Atomic Ninjas review for PS Vita

Platform: PlayStation Vita
Publisher: Grip Digital
Developer: Grip Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

Every time I thought about reviewing Atomic Ninjas, I felt like I was planning out some sort of decision-making flowchart. I mean, I liked the game and all, but at the same time, I’d be lying if I suggested that affection wasn’t without some serious qualifiers.

First and foremost, you have to love Smash Bros (or PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, if you’re a dedicated Sony diehard). This is key. Atomic Ninjas is an online brawler that borrows liberally from that particular source material, so if you’re not already fond of those games, you won’t like this one, either. Further, as a corollary point, you can’t love it for the characters, because Atomic Ninjas has nothing in the way of beloved video game icons beating the crap out of each other. Your choice here is limited to ninja, and your console picks what color you are.

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Secondly, you can’t enjoy Smash Bros or PSABR for the single-player, offline action. Atomic Ninjas is basically online multiplayer only. There’s nothing that even remotely resembles a halfhearted stab at story, so if you want that, you’re out of luck. Technically there are two offline modes, but they basically amount to a tutorial, followed by a practice mode against bots whose difficulty settings are unbelievably difficult. I mean, I’m sure some people may like playing games in which hyper-aggressive enemies kill you over and over again, but, after experiencing that in Atomic Ninjas’ offline matches, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Still with me? Good. Now be ready to lower your standards a little. While Atomic Ninjas is by no means a broken game, several aspects of it could definitely be described as idiosyncratic. Take the camera, for instance: it’s always zoomed in on your ninja. This means that it’s impossible to tell a) where you are in relation to your opponents and b) when you’re about to jump into some sort of environmental hazard. Similarly, the matchmaking system doesn’t always work, at least on the Vita; I lost track of the number of times I’d choose a room, only to find out that it didn’t actually exist. And lastly, the controls feel a little uninspired. While having a limited number of attacks may make it easier to quickly figure out what you’re doing, there are only so many times you can kick or throw things at your opponent before it starts to feel a little repetitive.

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Now, having said all that, I can say this: when everything comes together, Atomic Ninjas works relatively well. When you find yourself in the middle of a proper four-way game (that is to say, when you have four actual players, and not one opponent and a pair of bots), this game can be really, really fun. I was giggling with glee as I hurled boxes at opponents that sent them flying into fiery walls and electrical perimeters, and I had a blast jumping from platform to platform, avoiding opponents as we played capture the flag.

Of course, the same — that Atomic Ninjas is a lot of fun when everything works the way it’s supposed to — could be said for pretty much any game ever, which means that this is hardly the most glowing recommendation imaginable. But, really, that’s the point: Atomic Ninjas is fun, but not the sort of game that deserves an unqualified rave.

Grade: B-