Fans of animé have a new stopping point on the web if they’d like to live vicariously through their favorite characters from Bleach and Naruto with the newly minted browser-based free-to-play MMO, Pockie Ninja. Originally named Pocket Ninja and renamed recently to Pockie Ninja, developed by Ngames, Ltd. and published underthe Game321 brand. The game has all the hallmarks of insertion from both animés. After all, it is subtitled: “A showdown between Naruto and Bleach!”
The game has a lot going for it for fans of the two animés/mangas and the art direction really shows through. This game will possibly be compelling primarily to younger fans, people who have time to burn on these sorts of games, but not a more sophisticated audience.
It’s likely that Pockie Ninja will aim their entire marketing scheme towards these younger fans and continue to develop out with them in mind.
Gameplay: Ready… Set… Fight! (Now sit back and watch.)
The game presents itself as a series of locations across a world map, starting with your origin village, that permit you to wander the world, explore areas, and fight duels. In fact, the entire game boils down to an auto-duel system where you watch your character fight another character in an animé-ninja style mano-e-mano duel in a 2D fighter screen. Everything about the game either directly supports these fights, directs you to these fights, or otherwise references or uses these types of fights.
In a duel, you will have no control of your character. You are a mere spectator on the sidelines of the battle—so prepare them well.
The decisions you get to make involve outfitting and training your character for the battle. With your winnings you can purchase equipment and outfits that will change your characters attributes, how hard they hit, how much of a pummeling they can take, and the usual array of character stats.
Next, you get to choose what skills your character will use in a fight. You start out with about 8 skill slots that you can fill up and a limited amount of skills; as you level, you will quickly have more skills than you have slots. A certain amount of strategy needs to take place at this point because some skills synergize with others. For example, some skills put status-effects on opponents that can be “triggered” by other skills to turn into bigger status effects; such as Liquor that makes your opponent drunk, but it also causes another skill that involves fire to set the opponent on fire. Note also, an opponent who is on fire who is then struck by a water skill like tsunami will have their burning status effect extinguished.
Like an animé duel and a video game duel, both characters will have a health bar and a chakra bar. Health is self-explanatory—you run out of health, your opponent KOs you and the fight is lost. Chakra, on the other hand, is akin to chi-force used for ninja jutsus or magic spells—you run out of chakra and you won’t be able to continue to use jutsus and be stuck with your weapon strikes. Fans of Naruto should be familiar with the concept of ninja jutsus (including the various hand signs that trigger them) and you’ll find that skills you can acquire are used in both Naruto and Bleach.
Of course, what fighting game would work without pets? They exist in the game as essentially another type of equipment (and you do equip them.) They also learn skills, can aid you in battle, and would be part of any powerful Pockie Ninja player’s arsenal. You must take care of them (feed them in an odd interface) in order to level them and help them learn more skills. Pet skills are largely complimentary to ninja skills.
Since you’re not actively involved in duels—watching fights can actually get somewhat tedious and boring.
At first, they’re a lot of fun—especially every time you learn a new skill and try to determine how to put it together with other skills—but they quickly lose their luster because every fight goes pretty much the same. In fact, at some point you’ll start treating them a lot like TV commercials: you’ll start a fight, wander off to get a drink, and then come back after it completes. The game designers actually foresaw this behavior and designed a system to get around it (see below in the free-to-play section.)
There is also a questing system that winds you through the world of Pockie Ninja. While doing quests, you will be introduced to new areas, challenges, things to do, and especially celebrity characters from both Naruto and Bleach. In fact, you may end up having to fight such celebrities!
Oh yes, during the game I got my cute little chibi butt handed to me by Naruto himself who hit me with some extremely powerful wind jutsu.
Graphics: Animé, animé, and more animé…
As a browser-based game, Pockie Ninja earns a lot of its appeal from the artwork. The art design is actually pretty good and its persists across three different ranges: location design, character design, and special effects.
You’ll recognize a lot of the locations from both Naruto and Bleach. In fact, the Fire Village looks pretty similar to Naruto’s Hidden Leaf Village—right down to the faces of the five Hokages carved into the cliffs. The environmental design and art direction are pretty good and there’s very little jarring art style changes between areas. You’ll see architectures from many Eastern cultures across the various villages, and they look a lot like what you’d expect from the genre. Especially noting that most of the locations come directly from the animés represented in the game.
