With all of the different features available on the 3DS that have been seen on few handhelds before, it can be a very tough task to make the most of them all and produce a solid title. There's also plenty of room for experimentation too, but the combination of things can be tough to balance correctly.
Cubic Ninja tries very hard to make the most of the 3DS features, but it sadly falls flat. While it's clear that it has been produced to a sellable standard, the questionable implementation of 3DS features and the very unremarkable gameplay means that it doesn't quite hit its figurative shurikens on target.
Developed by Ubisoft, Cubic Ninja sees players take on the role of CC, a cube that just happens to be a ninja. CC is on a quest to save his own beloved cubic princess, who has been captured by malevolent forces. To rescue her, CC will have to travel, bounce and tilt his way across dozens of levels filled with traps and obstacles, with some boss fights sprinkled in for good measure. It's best thought of as a platform puzzler.
Getting around the levels is done not with normal d-pad functions but using the technology of the 3DS .... sort of. To move CC around, you have to tilt the 3DS in the general direction you want him to go in. Most of the time this is simple enough, but there are some real problems with this method. In some parts of the game, you will have to effectively move CC towards you to get him over a wall or other kind of obstacle. To do this, you need to tilt the 3DS down, so the screen faces the actual ground of wherever you happen to be playing. This presents an obvious problem - you won't be able to see exactly what you're doing or what CC is up to a lot of the time, unless you can effectively position yourself under the 3DS screen. It's frustrating enough, but the game's level of sensitivity seems a bit misplaced - you'll often find that you're either tilting too much or not enough to get CC just where you want him to be. An alternative is to switch the control to the analogue stick, but this proves even less effective. It can be very tricky, as a lot of the time you'll find yourself overcoming barriers by throwing switches that only lower them for a limited time. Not only will you often find it difficult to hit a switch in the first place, but you'll also struggle to tilt the 3DS at just the right time and with enough force to make it through. It's not inherently hard to pull off, but it comes off as more frustrating than it should be, and brings down the game as a whole.
Even if you do manage to find a rhythm when it comes to tilting the 3DS, the gameplay itself is pretty sameish across all the levels. The levels themselves aren't the problem, but they don't really have a lot of variety and distinguishing qualities of their own, which becomes especially apparent given just how many there are. Though there are some fun boss fights thrown into the mix, Cubic Ninja is still a very repetitive game.
Cubic Ninja does have some good art direction, however, which gives it a little bit more personality. CC himself is genuinely charming, and the bosses are themselves quite varied and filled with character. The animations for CC, whether he's going from side to side or bursting into a group of blocks thanks to getting hit with a spike, will definitely bring a smile to the faces of some. It's a shame that the 3D effect didn't have the same level of attention given to it, as it is quite unremarkable. CC does manage to have some dimension about him, but the actual levels all feel very flat. Though it can be argued that this is a consequence of it being a semi-2D platform puzzler, you just get a feeling that more could have been done with it.
Like the use of 3D, sound in Cubic Ninja is pretty lackluster. The tunes themselves aren't awful, but are really repetitive and don't really inspire you to hum along like some repetitive but catchy tunes can make you do. The sound effects of the game are perfectly okay, but are pretty basic and unremarkable.
Though it has a lot of levels that can be more frustrating than they should be, Cubic Ninja is also a paradoxically quick game to complete. It's not one that you will finish in one sitting, but it should only take a few hours of solid play time to complete once you're in the swing of things. When you've polished the main game off, you can also go back and play as other unlocked ninjas, but they don't really bring anything new to the experience. Outside of the main game, you can also dabble in a time attack mode, survival mode and a level creator. The latter is probably the most interesting of the three, but even it's not enough to propel the game into more than it is, and it's hard to justify paying full price. In a lot of ways, Cubic Ninja could have made a decent eShop title.
In development, Cubic Ninja had the potential to be a fun little puzzler, but sadly it doesn't quite live up to what it could have been. The control scheme is intriguing, but it could have used a lot more polish to get the sensitivity just right and gameplay less frustrating, alongside some greater level variety. It is still playable and there is a bit of fun to be had, but it's not on the level it needs to be for a full retail title. If a sequel is made and these things are addressed, then a possible Cubic Ninja II could be something to recommend, but for now it needs to practice some more ninjutsu.