10 Second Ninja X has all the markings of a mobile game. Bite-sized levels, a star rating system for each level, the game’s user interface. Despite all of this, 10 Second Ninja X is by no means a mobile game. You would probably break both your phone and your fingers if you tried to play this game on a smartphone. 10 Second Ninja X is a puzzle-platformer that requires both careful planning and pinpoint movement in order to complete each of the hundred levels included in the game. 10 Second Ninja X is right at home on consoles and PC, and if you own any one of the systems it’s available on, then you should definitely consider picking up this little gem to play through.
10 Second Ninja X begins with the main protagonist of the game, the ninja, being kidnapped by a pirate captain and taken aboard his airship. The ninja is described as the protector of the forest located below, and the pirate has captured the birds of the forest and trapped them in various robot types. The only way to free them is to destroy all the robots in each level in 10 seconds or less.
No, the story is not very deep or complex, and it’s not going to be the reason you continue playing 10 Second Ninja X, but the writing is surprisingly good. Between each set of ten levels, the captain who kidnapped you appears on a monitor on the ship to address the ninja. However, your character is a silent protagonist, and upon realizing this, you get to watch throughout the game as the captain experiences his own existential crisis questioning why he does what he does just for you to stare at him silently through it all. It’s a clever way to poke fun at villains in video games and silent protagonists at the same time, and none of this ever really gets in the way of the actual gameplay very much.
The real draw of 10 Second Ninja X are the levels themselves. The game includes sixty new levels, all divided into six sets of ten. On top of this, after you beat the main game, forty levels from the original 10 Second Ninja open up for you to challenge. Each world effortlessly introduces a new gameplay mechanic that completely changes the flow of the game, but in the best way possible. For example, switches that can lower or raise platforms are eventually added. This new element not only allows access to robots for you to destroy but can also launch you upwards through a level. 10 Second Ninja X nails the idea of introducing a new gameplay element and then expanding upon it as the game progresses. Eventually, you’ll encounter levels that mix in many of these mechanics together, fitting together lasers, switches, and falling icebergs seamlessly.
As for the actual design of the levels, the developers over at Four Circle Interactive got it right once again. The only tools that you’ll ever actually use in the game are your sword three shurikens, and your double jump, but the developers found a way to put these tools to use in a wide variety of ways throughout the many levels of the game. The concept of 10 Second Ninja X may seem simple enough in theory, but in practice requires careful planning, expert dexterity, and a willingness to fail many times. 10 Second Ninja X is a game that rewards all these skills and still manages to be remarkably fair. Every level feels expertly handcrafted, and this trait is quite possibly the biggest thing that the game has going for it.
Poor controls could ruin a game like 10 Second Ninja X, but that is thankfully not an issue here. I could never blame the game if I failed to make a particular jump or missed a shuriken throw. The game was simply performing my actions just as I imputed them, and it was me who just had to try again and get better. 10 Second Ninja X reminds me of one of my favorite games from last year, OllieOllie 2, in that it is punishing but fair.
10 Second Ninja X also implements a similar mechanic found in OllieOllie 2 and other puzzle platformers like Super Meat Boy, and that is the quick restart button. With just a simple press of either bumper on a controller, your ninja is instantly reset at the start of that specific level, along with the timer and all the obstacles. There, you can survey your surroundings and come up with a new plan to get through the level, or immediately push forward and try again. Either way, the absence of a loading screen between tries helps to ensure that the flow of the game is not broken up and is another reminder that your failures are not being punished. Failure is a necessity in order to complete the level and earn as many stars as possible.
Speaking of stars, upon completing each level in the game, you are awarded somewhere between one and three stars depending on how quickly you beat it. Thankfully, whenever you complete a level, it tells you exactly how much quicker you need to be to get the next star. For example, if you got two stars, the game might tell you that you were only 0.31 seconds away from getting the full three stars on that level. This little addition is helpful in that it allows you to decide if you are happy with your time and want to settle with the amount of stars you got, or if you want to try for more. There were many times where I replayed a level I had already beaten because I knew how close I was to winning more stars, and there were other times when I was so far away from the next tier that I just settled with what I had and moved on to the next level. Either way, the transparency was very much appreciated and helped me make more informed decisions.
One problem with the game’s progression is that it relies far too heavily on the star system. Earning at least two stars in every level is enough to plow through the entire game. Therefore, most of the drive to strive for three stars on any level has to come from you, because the game simply doesn’t reward you for it like it probably should. For me, the satisfaction of earning three stars was enough to keep me going, but if you require more tangible awards from a game in order for you to invest yourself into it, then this might be a substantial turn off for you. There are leaderboards for each level that rank you based off of how fast you completed it, but this is still not enough to get you to want to play a stage more times than you have to.
While the above point may be slightly disappointing, it does manage to make the game much more accessible to a larger audience. You don’t need to be a die-hard fan of a game like Super Meat Boy to enjoy 10 Second Ninja X. The game’s excellent platforming and level design are enough to satisfy any gamer. You don’t need to commit an inordinate amount of hours to getting good at the game, either. Its systems are smart, yet simple to understand. On top of this, if you do get stuck on a level, there is a way to win tokens that uncover tips for any level you choose. When you decide to unlock a tip for a level, a little ghost ninja runs around the level showing you the most efficient way of completing it, which is a smart addition to the game.
Another thing to note about 10 Second Ninja X is that it is not a very long game. The game doesn’t have a way of showing how long you’ve been playing, but if I had to guess, I’d say it took me somewhere between five to eight hours to do everything the game has to offer. This can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. The game can work in bite-sized pieces, perfect for possibly dropping in, completing one world, and then jumping back out. However, with only six new worlds being added in 10 Second Ninja X, this means that you’ll be done with the game relatively soon. This is mostly disappointing because I legitimately wanted more of the game after I was finished with it. The experience was delightful but short lived. After completing all the levels, finding all the collectibles around the ship, and then proceeding to beat all of the levels included from the original 10 Second Ninja, the game still left me wanting more. It seems that the developers tried to remedy this feeling with achievements/trophies urging you to earn three stars in all 100 levels, but unless you are a die-hard completionist, I doubt you’re going to want to do that.
10 Second Ninja X excels in a surprising amount of areas. Its level design is superb, it controls perfectly, and there are a plethora of game mechanics that work on many different levels. Combine this with intelligent and funny writing, pleasant visuals, and solid sound design, and you’ve got yourself a heck of a game. Although the experience may be short lived and it might not be the most inventive game in the genre, this doesn’t take away from the fact that while it lasts, 10 Second Ninja X hooks you in. The game is an absolute joy to play through, and I would recommend it to just about anyone.
10 Second Ninja X is a game with so many pros and so little cons, I don't see any reason to not pick it up and give it a try. It may not look like much at first glance, but dig a little deeper and you'll realize that this game is quite the gem.