One of my favorite games of all time is Castle Crashers. The satisfaction of beating the snot out of goons with over-the-top weapons and magic, and then using the experience and gold earned from that to upgrade your character and to buy even more over-the-top weapons to more effectively beat the snot out of goons is an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop. Match that with a unique art style and a ton of charm and character, and you’ve got a recipe for success. For the longest time, I’ve been looking for a game that scratches that itch in the same way that Castle Crashers did, and I think I’ve finally found it with Ninjin: Clash of Carrots.
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a 2-D beat’em up developed by Pocket Trap. Set in a Feudal Japan-inspired world inhabited by sentient animals and strange creatures, the story starts off in a peaceful farming village, which is promptly attacked by Moe Jr., son of Shogun Moe. The village’s entire supply of carrots is stolen, and it’s up to you to track down those who stole what is yours.
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots plays similarly to your average beat ’em up, with a few twists. You have the choice to play as either Ninjin, the bunny, or (my personal choice) Akai, the fox. Character choice has no effect on gameplay beside a visual change, and you can change the character you are playing as when you select a save slot. You fight against large waves of enemies using melee weapons and ranged weapons. Health does not regenerate in combat (we’ll cover that further down), and death means you have to restart the entire level. This is where most of the similarities to regular beat ’em ups end. Whereas most beat ’em ups have you fighting on a static screen, in Ninjin you are constantly moving, in the vein of a classic shoot’em up. As a result of the fact that you are constantly running, you cannot attack behind yourself, which is important to know, because enemies will come at you from both sides of the screen, and they are fast on their feet. To even the odds, you do have a dash ability, which not only lets you dodge attacks and projectiles, but also lets you dodge through enemies, which will then allow you to attack them from the back. You also have a dash stab that lets you dodge and attack through enemies simultaneously. You can spam this dodge to an extent, but to counteract this, you are given a stamina bar. Stamina is used up when you attack, dash, or use projectiles, and if you completely deplete the bar, you are limited to basic movement, so keep an eye on your stamina.
There is also a score meter of sorts which resets between waves. This isn’t just something to care about for high scores, as it also determines if you’ll regain health between waves. Getting combos grants you health after a wave, with higher combos giving greater amounts of health. Not taking any damage during a wave will also grant you additional health after a wave, so it pays to be constantly on the offensive, as not attacking for a period of time will reset your combo. Taking damage will also reset your combo, so it’s a balancing act of offense and defense. There is also a grading system for levels, with the highest badge being S, giving you incentive to go back and reach higher grades on levels you might not have.
Character customization is fairly deep, with nearly every aspect of your character able to be altered. Weapons are divided into several different types, with attack speed and weapon behavior decided by type. Standard weapons have medium attack speed and attack in a side-to-side slashing motion, knives have a fast flurry of stabs, spears have a long-range thrust, and heavy weapons have a slow, vertical slash. Weapons also have damage, reach, critical chance, and elemental effect attributes, with these deciding your weapon’s damage, the range at which your weapon can hit an enemy, the chance for a critical hit, and whether your weapon has an elemental ability, respectively. Weapons can have any combination of the above stats and attributes, making it easy to find a weapon that suits you, or a particular level. One problem I had with this system is that the game doesn’t do a great job of telling you what an element does, besides the occasional hint on loading screens. While I was able to find out what the effects of electricity and fire were, I was hard-pressed to understand what wind did. I would recommend testing this out for yourself, in order to find what element you like best.
Ranged weapons also come in different types. Some can pierce through enemies, hit enemies on the way back, bounce off enemies, be fired like a machine gun, thrown on the ground like caltrops, thrown in a spread, explode, or any combination of these. If that isn’t good enough, weapons and projectiles come in a ton of crazy designs, with some being subtle (or not so subtle) nods to other games. My current favorite weapon/projectile setup is a two-pronged knife imbued with electricity that lets me obliterate groups in seconds, and a cactus boomerang that pierces enemies and loops around to hit them again, and also increases in damage with each additional enemy it hits.
An additional layer of customization comes in the form of artifacts, objects you can buy from the store or randomly get from chests throughout levels, which give various types of buffs. Some give pretty basic buffs, such as increasing the size of your health or stamina bar, or allowing you to pick-up carrots (the in-game currency) from greater distances. Some are a little more advanced, with one granting you one point of health for every three enemies defeated, and another granting additional frames of invincibility after you take damages.
You can also change the appearance of your character through accessories, which come in the form of various types of head wear, ranging from ninja headbands to an anime-styled kawaii version of your face (think sparkles around the face and huge eyes). All forms of customization can be bought at the store, or can be randomly found in chests which will randomly drop from enemies during levels.
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots has several different ways to play through the game. There’s single player, co-op, and Oni TV. Local co-op is exactly what it sounds: sit on your couch and play locally with your friend. Oni TV pits you against endless waves of enemies, without any of the upgrades you’ve gained in story mode. Every three waves you are given a choice of three different pieces of equipment, and every 10 waves you are gifted with an exclusive piece of equipment for use in single player. This mode is great if you’re stuck in the single player and are trying to get some gear that might help turn the tide, or if you’re just looking for a real challenge after finishing story mode.
Where I think Ninjin: Clash of Carrots really shines is in its art style, and just how all around charming it is. The art style is pixel art with a hint of anime sprinkled in, and the characters–even the basic cannon-fodder enemies–are charming and full of personality. The levels take place in a variety of interesting locations, from forests to snow-laden canyons. My personal favorite character is probably Corgi Jr., the games shop keep, who makes me smile every time I see him.
Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is an incredibly fun beat’em up that strays just far enough from basic formula to separate itself from the pack, while still staying true enough to not alienate fans of old school games. Single player, co-op, Oni Tv, as well as tons of upgrades for every aspect of your character, makes for tons of replayability as you change up your weapon, projectile, and artifact combinations to perfectly match your preferred playstyle so that you can achieve that elusive S ranking.