Character design for NPCs is largely a chibi style with some standard animé designs that you see in dialogs when speaking to village representatives or NPCs in the field. In fact, if you’ve watched and Naruto or Bleach, you’ll recognize a lot of the NPCs that you come across and they’ll give you missions that match up with the given universes. For example, if you go to the Demon City, you can find Kisuke Urahara who tells you Orihime has been kidnapped by Hollows and is deep within Las Noches… If you don’t watch Bleach, that will make no sense to you; but if you do, you’re probably grinning like a maniac at the chance to rescue Orihime from the Hollows. This is the primary draw of Pockie Ninja—it’s an extension to the narrative and artwork of the animé and manga for both of these storylines.
In duels, the characters are all chibi styled—small bodies, big heads—who duke it out one-on-one, throwing punches, bombs, unleashing jutsus, and generally pounding the hell out of each other. It’s both cute and violent at the same time in true cartoon fashion.
Special effects only come into play during duels. They’re actually pretty good, barring the fact that there is no sound in the game yet, the effects of jutsus is actually enjoyable to watch. When a character triggers a jutsu or skill, an effect comes into play, there’s electricity, stars, leaping, explosions, and many other cartoon effects—some of which come right out of the animation styles of the two animés—and I found myself smirking at them when I saw things that I recognized.
Sound: What do you mean, sound?
This game is currently in open beta so this might be a bug, but I’ve tried running the game in Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer, but fights have no sound at all. The only sounds that you’ll hear during your entire game will be two songs that pay at almost random-seeming times during your stay.
The two songs you’ll hear in the game are both melodic and peaceful ensembles that seems to involve an oriental style and often don’t match up with what’s going on. It’s not uncommon for a calming, peaceful tune to be playing during an all-out brawl that you’re losing or winning.
Perhaps Pockie Ninja will be fixing this and/or adding actual sound effects in the future.
Free-to-Play: Freemium as making the game go by faster
Many components of this game run on the freemium concept. Most equipment in the game can be bought with stones—which are the primary money type in game—but the paid credits come in the fashion of gold and coupons. Coupons are earned by playing the game and take the place of gold; whereas gold can only be bought via the exchange program.
As the game stands, you can buy gold nuggets from the currency exchange network for $1 for a nugget and one gold nugget goes for 20 gold in game.
Gold in game is used in a multitude of places. One place is that gold can be paid in order to increase the number of things you can do in more lucrative parts of the game. For example, both exploration and duels in the arena (necessary for building up equipment and rankings) have a limited number of tries a day or in a certain time period. Spending gold on these can refresh your tries.
Also, as I mentioned above, the game designers realized that fights—especially the same fight over and over—are inherently boring. Even Pockie Ninja has collection quests, or fight X number enemies quests. As a result, they added a feature that allows you to fight multiple enemies, called a “chain fight.” Where instead of watching the fights, you just get a ticking clock as fights happen in the background. You can pay gold to get these fights out of the way instantly.
Conclusion: Good graphics, a lack of sound, and deep integration with animé is what Pockie Ninja has to offer
This is a game for fans.
If you like Naruto or Bleach you’ll probably be interesting in seeing this game and there’s quite a community already built up. The graphics are good and you’ll be seeing characters that you know well and get a chance to interact with them. This is the benefit of any game that trades on the narrative and intellectual property of any extremely popular TV show or animé. If you’re a more sophisticated MMO player, you’ll find that the marketing and gameplay is directed towards a much simpler, younger audience and it’s geared towards getting people to buy gold so that they can quickly advance through the more boring areas of the game and level themselves so that they can see more.
On the plus side, the game is free-to-play and gives a lot of incentives for you to come back when you’ve been away for a while. It has excellent graphics, and it’s a fair casual way to burn some time after work. It’s not a serious game and it doesn’t take itself very seriously.
You can play this game in virtually any browser on the market (as I said, I got it to run in Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer just fine.)
Come because you’re a fan of Bleach and Naruto; and, if you’re so inclined, stay for the community. Also, the chance to have your own chibi ninja to show off to your friends.