10 Second Ninja X is a pretty simple game. You’ve got an absolute maximum of 10 seconds in which to run, jump and flip your way through each level, destroying all the robots that are standing around as quickly as possible. The trick is that, though you have 10 seconds, many levels can be completed in barely three or four, giving you a puzzle to solve in determining the right plan of attack and then challenging you to execute it to perfection.
With that in mind, it helps that the game is both simple to control and features easy to grasp and very tight physics. All you have to do is move, jump, double jump, slash your sword and throw the three shurikens you have to hand. There’s just three buttons to know, and the precise movement is joined by fairly lenient sword swipes, with the real complexities coming from the level design and the new enemies that appear.
It doesn’t take long before the basic robots are joined by those that need two hits to kill and free the bird inside, and other that are shielded by electricity and can only be attacked with your limited supply of shurikens. There’s also electric strips that you need to avoid touching, platforms that are controlled by levers, laser beams that you can bounce shurikens off, and so on. Yet the levels only rarely feel overwhelmingly complex and are all fairly easy to complete within the 10 second limit.
Except that you always want to shave seconds off your first time, then a few tenths and hundredths of a second, as you chase after a three star rating, with new areas unlocking every twenty stars that you earn. This is where the puzzling comes in, as you optimise your route and then have to put your plan into action.
In truth, I never struggled to unlock the next area and only had to back track to earn a few extra starts near the beginning. More often than not, it was my own desire to improve a time that had me repeating levels more than a few times. The levels get more complex, but they’re inherently quite simple as well, because of that time limit. If you do get stuck, you can earn hint tokens from a minigame, showing you a ghost of an optimal route that you can try and copy.
How much you get out of the game is really about how willing you are to stick with a level and try to get all three stars, with the brevity of each level keeping things moving at a fair clip. There’s 100 levels in total, including the 40 original 10 Second Ninja levels, with their some different game mechanics of their own.
There’s more than a little hint of Sonic’s archnemesis Dr. Robotnik to the villain here, the piratical Captain Greatbeard – he does have a pretty good beard, to be fair. He puts his plan into action, capturing all of the wildlife in the forest that the Ninja protects, and imprisoning them in robotic bodies. He even descends from his flying pirate ship in a bit red floating ball thing.
There’s a very knowing sense of humour to the story, as unlocking each successive area causes Greatbeard to appear on a big TV screen, berating the surprisingly mute Ninja and challenging him further, only to be cut off each time by a power failure. These draw you out onto the deck of the ship to visit the handful of other characters that inhabit it. Most importantly there’s Benji who manages to be about as annoying as Miles “Tails” Powers, but mercifully only does so on a handful of occasions.
I have to admit that, while I initially dismissed it out of hand, I started to quite like the silly homage and the story that can’t help but poke fun at itself. That there’s an actual story arc to these characters was wholly unexpected, and while it won’t win any awards, it’s a commendable effort.
Similar things can be said of the game’s simplistic graphics. Where I was initially a little put off with them, thinking that they looked like a modern Flash game that I used to kill time playing back in school when the teachers weren’t looking, there’s a decent amount of nuance to them as well. Certainly, as I got deeper into the game and went to each new environment, my mind was thinking more about the puzzles instead of the graphics.
If you’re a fan of the kind of ultra-difficult, ultra precise platformers that gained popularity a few years ago, then 10 Second Ninja X is right up your alley. It doesn’t reach the same heights of controller breaking frustration, which is probably a good thing, but with minimalist controls, short and to the point levels, and a whimsically silly story, there’s quite a lot to like here.
Version tested: PlayStation 4