Avatar Trials: Ninja Uprising (80 MSP) spurred some internal debate. On the one hand (my right, the less dominant and more forgiving), I know that the game was made and released by undergraduate students from the University of Utah. It’s their first project as a team. On the other hand (my left, the brash, the lout, therefore the one in charge), I had to remind myself that none of that matters. Feelings aside, rookie outing or not, everything has to come back to the gameplay.
Starring your avatar, the game is entirely about parkour, freerunning a series of platforms and jumps, in time-trial format, strung together by small annoyances. Mirror’s Edge is a quoted inspiration. It’s a good choice to look up to (and a game I definitely enjoyed), primarily because the movement, your movement, always felt solid and sure-footed, despite the fact that it was first-person and you never really saw your character. Your avatar is always visible in Avatar Trials (and I do have to give credit to the mostly-great camera work), though the controls are never as solid or fluid. As is, they merely suffice, while still managing to feel loose and unreliable when you need them the most (i.e., matters of life and death, i.e., when a flawless run is the only way you pass).
Those times are typically the bulk of the game’s three levels. The ‘Beginner’ stage eases you into heartbreak, employing ‘catch basins’ at the bottom of all the major jumps, preventing you from losing your place. Strangely, you can wall-run through most of the level, skipping the tutorial bits. The ‘Ninja’ stage is a more advanced run, adding the risk of death (and restart; there are no checkpoints), while the ‘Impossible’ level is just that, nigh impossible, at least from the viewpoint of sanity. Every time you panic or your avatar misses its mark even slightly (small platforms are not conducive to the character’s quick speed), the inevitable tumble resets your progress. Part of the allure is the sense of accomplishment after a tough run, I get it, though you should never feel like you’re fighting the controls for, well, control.
There are other quirks, graphically and within the environment. The landscape can be uneven, with sometimes very generous, very transparent edges on the ground, and platform edge inconsistencies (I found myself invisibly ‘attached’ to platforms a few times). Add to this floating fires, being able to grip certain ledges but not climb them or otherwise move around, and one very mean-spirited dragon mascot.
Each failure and restart is followed up with odd motivational quips / put-downs like ‘You smell worse than burnt rabbit hair.’, and ‘You’re a catastrophic success.’ My personal hygiene is one thing, certainly subjective, but how should I even respond to something like that last one? Are you saying that I’m so successful that I ruin the possibility for anyone else to be successful? …Thanks?
Underhanded compliments notwithstanding, it’s the ubiquitous sticking points and subsequent restarts that will stretch the patience of any would-be avatar ninja. Avatar Trials: Ninja Uprising looks and plays like a student project, bottom line. Adequate, yes, but it’s missing the necessary polish and airtight controls a platformer like this demands. I can see and appreciate the effort, though that shouldn’t shield it from criticism, especially when money exchanges hands. Everything’s a learning experience, guys, so take some friendly advice: Never create or release something that isn’t all it can be. Refine, refine, refine.