Joystiq hands-on: Ninjatown

Designed by artist and former EGM editor Shawn Smith, Ninjatown is so sugary-cute that it should come packaged with flavored DS screen protectors. Its looks are just as sly as ninjas themselves, as we found a (so far) surprisingly deep action-strategy game underneath all the serious eye-fluff.

We got some stylus time with a nice and solid pre-release version of the game yesterday. At first, we caught ourselves giggling a bit as the game's mechanics were explained. After all, it's not every day that you see a special attack where you literally blow away ah-dorable fire demons using the DS microphone. Keep reading for more silliness and our full impressions.

At first glance we were asking: "What the heck is this game?" Based purely on appearance – and maybe because of the cutesy visuals – it would seem to be a sort of lighthearted, top-down action game. In fact, it's most like a real-time strategy game, and tactics are vital.

The basic concept is that Ninjatown – which is, of course, where ninjas live – is being invaded by little nasties called Wee Devils, who've recently been freed from a neighboring volcano. These creeps attack the town in waves; at first they might approach from the east, next from the west, and so on. As the Ol' Master Ninja in his hot air balloon, you command your ninja legions from far above the battle, occasionally stepping in for some hickory stick-on action.

Gameplay revolves around placing ninja huts on parcels of land along a path leading to the center of Ninjatown. The idea is to stop the Wee Devils before they can cross a major bridge; if too many make it over, it's a wrap.

We jumped right into the fray, spending the game's resource – shuriken cookies – to place hand-to-hand and ranged attack ninja where we thought they'd do the most good. One particularly potent tactic we tried was placing snow ninjas near some regular ninja grunts. The former would throw snowballs at enemies, slowing them down while the latter pummeled them.

As we played, we noticed the icon representing Ol' Master Ninja's hickory stick "filling up." It turns out that once it's at least a quarter full, the bearded one can descend from on high and perform special attacks. We tried one that gave us a few seconds within which to tag enemies with our stylus so the ninja master could whack 'em with ol' hickory. The other, mentioned earlier, let us slow the progress of enemies by blowing "wind" in their direction using the DS mic.

The small portion of the game we played was definitely challenging. Publisher SouthPeak expects there to be on order of 30+ scenarios total, encompassing five different gameworld areas. Oh, and we were assured that Ol' Master ninja will have even more silly moves by the time Ninjatown ships this fall. So far, pastel-color us impressed.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.