Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle - 3DS Review

Ninja Usagimaru: The Karakuri Castle is a cute little 2D puzzle platformer for the 3DS. For those unaware, karakuri means “trick’, or “mechanism”, often used to refer to karakuri puppets, which were made using gears and mechanisms in order to perform gestures that would entertain people. The basic premise of Ninja Usagimaru is that you are a ninja returning to your village of apparent bunny people, when the local deity informs you that the villagers have all been kidnapped by various mythological Japanese creatures. Now it is up to you to go rescue them, with a little assistance from the aforementioned rabbit god.

Ninja Usagimaru is a very interesting platformer, combining animated chibi sprites with Okami-style visuals and elaborate background settings. Each new area you visit is a colorful and scenic landscape, where you must aid your fellow villagers. So how do you go about aiding the villagers then? Well, simple: you lead them to the rabbit-stone waymarker. Easy, right? Sometimes, yes, other times, very much no. Puzzles in Ninja Usagimaru are incredibly dependent on two things: whether or not you can grasp a solution, and how weird, er, ‘unique’ your solution is. There was one stage that took me about six minutes, where the average solution time for a stage is about two. My route to the finish line involved precision timed jumps at perfect heights, and a plan like you’d see in a bank heist. My buddy, on the other hand, took a look at it and said “couldn’t you just push that one block?”. I haven’t talked to him since. And yes, I could’ve just pushed that one block.

Basically, in order to complete the stages, you need to lift, push, and throw blocks around, in order to push switches, defeat monsters, or make paths to the villagers/exits/platforms. At your disposal you have a kunai, a grappling hook, a kite, and a pinwheel. The kunai allows you to break cracked blocks, allowing you through certain passages, or blocking off escape routes, but does very little against any living opposition. The grappling hook lets you snag blocks from afar, as long as they’re of a certain type, and brings them closer to you and over gaps. The kite lets you ride up air currents, and the pinwheel acts as a sort of unlimited use checkpoint system; you can drop it anywhere and restart from that point, but you can only have one down at a time.

The actual puzzles range from really simple to downright infuriating and don’t seem to have a difficulty progression through areas, but rather individual difficulty progressions through each area, as the first five or six stages are usually simple, and then solving the puzzles is like opening a rusted pickle jar without breaking something. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you aren’t that great at puzzle solving, you’ll probably lose your hair pretty fast. Ninja Usagimaru requires some precision jumping as well, so your platforming skills will be put to the test.

Overall, it’s a nice little game to pick up and play while you’re waiting for something, or in transit somewhere, like during a bus ride or your daily commute, but can get incredibly frustrating if you don’t have the patience for it. Surprisingly enough, the worst part of the game isn’t the schizophrenic difficulty or the rather lacking story, but the “escorting” you have to do. The villagers are kinda dumb, and they get scared really easily. It’s also a pain if you have to escort them somewhere, but need them to stay behind because a monster is in your way, because they’ll just walk right into them sometimes. The game feels like one of those hidden gems for puzzle fans, but likely wouldn’t cut it for those looking for a little more action involvement. Remember that ninjas aren’t only sharp with weaponry, but with their minds as well.

Game Information

Nintendo 3DS
Arc System Works
Aksys Games
Single Player
Other Platform(s):

Provided by Publisher

Article by Richard