by McJorneil, HSM guest contributor
Peakvox Ninja is awesome, and I’m here to tell you why.
Back in April, a mysterious lounge unexpectedly slipped into North America’s region, where those who knew about it got a chance to check it out and earn a few keepsakes in the process. Three floating sign boards were stationed in the main sitting area, overlooking a large arena surrounded by city buildings under a moonlit sky. One sign was marked “Single Player”, and the others “Team Deathmatch”. You could see the various stats of other users, such as their wins/losses floating above their heads, and even observe others moving around in the game itself. Knowing what a deathmatch would probably entail, I decided to first try out the single-player target practice to learn the controls and get a feel for the game.
Little did I know what awaited me once I stepped through the portal.
The first thing I was impressed by were the visuals. From the very moment you enter the game, your avatar is garbed in blue or red ninja attire that corresponds to your gender. The environment has a distinct fantasy vibe in its design that is clearly Japanese. You feel it all around as you progress forward, and that’s where you discover something even cooler. You can run. And I don’t mean the slow-paced jog you’re restricted to in Home — when you hold the square button, your avatar literally dashes forward with leaves flying behind in your wake. That’s not your only ability, though.
You can jump. Twice.
Yes, that’s right: in Peakvox Ninja you can perform double jumps to navigate the environment and evade attacks, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s also a dodge roll activated by tapping the square button. The amount of freedom they give you in movement is quite simply amazing. There’s nothing else like it in Home. Let’s not get too wrapped up in awe, though. Remember, there are other enemy ninja lurking about!
Your ninja comes equipped with three basic weapons: a crossbow, shuriken, and bombs. The crossbow can be shot rapidly but deals small amounts of damage, depending where you hit your target. It will chew through ammo quickly, forcing you to reload often. Shuriken are your most powerful tool, as one hit to a shinobi’s head means instant death. They are fairly big and launched from a gauntlet, but at a much slower rate than the crossbow. Bombs can be thrown at an arc and bounce off walls, but they take a few moments to explode, making them fairly easy to avoid — and, conversely, punishing if they hit. Each weapon is assigned to a button on the controller’s d-pad, allowing you to easily switch between them whenever you want. There are even more weapons that can be found while playing, including swords that deflect projectiles and allow for some awesome melee action if shooting isn’t your style.
You may notice a radar at the bottom right of your screen that shows you if any enemies are nearby. How effective it is depends on the difficulty setting you’re playing under. On Easy Mode the radar lets you know where people are, no matter how far away they might be. On Medium, its range is more limited and targets will disappear if they’re stealthy enough. On Hard, the radar is completely removed from your screen (and I think your health is lower but can’t say for sure). Personally, I always thought it was odd and unnecessary for a radar to be in the game. After all, it’s tough for a ninja to remain hidden if his/her presence can be known so easily. Still, it pays to play on Hard Mode, as you’ll be rewarded with the most experience points for doing so.
The game map is large and allows for combat in all sorts of places, including rooftops and underwater. There are three buildings, one on each end of the map with the third at the center. Narrow, wooden walkways connect them all together. Nestled between the buildings are unenclosed areas decorated with large rocks and trees, and yes, you can jump on them. As far as I’m aware, I’m the only person I’ve ever seen actually use the trees as a means for evading and launching attacks, but that’s because the footing is tricky and you’re not really meant to climb them. Perhaps I’m a monkey.
You start at one end of the map. Where to go from there is entirely up to you. Discovery aside, I’ll tell you what you’ll want to look for. Located throughout the space are hidden scrolls. They appear randomly in specific locations. Collecting them rewards you EXP, but by obtaining three, you gain access to another ninja skill: power of the elements. When you first enter the game, you’re given a set number of seconds to pick between three different elemental affinities: fire, water, and lighting. Each of them has an advantage and disadvantage to each other in a basic rock/paper/scissors format.
By obtaining three hidden scrolls and filling a bar, you have the option to activate your element which can devastate your enemies if they get too close (the exception being water, which is used to heal allies and only hurts fire users). These elemental super moves last a small amount of time, so you’ll want to wait for the right moment or else they’ll go to waste. Scrolls don’t stack, so you’ll have to find three more to refill your bar. Any extras you find simply give EXP and prevent others from using them. Should you be defeated in battle, you’ll have the option to choose a different element when you respawn. There’s one more ability you have and that is rewarding other players on your team or the opposing team Admiration Points at the end of a match. I have no clue what they do or if they’re actually used for anything. I just think this is one of the greatest ideas ever conceived, because it encourages friendliness and it’s almost like gifting people or telling them “good game”.
Believe me when I say this game is full of competition, skill, and trickery. Most of the time you will see people engaged in a battle of who can jump and shoot the best. Having played with and against the top players, I’ve discovered there is a surprising depth of strategy and techniques involved that go beyond just jumping and shooting. One time my opponent forced me into activating my lightning shield, fooling me into chasing him into a corner — only to realize he planned it, waiting for my shield to dissolve so he could annihilate me with his own. That’s just one example of trickery that can be used, and as embarrassing a failure it was on my part to fall for it, I must admit it was pretty cool to see that happen in a game about ninjas. Don’t think for a second just because someone’s level is lower than yours you will defeat them. Deception rules the battlefield. If only I could count how many times I’ve suffered a headshot at the hands of a “noob,” leaving me in a realm of ubernoobness and “Oh my god, are you serious?” disbelief.
