Who would have thought that such snuggly little ninja could be so dangerous?

Southpeak Games’ Ninjatown is a welcome addition to the Nintendo DS’s line-up with its tower defense-style play mechanic and extremely adorable art style.

For those of you out of the loop, Ninjatown stars the cute little ninja characters from the Shawnimals toy and plush lines. Things were going fine in Ninjatown until the nefarious Mr. Demon and his wee devil minions started to invade and terrorize the town’s residents. Now, it’s up to the wit and wisdom of the Ol’ Master Ninja to overcome the odds and keep Ninjatown safe.

Players are charged with building Ninja hut after Ninja hut in order to stop the oncoming waves of wee devils. At the outset, the player has the ability to build two types of Ninja, both of which specialize in hand-to-hand combat. As the game progresses, new types of troops are incorporated into the mix.

When I began playing Ninjatown, I could barely see any kind of strategy being used, and I was arbitrarily building Ninja huts to kill off the enemies. As different types of Ninja became available for use, I found the strategic elements of the game fall into place. Each map was approachable in various ways and breathed fresh air into what felt repetitious.

Like other tower defense games before it, being able to build certain types of troops means the player will also be assaulted by enemies with particular weaknesses: the snowball throwing “Ice-cream” Ninja can slow the fast devils down, the Sniper Ninja takes down the flying devils, and the fast-moving Business Ninja is ideally equipped to fight the slower moving devils. However, once the player realizes the patterns and what-hurts-what play style, each encounter can be easily overcome.

As the player defeats enemies, they are rewarded with cookies that can be used to upgrade the Ninja huts, giving the Ninja of that hut more power. Sadly, there is little to no visual indication that a hut is already upgraded or needs upgraded without tapping the hut with the stylus. Having the tap each hut individually while being attacked became a stressful procedure that could have been easily overcome with some kind of visual clue.

The game itself is broken up with the main action and user input handled on the bottom touch screen and the zoomed out map of the playfield on the top. My main complaint with the map screen was the fact that the developer only used half of the screen for the map. The other half is used to show the Ol’ Master Ninja floating high above Ninjatown in his hot-air balloon. It’s a pretty neat graphic, but I feel that space could have been better suited as an expanded stats and map visual.

For the most part, user input is handled well with the stylus. Picking the appropriate Ninja hut to build, choosing which huts to upgrade, and selecting the Ol’ Master Ninja powers work seamlessly with the stylus, but I found moving the camera around the battle field felt clumsy and slow. Sometimes, as I placed the stylus on the screen for camera movement, the camera would not react as fast as I needed it to, resulting in a few more dead ninja on my conscience. Luckily, the d-pad is usable for camera movement as well.

If you are the type of gamer that has no time for this holiday’s blockbuster console games, then I recommend you pick up a copy of Ninjatown, sit down for about an hour a night, and enjoy the cuteness levels beaming from this solid, tower defense game.

That’s right, I said it – cuteness levels.

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