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Women in Tech

Clumsy Ninja May Tug Your Heartstrings

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 25, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Clumsy Ninja May Tug Your Heartstrings

Clumsy Ninja by NaturalMotion is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases available in the iTunes App Store.

clumsy ninja

NaturalMotion first wowed Apple fans at last year's September Apple event with a tantalizing demo of a new game, Clumsy Ninja, which was teased to hit iOS sometime during the 2012 holiday season. Santa came and went, and no little kids played Clumsy Ninja.

And then boom, Apple reveals Clumsy Ninja as an Editor's Choice app in the iTunes App Store with, get this, a video trailer to help show off and promote what the app can do. As near as I can tell, this is the first time Apple has included any videos with app descriptions in the App Store.

It definitely gives you a sense of what the game is like -- without making you scout around on the Internet to find some sort of video-based review or posted trailer.

Meanwhile, Clumsy Ninja. The title is fantastic -- a beautiful oxymoron -- but what is the game about? Why all the hoopla?

Natural Motion Through a 'Euphoria' Engine

The premise of Clumsy Ninja is simple: Your character is a cartoonish ninja guy who is incredibly clumsy and needs training. Why? The ninja girl he loves is missing, and he wants to find her. Nice. You've got a worthwhile mission for the game. That's a good start.

As you start interacting with your clumsy ninja, you can tap and hold to grab his hand and lead him around. Do it too fast or hard, and he'll fall down. In short order, you'll find yourself flipping and throwing and dragging your ninja around -- generally abusing the poor little good-natured young guy. This is surprisingly fun.

What makes Clumsy Ninja fun? The sheer interactivity of the ninja in a seemingly real, live manner.

To make it all work, NaturalMotion uses its Euphoria motion engine to create a real-time simulation of the body and central nervous system so that your clumsy ninja behaves in realistic and surprising ways each time you do something in a particular environment. He seems alive and self-aware (and occasionally contorted in impossible ways).

It's all cool and quite possibly magical. Someone at NaturalMotion may have completed a nefarious deal with some evil entity in order to get this working on our iPads. You'll appreciate their dedication.

Clumsy Ninja Training

To play the game, an old-man sensei character helps guide you and your ninja in his training. You start with simple things like shaking his hand, getting him to learn to jump on a trampoline and bust out ninja moves, as well as throw punches and kicks at rice punching bags and wooden crates.

You can even tickle the guy until he runs away and hides. Or you can tie helium balloons on this hands and feet to lift him into the air.

Along the way, you earn coins and gems, which you use to buy or repair training materials like bigger trampolines or better punching bags. You have to gain experience and earn new belts and such.

The actual training and manipulation of your clumsy ninja is great fun.

The store, the gems, the coins... not fun. It's tedious at best and certainly annoying. It seemed as if I was continually "collecting" coins by tapping buttons on one of the screens -- and it's not obvious why this action is actually necessary to game play. I suspect it's part of a gamer training process that gets the gamer psychologically used to tapping and "spending" all these virtual coins and gems on training materials so that it will grease the wheels into in-app purchases for bags, sacks, and chests of gems and coins to make your training faster and easier.

In addition, you run into things like broken training materials. Early on, you can buy the ability to fix the items immediately, but I'm guessing that somewhere along your Clumsy Ninj journey, you're not going to want to wait 10 minutes to fix something, and you won't want to spend a gob of virtual coins to fix it... so you'll buy a chest of coins through an in-app purchase to get on with it.

There are 99 levels or so, it seems, and I'm just a fraction into it so far. I have no idea how long it might take to find the girl and complete the training without shelling out for coins and gems -- though it certainly seems possible with enough patience.

Still, the in-app purchase model that works a bunch of arbitrary game-play angles to get you spend real-life money? I don't like it one bit. Is it effective? Hell yes. Still sad, though.

Above Board

At least NaturalMotion has done a good job of alerting potential customers that even though Clumsy Ninja is free to play, it does contain items that can be purchased for real money. I appreciate that.

There are add-ons that make sense, though. For example, you can buy a "Holiday Box" for US$2.99 that lets your ninja play on an ice rink. Once you see the NaturalMotion Euphoria engine in action, you'll easily imagine how an ice rink could be good fun.

All-in-all, if you're a parent and want to let your kids have some really joyful Clumsy Ninja fun, you might want to turn off in-app purchases. And if you review Clumsy Ninja on the App Store, rate it 4 stars and let NaturalMotion know you'd rather just pay $5 for the game and forget the stupid store metaphors. Wouldn't you rather earn access to a new and better, bigger trampoline by successfully training your clumsy ninja to handle it?

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com.

Women in Tech
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Twitter, by fueling antagonisms.
Facebook, by spreading fake news.