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.
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:
The full version costs $19.95 USD, and is available directly from Matteo’s site.
- Rubber Ninjas Gameplay Teaser
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- Frustration Generator: Sprinky Physics Game
- Interview: Peter Stock, Armadillo Run