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I like puzzle games, and there is something inherently satisfying when a puzzle game is also an action-platformer. Playing through many of the 3D Zelda games is a testament to just how popular this type of puzzle game can be. Ninja Usagimaru – The Mysterious Karakuri Castle is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer which combines the need to solve a physical puzzle in the level with also reaching the goal. While the game has all the markings of a fun game, the controls and responsiveness of the game are a little but clunky and it makes the experience of playing as a ninja a little bit unsatisfying.

At this point of all of my reviews I always point out that the negative things I pointed out in the opening paragraph aren’t enough of a damper to kill the entire game for me and this is again the case. While the controls can be a bit of a pain, and at times not very intuitive, the game still has some solid challenge. Once you can master the controls, and breathe when your character walks off a ledge instead of jumping, there is fun to be had.

Ninja Usagimaru – The Mysterious Karakuri Castle challenges players to put their sharpened ninja skills to the test! Taking place in a time long forgotten by men, players assume the role of Usagimaru, a legendary hero who embarks on a massive quest to save his village from the clutches of vile monsters.

The goal of each level is to free the villager from the clutches of a monster and lead them to the exit. Do do that you’ll need to put a weight on a Red Oni to release the villager. You’ll need to then untie the villager and lead them to the exit. Of course it’s not that easy.

The controls of the game are fairly straight forward, which the game spells out for you in a series of tutorial levels. One button jumps, another attacks, another is used to pick up/pull/throw blocks, etc. The controls are simple enough, though it does take some time to get your head around the block mechanics.

When you face a block you hold down the (Y) button. You can then push towards the block to push it, pull away from it to pull it or press up to lift it over your head. That’s the simple part. To dispatch the block you need to FIRST press the directional button and THEN press the (Y) button. To put the block down you’ll need to press down on the d-pad and then tap (Y). To put the block on top of another block or enemy in front of you requires that you press up and then tap (Y). Simply pressing (Y) will throw the block forward, which on more than one occasion was not what I wanted to do. It felt more natural to hold the (Y) button first and then choose a direction or release to throw the block so this backwards mechanic was tough for me to get around.

ninja_usagimaru_2_02 ninja_usagimaru_2_01

The game can also slightly lag on jumping so more than once I walked off a platform rather than jumping to the next. The controls could have been a little tighter.

Design-wise the levels are strong, challenging and unforgiving.

While you can whip out your blade and do some ninja slicing action this doesn’t do any good against the enemies. Baddies in this game are more of an obstacle to be defeated rather than an enemy to be fought, so you have to think your way around them and not plow right through them. The levels are also unforgiving, meaning that there is usually a precise progression through them to completion. If you make a mistake or deviate from that required path you’ll be forced to start over. Luckily you can plant a flag at any time to give you a restore point in case you do mess up.

The bottom screen features a nice little generalized hint for each level, which can be helpful in giving you the right idea on how to proceed.

Oddly Ninja Usagimaru – The Mysterious Karakuri Castle features no touch screen input at all during the game, neither in the menus or during the game-play itself. It doesn’t affect the game at all, but it’s unusual not to be able to tap the large icons on the touch screen to navigate. The music has a traditional Japanese flair which was both fitting and nice.

Overall Ninja Usagimaru – The Mysterious Karakuri Castle could have used a lot of tightening up as far as the controls, but the levels are solid. With some built in variety from challenging to hard, you won’t be breezing through the games 60+ levels too quickly.

Gameplay 6
Graphics 6
Sound 7
Overall 6