Physics Games and Physics-Based Game Downloads

Nimble Ninjas Face Ferocious Foes

Monday, July 27th, 2009 by Matthew in Physics Games
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (Rate this game! 82 votes, average: 4.16 out of 5)

Rubber Ninjas is the 3D follow-up to Matteo Guarnieri’s excellent Ragdoll Masters. Ragdoll Masters is over 3 years old, now, and Rubber Ninjas does a great job of taking the simple ragdoll fighting system into a 3D space. It adds some graphical polish without sacrificing the elegance that made the first game so good.

The Third Dimension

The most obvious feature addition to Ragdoll Ninjas is that the fighting space is now 3D. From the player’s point of view its “3Dness” isn’t very important, though. Controls are always handled perpendicular to the camera–you can’t move in and out, just on the camera’s plane–and the camera will auto-rotate to position the nearest opponent on the same plane as your movement.

For control purposes, then, the gameplay is still essentially 2D. This can become confusing when the camera orbits quickly, though. Much of the gameplay strategy is maintaining angular momentum; an effective strategy is windmilling as much as possible. Because your “left” and “right” are relative to the camera, you need to compensate for camera orbits by alternating your input as the camera moves to the backside of your character to keep your windmill going.

Simplifying true 3D is a tricky problem to solve. Despite a few quirks, I think Matteo actually did a great job full 3D movement with a simplified 2D input system. I’m not sure offhand what I would do differently if I were to attempt the same!

Influencing, Not Controlling

The addition of full 3D movement means your ragdoll fighter spin in directions you cannot directly counteract. For instance, if you’re spinning towards the camera, you can’t immediately stop that spin (because you can’t directly move towards or away from the camera). The best you can do is begin a spin on the camera plane and hope the momentum transfers into your new direction before too long.

Because of this, playing Ragdoll Ninjas is something of a once-removed experience. You feel like you can merely influence your fighter. It’s very difficult to see an opening in your opponent and say to yourself, “Now! Kick his head! Kick it!“. Instead, you can influence your spin and try to get a good flail in his general direction. It’s quite different than some of the precision possible in a game like, say, Toribash.

The interesting side effect of this is the learning curve of Rubber Ninjas is somewhat obscured. I know I’m getting better at the game–the first few levels in each campaign are quite easy now–but I couldn’t tell you exactly what I’m doing different. The game is very much about tendencies. You learn to somehow have a tendency to keep your head away from their flailing limbs, while increasing the regularity of your flailing limbs being near their weak spots.

Rubber Ninjas Screenshot Screenshot of a Physics Game
(Rubber Ninjas Game Screenshots)

Cinematic Goodness

The camera in Rubber Ninjas takes a lot of liberties in presenting the action from all sorts of different angles. Time is regularly slowed–or stopped for big hits–and it seems like the camera is constantly orbiting and tracking new opponents. This can be disorienting at first, but I think it’s actually a net positive. I’ve had some great Matrix-style camera orbits just as I manage to kick an opponent’s head off.

The result of all of this camerawork, and the game’s indirect controls, is that the player forms a very fluid relationship with their avatar. This is one of those games where a chance good encounter, like kicking off that head, makes you feel like you were somehow responsible for a perfect blow.

On the flipside, random hits that work against you never quite seem like your fault. It’s easy to say “Ugh, why did you just do that, rubber ninja man?!”, yet take the credit in the 1st-person when you do well.

If you’re looking for somewhat random ragdoll fighting action in glorious 3D, I believe your search stops here. Give Ragdoll Ninjas a look:

Download Rubber Ninjas Demo (19 MB, also available for Mac)

The full version costs $19.95 USD, and is available directly from Matteo’s site.

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5 Responses to 'Nimble Ninjas Face Ferocious Foes'

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  1. Nikica said,

    on July 28th, 2009 at 1:03 am

    You are back, finally! Awesome review, the price is somewhat big to me and the demo is short but the gameplay is superb. Oh and a correction at the end you say “Give Ragdoll Ninjas a look:” it’s Rubber not Ragdoll. :D

  2. DarkJee said,

    on July 28th, 2009 at 6:00 am

    Hey I bought it its really addictive and its cool that you can easily make custom weapons and ragdolls!

    Good to see you started back to work on your site!

  3. Armydillo said,

    on July 28th, 2009 at 7:22 am

    I nearly cried. I thought you had given up on us. Thank you Matt. I knew-no-WE knew you you wouldn’t give up on your loyal fans. I’ve been here since the beggining. This is my FAVORITe SITE. Every day I visit here.. I can’t thank you enough for making another review. By the way, I love the game. XD

  4. Qjet said,

    on July 30th, 2009 at 8:35 am

    god knows why I kept you on my reading list. soooo inactive. gonna stick around for a bit?

  5. Xeroxax said,

    on July 31st, 2009 at 11:09 am

    I used to check here everyday, i thought u died or u gave up or something :P But one day i redownloaded Rumble Fighter and came here and saw an update! Thanks Mat!

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