Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: FK Digital/Arc System Works
Bizarrely, the more I play Ninja Usagimaru: Two Tails of Adventure, the more I’m reminded of The Witness. Yes, as in Jonathan Blow’s puzzle game from last year, the one that I loathed (though I’ll hasten to add that others were more charitably inclined towards it).
On the surface, this may seem like an insane comparison. After all, The Witness was a high profile console game, whereas Ninja Usagimaru: Two Tails of Adventure is actually a compilation of two Ninja Usagimaru games that came out on 3DS over the last few years, The Gem of Blessings and The Mysterious Karakuri Castle. What’s more, from a visual perspective, the two games couldn’t be more different. The Witness was pretty stunning to look at, whereas Two Tails of Adventure’s 3DS roots are plainly obvious. I can’t say I remember The Witness’ music (or if it even had any, for that matter), but I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t the same few notes playing over and over on a loop. There’s certainly no world to explore in Two Tails of Adventure, as each level consists of a single-screen, and they all play out pretty much the same: you solve a puzzle, you rescue a villager, you escort her to the end of the level. Repeat several dozen times, and you’re done.
So why, then, with all these differences, am I tempted to lump the two games together?
It’s because they, different though they may be in every other respect, they have a similar approaches to puzzles. Like The Witness, Two Tails of Adventure is firmly committed to the notion that there can be only one way to solve a puzzle. Don’t approach things precisely as the creator intended, and you have no hope of reaching a solution.
In fact, Two Tails of Adventure may adhere to this approach even more rigidly than The Witness, for the simple reason that at least The Witness didn’t shut you down the moment you took a wrong step. In Two Tails of Adventure, there’s zero tolerance for failure, and zero leeway given to experimentation. If you mess up a puzzle, you basically need to quit the level and restart right away (assuming you haven’t been killed off by a monster or an environmental hazard), because there’s little chance for do-overs; if you don’t play out each level just as the creators want you to, in exactly the right order, then you have no chance for success.
Having said all that, as frustrating as Ninja Usagimaru: Two Tails of Adventure can be, I don’t detest this game anywhere near as much as The Witness, for the simple reason that there’s not nearly as much here to detest. It never aspires to be anything more than a simple puzzle game that you can play on the go, albeit one that will make you want to throw your handheld of choice out a bus window. I can’t say it appeals to me, but if you’re after a brain-twister that’s easy to pick up and put down, then I could see it kind of doing the trick.