Do you want to hear some interesting facts about rabbits? Of course, you do. Rabbit babies, just like cat babies, are called "kittens", and it's possible for the average bunny to have over 800 descendants during their lifetime including children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Rabbits can be trained to use litter boxes, just like cats can, and they've been known to make a distinct fluttering noise with their teeth that isn't a million miles away from a cat's purr. Some rabbits are trained to use katanas, and when their carrot hoard is threatened they'll take up arms and utilize their expert ninja training to defend their treasure trove from whichever unlucky soul has decided to tussle with them.
Of course, one of these facts isn't true: everybody knows rabbit babies are called rabblets. The ninja training one is definitely real if the latest game from Brazilian developer Pocket Trap is as reliable a source of factual information as I desperately want to hope it is. Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a cross between an auto-runner and a side-scrolling beat-'em-up. Just like an auto-runner, its stages and characters are constantly moving, so players can't turn back or face the left-hand side of the screen. The general mechanics and combat are more reminiscent of Streets of Rage or Golden Axe, although Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a far more high-octane affair than those relatively sedate games.
Marrying these two genres makes perfect sense in theory. Both beat-'em-ups and endless runners can feel a little repetitive at times, so combining the catharsis of beat-'em-up combat with the constant movement of a side-scrolling auto-runner makes for a good way to alleviate this repetition. Of course, Ninjin: Clash of Carrots needs to succeed on far more than a theoretical basis, so it's a joy to report that this marriage looks like a long and happy one. Here is a game that understands its primary purpose perfectly. It's fun, it stays fun for its entire running time (no pun intended), and it never feels like a chore to play.
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots boasts a "unique and immersive storyline" on its Steam page, but this is a (possibly self-effacing) exaggeration of sorts. Although the story of Ninjin concerns a shogun stealing a hoard of carrots from a group of ninja rabbits, the way it actually plays out is fairly standard. All the characters fall neatly into archetypal roles and fulfill them admirably over the course of the game. That said, Ninjin does boast some genuinely sharp writing that made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. The danger was there for this project to fall into Guacamelee-style cringeworthy meme humor, but Ninjin sidesteps this by understanding that comedy shouldn't just be referential but funny in and of itself.
Ninjin's writing could have been penned by a pantheon of comedy greats, but all the jokes in the world won't save it if the gameplay isn't up to scratch. Thankfully, Ninjin delivers on this front in spades. The game splits into stages, each of which takes around 2-3 minutes to complete on average. Stages consist of waves of enemies barreling towards the player, each of which has its own specific set of strengths and weaknesses. There are two attacks available to the player: a close-range melee attack and a thrown projectile. The melee attack is usually more damaging, but the projectile is safer. This leads to a core gameplay loop where players are constantly weighing up whether it's safe to draw in close and pummel the enemy or whether it's best to stay at a distance and whittle down HP bars in relative comfort.
That's the theory of it, anyway. Ninjin: Clash of Carrots has no intention of allowing players to remain calm for long. Early enemies are fairly forgiving and don't deal too much damage if the player falls afoul of them, but later enemy types require both quick thinking and quick reflexes. Luckily, Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a very good teacher, relying on organic gameplay and allowing players to make mistakes so that they don't make the same ones later. One particular enemy gave me a hard time for a huge chunk of the campaign. I eventually discovered a specific way to massively lower its damage output. Any level with that enemy became significantly easier afterward.
The enemy variety on offer is massive, so learning and remembering the patterns for each one could easily be a chore. The developers of Ninjin: Clash of Carrots, address this problem head-on with a range of wildly diverse and well-designed enemy sprites. The visuals are simple and colorful, and each enemy has a feature which immediately distinguishes it from its fellows, whether that be distinctive armor, an immediately identifiable weapon or some other signifier. Such skilled design is a boon when the action threatens to become too chaotic, as it often does. Stages descend into random button-mashing brawls a little too easily, and it's not difficult to become completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemies, projectiles, and power-ups thrown at you at any given time.
Despite this occasional overabundance of sheer stuff on screen, Ninjin never comes close to becoming boring or frustrating thanks to its deeply satisfying and surprisingly strategic combat. Melee attacks pack a meaty punch, and there's a pleasing variety of weapon types on offer that changes up the combat in small but identifiable ways. For example, knives have a short range but an incredibly fast speed, so they're perfect for quick assassinations. Larger weapons are best for groups of enemies because of their bigger range and higher single-attack damage. It's easy to switch weapons between stages, so you can tailor your approach individually depending on what the stage calls for. Combine this with customizable badges that alter your stats in meaningful ways and Ninjin: Clash of Carrots actually offers a staggering amount of different loadouts and builds in its equipment system.
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots isn't for the faint of heart. Every level is relentless, fast-paced, and unforgiving. Health recovery is only possible through good play in what is simultaneously a stroke of design brilliance and one of the game's most notable flaws. Taking no damage during a wave will recover health, as will reaching a high combo score by continuously attacking enemies. Sometimes, the sheer number of enemies on screen makes avoiding damage nigh-on impossible, so a slightly more lenient health recovery system might have been nice. Nevertheless, it's hard to argue that Ninjin doesn't want its players to improve their skills, and recovering health during stages is a very nice way to encourage this.
All in all, Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is an unexpected delight. Each stage is a hardcore, no-holds-barred brawl that expertly balances the weighty catharsis of its combat with the high level of difficulty and variety the game's enemies provide. It's not a long game, probably providing around 6 hours of content on the first playthrough. However, it strongly encourages replay thanks to a generous scoring system that gently nudges players forward. You could say that it's more carrot than stick (hem hem). If you have any interest in difficult action games, enjoyable combat, or ninja rabbits, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. It's an absolute gem.
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is an absolute joy to play. With a sharp sense of humor, surprisingly deep gameplay, and a wealth of content to enjoy, this is one giant leap for bunnykind.
- Cathartic, Satisfying Combat
- Deep Customisation
- Strong, Witty Writing
- Great Game Design
- Occasionally Too Chaotic