words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Colourfy Games for PC and Xbox 360, originally released in 2007.
The ninja has been a cornerstone of video gaming since the early days of the industry. What better basis for a game than a masked character trained in the martial arts, swordsmanship, stealth, and the art of deception? These characteristics lend themselves to straightforward action games, 1-on-1 fighters, stealth-based games, and many more. As such, the variety in ninja-based games is tremendous, ranging from the likes of the shuriken tossing Shinobi, high flying Legend of Kage, magic using Ninja Spirit, grapple swinging Ninja Five-O, stealth killing Tenchu, and too many others to count. (ed note: screenshots below are a mix of the PC and Xbox 360 versions.)

Ninjah errs on the side of simplicity, at least in terms of presentation and the moves available to the player. The world is made of simple colored blocks, with the lead character being little more than a stick figure, and his only abilities being run, jump, shoot, and grapple. But the colored blocks offer their own gameplay and dangers, and the basic moves available to the player are stretched to their absolute limit throughout 50 challenging levels.

The first 10 levels make up the tutorial, with each stage representing one new mechanic. Just as in Bangai-O Spirits, it may seem odd at first to have so many levels devoted to teaching you the game’s mechanics, especially when they seem relatively simple at first glance. But you’ll need all the training you can get if you hope to make it through the game.

First you simply learn to run and jump, but even that has some depth, as the gameplay is very much inertia-based, and there’s a long run-up period to get up to full speed. This means that the player needs to be very precise in his timing when running and jumping, lest he overshoot platforms or miss targets altogether.

Soon you’ll be using your ninja rope, which is core to gameplay in Ninjah, as most levels require deft use of your grappling ability to traverse the level and make it to the goal. In fact, you are sometimes placed in situations where you are not able to use your jump or movement abilities at all, and must rely on nothing other than your grappling skills.

To grapple, you aim with the right stick and launch the rope with the left trigger. The levels are single-screen, and the rope can extend to any point in the environment. The rope extends very quickly, but it is not instantaneous, so players still need to consider how long it will take the tip of the rope to reach its destination. This isn’t much of an issue in early levels, but later levels require pinpoint grappling precision.

Grappling is also inertia based, and you’ll pick up speed as you are pulled toward the grapple point. Of course, you can also let off early, allowing your speed to carry you forward or send yourself sailing through the air. From that point, you can re-launch the grapple and continue swinging. This sort of grapple-and-release technique is helpful in areas that have black grates which prevent your rope from passing through.

In addition to these tools, the player also has a projectile-based weapon. But rather than using it to fight off enemies, you instead use it like a makeshift jetpack, allowing you to slow your descent, hover, build up speed, or even rise up slowly, working similarly to the weapon in Cave Story.

Most levels have colored checkerboards, platforms, walls, and grates. By touching a colored checkerboard, your ninja will change to that color, which is also indicated by the border along the bottom of the screen as well as the color of your grapple rope. By changing colors, you are free to touch the walls and platforms of the corresponding color, and you can pass freely through same-colored grates. Touch any other color – besides white – and you die instantly.

Surviving most levels is a matter of using precise control to use your run, jump, grapple, and projectile mechanics to safely navigate the environments while avoiding surfaces of opposing colors. On top of this, each level has an indicator in the corner corresponding with your movement, grapple, and projectile abilities. On any given level, some of these abilities may be eliminated, leaving you to navigate with your remaining skills. Some levels also have dots that must be collected in order to open the exit, and these are often placed in tough-to-reach areas that require advanced use of your abilities.

Levels can be replayed for the best times, although simply surviving some of them is challenge enough. You can also see a ghost of your best run so you can compare your current performance and shave off some time. You are free to select levels or reset your progress in any level at will.

It's also worth noting that the levels aren't necessarily in order by their difficulty level. Certainly, the overall experience does become more challenging as you play, but you will occasionally run into an extremely difficult or extremely easy challenge in the midst of the others. Some temporary relief is available if you manage to find yourself unable to complete a level, however. From the level select screen, you can move up to 3 levels ahead of your current progress. This allows you to skip a difficult level, but it also means that you'll only be able to move 2 levels forward until you come back and beat the one you skipped.

From a presentation point, there is very little to the game beyond its base mechanics. There is no story, nor are there any additional objectives other than surviving to the end of the level, and making it to the goal as quickly as possible. You will either master the mechanics and fight your way through the challenges, or you will fail and die. Most levels are fairly abstract in nature and meant to highlight a particular challenge, although a few are themed to look like more realistic environments. About the only major gripe is that some levels feature multiple shades of the same color, and it can be a bit difficult to tell if you have changed into the correct color, which can lead to your demise.

Otherwise, this is a strictly mechanics-based game that relies on knowledge of the tools at your disposal, understanding of how these tools can be used in conjunction, the reflexes and coordination to execute them, and a bit of a mind toward puzzle solving in order to navigate some of the more dastardly layouts.

Ninjah was developed by Chris Mingay as a downloadable PC game in 2007 using the BlitzMax programming language. In 2011, he recreated the game in XNA and ported it to the Xbox Live Indie Games channel under the Colourfy Games label.

Prior to that, Chris created a pogo stick-based platformer called Pogo Fred, available as a downloadable for PC and Linux.