1-bit Ninja Review

Kode80 weave some pixelated magic into this new, but old, platform hopper…

Regular readers of this site will no doubt know of my fondness for all things retro. Particularly with platformers of late. Both Mos Speedrun and League of Evil tickled my gaming itch for such simple delights, and now 1-bit Ninja does the same… and perhaps even better.

There are two reasons for this; one is that it stays loyal to the basic and best parts of classic platformers, like Super Mario Bros.; and the second is that despite its retro looks it employs modern gameplay mechanics to keep it up-to-date and fresh.

The premise is usual platforming fare; run to the end of the level, all the while avoiding enemies and collecting coins, and repeat. You control you Ninja by tapping the run button on the left screen, and jumping via the right side. There is no left movement, and while this may come as a shock to most (including myself initially) after playing it you’ll realise that it not only makes controls easier and a good fit for the touchscreen, but that it also adds to the challenge of the levels. Instead of just breezing through each level, you’ll need to think and memorise the best path, because if you blink you’ll miss it.

The unique element that gives it a modern spin though is the fact that, while on the face of it the game seems two dimensional (2D), it does in-fact play on a 3D plane (or 2.5D). To see the game in three dimensions you tap or drag the top half of the screen to momentarily drag the camera view. From there you can see exactly where obstacles are placed in relation to your Ninja. What seemed like an un-passable object in 2D view is in fact not where you thought it was when viewed in 3D. This allows Kode80 to add a puzzle element to the levels, particularly in the area of bonus coin placement. Sure, you can speedrun through levels, but the fun and the challenge is in trying to collect all the bonus coins, and this system works perfectly.

Let’s not beat around the bush here, 1-bit Ninja doesn’t shy away from the outright cloning of the Mario series; in particular Super Mario Bros. on the NES and Super Mario Land on the Gameboy (of which I have been playing a lot of lately on the 3DS’s virtual console). From the level structures and layouts, the types of enemies, head bouncing, and even the end of level pole jump, you almost need to do a double take to check that this wasn’t made by Nintendo. While I’m not a fan of plagiarism in gaming (though I understand there are only so many themes you can play with) I don’t feel that 1-Bit Ninja is doing it for the wrong reasons, instead this seems more like a homage to the platforming greats, a love letter if you will from an indie developer.

1-bit Ninja looks the part and sounds the part. Heck, if the iPhone had smell-o-vision I think 1-bit Ninja would even smell retro too (slightly musty with sweet overtones). It’s the best example of a retro platformer on iOS yet…and I’m hooked!



1-Bit Ninja is out now on iPhone for $1.99. Get it on the 1-bit Ninja - kode80 LLC
While only for iPhone and iPod Touch, it plays and looks equally as good in 2x mode on an iPad and iPad 2.

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  • OnTheEdgeAustin

    This looks sweet! Insta-buy!

  • lukwtwz

    “….while on the face of it the game seems two dimensional (2D), it does in-fact play on a 3D plane (or 2.5D).”

    The reverse is actually true: While on the face it (provided that one has already engaged the 3D camera so as to reveal a 3D (or 2.5D) representation of sorts)– the game might seem 3-dimensional (3D), it does in fact effectively play on a 2D plane, since all points that are capable of being passed through by the player during any possible run all lie on the same 2D plane. The 3D camera is just a camera, and as such is useful only for information which in many cases can be either deduced or intuited. I agree with your review overall, however.

  • lukwtwz

    Or to put it another way, there’s only one possible z coordinate for any point that can be occupied by the character; the player could never miss a coin or other item while apparently passing right through it.

  • Luke

    Do you have to blow into the usb port to make it work?

  • Nigel Wood

    @luketwz: LOL I think you are splitting hairs there a bit. I see your point if I was talking about the character still only moving in a 2D plane, but as I was describing the gameplay as a whole, which includes the camera and your ability to look at the level in three dimensions then I’ll stick with what I wrote :)

  • Jonathan

    All of the levels are so similar, the controls are messy and you never actually need to use the gimmick of drag-for-alt paths unless you’re a completist.

    Not that great.

  • lukwtwz


    It’s still a 2D plane for the reason I gave, regardless of how one uses the camera. In fact, most levels are designed to be completed without using the 3D camera at all; only a few contain secrets or ‘bits’ that in analogous comparison to a 2D Mario game would require what would seem to most players like excessive trial and error to locate. In any case, at least you did not go on to imply an ability to switch planes, unlike some other reviewers comparing 1-bit Ninja to Paper Mario.

  • legendinc

    This is great fun..