10 Second Ninja’s hook is making success feel a lot like failure. Each of its stages places a number of static robots on platforms and tasks your diminutive ninja with destroying them within ten seconds – and should you need further encouragement, they’re Nazi robots. Finish a level within the time limit and the physical barrier to progression is removed, but not the psychological one. The game taunts you with those missing stars, and by telling you how little you need to shave off your best time to obtain one of them. So you repeat the process until you’ve discovered the optimal route, and then set about trimming away those last few hundredths of a second. At which point the three-star times raise the bar still higher.
Each new world introduces a new type of environmental hazard alongside the traditional spiked pits. Collapsing floors and falling icicles can be used to destroy enemies, too, while the fourth world’s portals allow for more elaborate stage designs, though simplicity is always the watchword. These are all self-contained puzzles where the answer presents itself much more quickly than the successful execution of it: you have three shuriken and a ninja sword to slice up every robot, which helps determine your path through a level.
Though the stage design is carefully plotted to the last pixel, there’s little room for deviation – and none for the ultimate three-star prize. As such, it’s a case of brute-forcing the solution over dozens of repeated attempts, a process that feels less engaging here than in some of its peers. The titular ninja is nimble and responsive, but the controls aren’t quite best-in-class standard, lacking the wonderful precision of, say, Super Meat Boy, while art is flat and characterless and interstitial story scenes are more indulgent than amusing. In short, the rewards are rarely commensurate with the effort: you’ll feel a strong compulsion to keep playing once you’ve started, but returning for another bout of punishment is surprisingly easy to resist.