Diorama Battle of NINJA is top-down shooter from X-STREAM DIGITAL. I was in a rush when I agreed to review this title, so I knew next to nothing about it before booting it up. From what I saw of this score-centric isometric game prior to playing, it looked like it could have been fun.
*Key provided by publisher.
The premise of Diorama Battle of NINJA is not clear from in-game content alone. The game does not use text, dialogue, or interpretive dance to convey any sort of story. Judging from character and environmental design, I would assume it uses a fantasy setting based on ancient Japan. However, it could very well take place in post-apocalyptic London for all the information the game gives you. It would not matter in the slightest if it did. You play as some person and you kill everything that is not part of the scenery, and that is all there is to it.
The entire world of Diorama Battle of NINJA consists of a single map. This map has a few old Japanese style structures in addition to trees, hills, rocks, and a river. Since the protagonist appears to be a ninja, the location at least seems appropriate.
Not counting reskins, there are about 10 different enemy character models in the game. Including reskins does not bump the number up much higher. These designs all look to have consistent quality and they do fit the same theme.
Dead bodies and blood stains remain on the ground for quite a while in this game. Since the enemies tend to swarm, it is easy to lose track of what is and is not a corpse. These remnants will float on occasion which can partially obstruct the player’s view.
When I tried to run the game at ultra settings in 720p, the frame rate dropped below 30fps at times. While I do not have the best equipment out there, my machines are capable of running current generation AAA games at 60fps in 1080p. When I dropped the settings down to high, the only change I noticed was that the frame rate stabilized. Still, all images in this review depict the game at ultra settings for the sake of presenting it at its best.
Only one song plays during gameplay in Diorama Battle of NINJA. This lack of variety comes with a risk of annoying the audience, though I honestly did not mind it. The track is aggressive enough for a game that focuses solely on battle while also being dynamic and somewhat catchy.
The rest of the noise makes it difficult to appreciate the music though. Every enemy makes the same low quality sound when they die, and they die often. Furthermore, their attacks add to the cacophony frequently enough to be very annoying. The protagonist’s attacks are a constant source of noise as well, though this is more bearable as the sound at least matches the tempo of the music.
While Diorama Battle of NINJA may look like a twin-stick shooter, the protagonist can only attack in the direction he is facing. Thankfully, his primary attack has minor homing capabilities, so you can still attack while dodging at an angle. Unfortunately, you can aim at where an opponent is going and the projectile may veer off to where it once was, resulting in a miss.
The most common enemies in the game are ninja that constantly charge at you in large groups (as stealthy assassins are known to do). Their main weakness is a large turning radius. This means much of the game consists of either running in a circle, or charging ahead, turning to attack, then running off again. The latter option is slightly less efficient. These hordes often spawn with numbers in the hundreds which results in many long, drawn-out skirmishes.
In addition to his primary shuriken throw, the nameless protagonist has three special attacks, regenerates health, and can sprint. These special attacks are good at quickly dealing a large amount of damage to an area, but ammunition is scarce. The game’s difficult spikes three times and these attacks are essential for two of these spikes. This makes their use elsewhere feel like a waste of valuable resources. The sprint function happens to have an odd quirk. Rather than an instant boost in speed, it causes the protagonist to accelerate. This acceleration continues even if you run against the edges of the world. At top speed, the player can move from one end of the map to the other in about two seconds.
The sprint function is not the only quirky aspect of the game. Apart from the edges of the world, no bits of scenery impede movement for either the player or the antagonists. This does make a bizarre sort of sense. Ninja are supposed to have mythic athletic abilities, and in theory, nothing should serve as a true obstacle for them. Still, this makes it seem as though nothing is really connected to the world. It also makes the game seem poorly designed.
Weirdly, elevation does have an impact on gameplay. On rare occasions, flying enemies appear which must be fought at a specific distance. Get too close and projectiles will not be able to ascend fast enough to reach them before going past them. If you are too far away, the shuriken will vanish before they hit their target. Furthermore, all projectiles can collide with the banks of the river, though this is not a reliable method of avoiding damage.
There is also a sort of super mode in the game. After collecting enough blue stuff from a rare type of enemy, two collectibles appear. Each of these makes the player temporarily invulnerable. The magatama causes the protagonist to constantly summon hordes of ninja that seek out enemies. The car spawns bombs that do the same. I would say that this is the best part of the game as it helps it end quicker, but the game never truly ends.
There are 17 levels in the game which consist of multiple waves. Each wave spawns enemies in set positions, so the game does have level design of sorts. However, it still feels as though opponents are just randomly strewn about. Once the player finishes the final level, credits appear and the game repeats its sequence while the level count and score carry over. Due to health regeneration and the ease of sprinting out of every enemy’s range, the game seems to be a test of the player’s patience and endurance.
Since the game lacks a tutorial or help screen, players must work out its mechanics as they play. On my initial run, I had no idea that there was a sprint function. The game also omits controller buttons on its key binding screen, so I had to go looking for the button once I knew it existed.
This game only uses 8-directional movement, so there is no advantage to using an analogue stick. The game plays just as well with a keyboad as it does with a controller and there are no major issues with the controls. Whether or not the game is exciting, it at least operates well enough.
I was unable to find anyone playing Diorama Battle of NINJA online. According to the lobby, the game supports up to four players. This mode allows solo play, so I did manage to get a look at its content. The multiplayer has the same setup as the single player experience, so I assume it consists of cooperative play. Aside from having the assistance of other players, the main difference here appears to be that larger quantities of enemies spawn.
I did not enjoy my time with Diorama Battle of NINJA all that much. The game functions and it is not so awful that I would rather not play anything at all. However, the core gameplay is not especially fun and the level design (in as much as it can be called such) leaves a lot to be desired. I would advise skipping this one.