This week I took part in the open beta for Ninjala, an upcoming free to play game by GungHo coming exclusively to Nintendo switch. With its colourful visuals and close-quarters, playfully chaotic gameplay, I was pleasantly surprised from the brief amount I was able to play.
Now right out the gate, I thought that Ninjala shares a lot of similarities with a certain ink-based shooter from Nintendo, namely its brightly coloured visuals, varied musical styles and cartoonish children characters, so I was a bit concerned that I was walking into an imitation or stripped back version of something I’ve already played. But after a rather short, but detailed, tutorial and a few games, it became clear that despite my initial impressions, Ninjala was its own game. Although this was only when I could get online, as the scheduled sessions were often cut short or extended after emergency maintenance. Despite these annoyances, the game itself was far more robust and fun than I initially suspected.
You start off by choosing one of a handful of characters, before moving onto a favourite feature of mine: Customization. I was greeted by a rather extensive list of customization options that ranged from hats and masks to clothing, all with different styles and colours that can make each player look completely different. This is a feature I could definitely see being a big point of interest for players in the full release, especially if there is more to come.Once I had spent more time (than I probably should) on character customization, a video tutorial gave me a crash course on Ninjala, in this roughly 3-minute video I had most of the basic controls and objectives explained to me clearly and quickly so I could get right to the action. The action, in this case, included a melee-focussed free for all with 7 other players, with full release said to have team-based 4v4 and other game modes at launch.
The gameplay focussed around up-close combat with one of 4 weapons, with each controlling and playing differently. That gave a great amount of variety in the way you can play. As well as this, these weapons also had their own individual abilities and traits, which added more depth to each — making me want to try each once and learn their playstyles and nuances.
But what underlined all this was the inclusion of the bubblegum gauge, a metre that plays a vital part in every facet of combat. This unique addition acts as a currency for your dashes, skills, and weapon size that must be replenished during the match. Abilities duration, power and effectiveness are affected by how large your bubblegum gauge is, which is increased by destroying the drones that spawn periodically throughout the match. Basically, the bigger your bubblegum bubble, the more powerful your moves. Plus on top of these features, you have parkour that adds verticality to stages and combat as well as point bonuses for things like IPPON K.O’s that sees opponents fly into walls in a haze of bubblegum fury.
Ultimately coming together for a fun and frantic flurry of gum and ninjitsu, Ninjala has put itself in a great position to be a standout free to play experience on the Nintendo Switch. While I didn’t feel I had enough time to fully grasp the nuances of combat and what the game has to offer, its certain caught my attention, and I look forward to seeing the rest of what Ninjala has to show me.