Speaking of levels, Peakvox offers some truly awesome rewards, and those aren’t just limited to items. Initially, when you play the game your avatar will always appear wearing the standard ninja attire. As you level up, whatever your avatar is wearing outside of the game will begin to appear inside the game. By the time you are level 20 your entire wardrobe will display in-game, so you’ll be free to dress however you like without being limited to one outfit. Along the way you will unlock other very nice ninja uniforms and weapons that can be worn by your avy. There is also an in-game currency system. Depending how well you do, you will earn points that can be exchanged for prizes like clothing and even rent power weapons, such as a sword and bazooka.
With so much awesomeness at your hands, it probably seems like Peakvox is giving away the game. This is not the case. You see, they have actually created a VERY clever method for generating revenue and keeping people coming back to play. When you enter the Peakvox Ninja lounge, you will notice a red bar to the right of your screen. This bar represents your stamina, which is very important. As you play, your stamina bar will deplete during each round. Once it falls to zero or below, your avatar/ninja becomes exhausted and unable to run, double jump, or roll. As you might guess, this makes you a very easy target for players with healthy stamina.
Should you choose to keep playing, the EXP you can earn is reduced and it will cause your stamina bar to increasingly go negative (-59 being as far as it will go). Sometimes it can be a fun handicap. For every minute you don’t spend playing, 1 point of your stamina bar returns. Typically, four rounds will be enough to empty the bar fully. At -59, it would take two hours and forty minutes to completely refill. This, combined with playing on Easy Mode or Medium, means people will be spending quite a while trying to level up. Even when playing on the hardest difficulty setting, it can take days. Their method for creating longevity is pretty effective.
So then, what to do if you don’t like waiting? Step right up into the store and purchase some stamina refill scrolls! Other types of scrolls are available as well, coming in different colors and sets. For a price of around two or three dollars, you can buy either a set of five or ten scrolls that will refill your stamina bar. They can even be used to refill the stamina of other players and friends. That’s not all you can buy though. They offer various power weapons, ninja armor, and other things to enhance gameplay, along with several value bundles.
The power weapons they sell include a very deadly sniper rifle, elemental shuriken, as well as a variety of hard-hitting umbrellas and giant fan blades for melee combat. There are two types of ninja armor for both genders which offer extra defense in-game, one of which can be worn in combination with clothing items that grant special ninja abilities when you play. They have shoes that allow you to run on walls and run on water, a snorkel that lets you run underwater, and capes that allow you to float in the air. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on the joy of being able to run on walls. It is so cool and it’s great for when you need a quick getaway. Anyone who’s equipped with all of the upgrades is going to be a very difficult opponent to take down.
Is it pay-to-win? Absolutely not.
When I started playing against people with upgrades, it took some getting used to. The ninja armor does a good job at reducing damage, meaning you’ll have to work harder and hit your target more times before they finally go down. Don’t even get me started on how annoying it can be when they escape on a wall run or running underwater. Snipers are especially troublesome because of their high damage. Are you at a disadvantage without upgrades? Yes. But the tools to victory are there, and if you work together with your team, the chance of success increases.
Remember, there’s a reason the water element is used for healing. It encourages teamwork and it can save lives when they’re in trouble. Only three health barrels spawn in the game, and sometimes it’s better to let your opponent hit you first, just so you can recover and give them one less resource to use against you. The lightning element serves as a defensive shield that will protect you from everything except fire, which is used for all out offense. Collecting scrolls means enemies can’t use them, but it’s also a good idea to let your allies grab them if they’re around. You don’t have to be a great shooter or a pro at headshots to win, which is another reason why the elemental super moves are a downright cool and smart game mechanic.
Now having said all that, I can tell you there are plenty of users in Home with an interest in shinobi, samurai, anime, and fantasy who will be happy to pay for the upgrades. For evidence of this, all one would have to do is simply visit Granzella’s Edo of Nippon public space and look at the various outfits people wear there. Peakvox Ninja is the perfect game for that audience. The fact that a lot of the upgrades can be worn by your avatar outside of the game creates extra incentive to buy them. I think their business model is freaking brilliant, because they’ve struck a fine balance in providing consumers a variety of choices in consumables, temporary upgrades, and permanent upgrades at affordable prices fitting within that “sweet spot.” All of that, while providing a truly unique third person shooter experience found nowhere else in Home.
Peakvox Ninja is a solid game with great gameplay features and fantastic rewards. I can pretty much guarantee people will be playing it long after they have obtained the rewards it has to offer, thanks to its fun and competitive nature. The only thing I can think of that would make this game even more awesome is if they offered more maps and a mode (perhaps in a personal space) where you could fight AI ninja and bosses, with an option to do it alone or with friends. An outfit that makes you undetectable to radar would also be pretty nice.
Is Peakvox Ninja Home’s “it” game?
I believe so. I can’t wait for it to release officially in North America. When it does I shall see you all on the battlefield — but you may not see me.