words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Cave for Xbox 360, originally released in 2011.
Ask a Cave fan to ponder the nature of the studio’s games, and you’ll actually get to watch his eyes glaze over as his head fills with images of a single ship (or girl) going up against screens full of enemies, weaving delicate paths through hails of bullets, and dashing toward shiny pickups. That’s because Cave is famous for making highly technical bullet hell shmups that reward players for understanding and mastering the mechanics to gain the greatest rewards and highest scores.

Well, Nin2-Jump (pronounced “Nin Nin Jump”) is definitely not a bullet hell shooter, but it does task players with harnessing its unique brand of insanity in order to achieve the highest ranks. In this case, speed is the primary goal, as you set out to complete levels in the least amount of time possible in order to achieve the best rankings, and to grab bragging rights on the leaderboards. But you won’t get anywhere until you’ve fully absorbed the mechanics.

The game’s beginning is deceptively simple. Run from one end of a room to the other, and reach the exit door. Unless you’ve managed to fall asleep, you should be able to complete this challenge in less than 3 seconds. Level 1 complete! What’s next?

Well, each new level you encounter adds a new facet of gameplay, or adds one new challenge to overcome. So, while the first level can be beaten in under 3 seconds without breaking a sweat, each successive level becomes a bit more difficult, and whittling your time down means understanding the moves at your disposal and using them at the right moments.

Still, these are challenge-style stages, so each of them is meant to be beaten in a matter of seconds, not minutes. While some of the levels are certainly challenging on their own, you’ll blow through the game’s 50 levels very quickly if you’re just trying to make it to the end. The ultimate goal is to return to each of the previous levels to better your completion time, both for the end-of-level ranking, and to see how you fare against other players. The level timer counts out to the millisecond, so shaving off even the tiniest amount of time could mean all the difference to your standing on the leaderboards.

Early on, you’ll be exposed to the grappling hook, which lets you grab onto walls, ceilings, and floating anchors and zip quickly toward them. This lets you move rapidly around the levels and access any point in the environment, but you have to be careful not to pull yourself into a row of spikes or accidentally charge face-first into an enemy. You can only sustain 3 hits per level before your poor little stick puppet is amusingly torn apart, with blood spraying onto the theater screen.

You’ll be tasked with collecting all of the scrolls in the level before the exit will appear, but they have a secondary ability as well, which allows you to charge up an attack meter. Once the meter is filled, the player can activate it and destroy any enemies that he comes in contact with (instead of taking damage). The effect doesn’t last long, so you’ll need to use it wisely and/or keep grabbing scrolls to sustain it.

As new abilities are learned, you’ll be putting them to use straight away, and the best way to learn how to utilize your new skills is by trying them out in the field. While this does require some trial and error, the short levels and low penalty for restarting mean that you’re not punished for experimentation.

Every 10 levels, you’ll face off against a huge ninja boss, and per old-school 2D platforming standards, these are pattern-based affairs that have you avoiding attacks (some of which are trademark Cave bullet sprays) while you attempt to learn the boss’ patterns and exploit its weak point.

One thing that’s sure to catch the player’s attention is the interesting and humorous way in which the game is presented. The whole thing plays out like a shadow puppet theater with wildly overblown dialogue. The main character, named Nin-Ja (yes, that’s his name), appears in silhouette with a stick connected to him to suggest that his movements are being manipulated from backstage. Enemies, too, have sticks of their own. Nin-Ja and his enemies don’t even have any animations, unless you count them bopping along as they move, or flipping to face the opposite direction.

A silhouetted audience watches the events unfold from the theater seats in the foreground, as if they were seeing the action projected onto the back of the screen. They will scream and cheer based on the action taking place before them.

Cave is a Japan-based developer known primarily for its shmups, which tend to appeal to hardcore audiences who appreciate the highly technical nature of the mechanics and scoring systems. The company develops arcade titles, and has ported many of them to the Xbox 360, including Guwange, EspGaluda II (via region free import for players outside of Japan), and DeathSmiles.