's very satisfying once you finally complete a stage after taking many different approaches.
The story involves Usagimaru coming across a god named Toyoukebime who looks like a cute little bunny. He informs the heroic ninja that the village has been attacked so it's up to him to rescue all of the villagers and bring peace to the land. The presentation is beautiful as it's full of gorgeous traditional Japanese art in the menus and cute blocky characters in lively animated stages. The music matches the very Japanese atmosphere with lovely compositions that blend well with the sound effects. My only complaint is that this is yet another 3DS game that doesn't implement any 3D at all. After all these years, that's still a big pet peeve of mine.
Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle's gameplay is much more complex than you'll initially think due to the many elements at play. You'll come across puzzles that involve matching certain blocks to make them disappear, using enemies for leverage, and teleporting between spots. Usagimaru has some handy tools at his disposal such as a kite that allows him to float up streams of air, a kunai that he can use to break fragile blocks, and a hookshot that he throws to pull distant blocks closer to him. Also, there are various enemies that can end your life in an instant. Watching out for foes that emerge from seemingly harmless pots, relentlessly pace back and forth, or just stand in the way can be very tricky. Sometimes, the villager is suspended above an enemy so you have to be careful not to let them drop on it when you free them as you'll fail the stage as a result. There are so many factors that the gameplay is consistently fresh.
There's no denying that this is an ultimately enjoyable and fulfilling puzzler but it does have two major problems that frequently make it a chore to play. The first issue is that it's incredibly easy to screw up puzzles due to the very sensitive mechanics. Even if you place pinwheels regularly, you may realise that you just placed one after you made the current situation impossible to overcome. I wish that you couldn't place pinwheels whenever you reached circumstances like this but then again, that would probably make it too easy. Finally, the stages themselves are extremely difficult to figure out logically so you'll have to keep taking different approaches as you retry over and over again. This necessary trial and error becomes rather tedious although it's awesome once you figure out a solution.
Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle is a fantastic handheld puzzler that anyone with a fondness for the genre should try. It's undeniably frustrating at times but the amount of fun to be had working out its puzzles more than makes up for that.
- + Satisfying puzzles that are very tricky and challenging but fair
- + Gorgeous Japanese presentation
- + Many elements keep the gameplay fresh
- - Very sensitive mechanics makes it easy to screw up puzzle solutions
- - Too much trial and error is required
- - No 3D implemented at all