Some games taut challenges that let people find their own solutions to situations. You’ll be faced with a certain set of circumstances, given some important abilities and tools and allowed to find your own way through. Which is great. It encourages creativity, after all. But, there’s something to be said for a more conventional series of games, like the Ninja Usagimaru line, which give you a puzzle with one right answer.
Ninja Usagimaru is a series of puzzle games from Arc System Works. Players follow a rabbit-man ninja, known as Usagimaru, who finds himself constantly saving villagers from unfortunate situations. Who keeps abducting these villagers, tying them up and scattering them across levels? Wouldn’t Usagimaru and his fellow leporid folk be better served by him directly confronting the bosses behind such kidnappings, rather than performing cleanup duty by saving the 60-odd villagers in Ninja Usagimaru: The Gem of Blessings and Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle? Probably, but don’t let us tell him how to do his job.
Rather, it’s left to us to help him do his job to the best of our abilities. At its heart, both Ninja Usagimaru games are block-based puzzlers. There may be an occasional enemy to face, but the main goal is to push pieces around the stage in such a way that you reach points A, B, C, and often even D and E in the exact right way to perform a proper rescue, then guide the innocent person back to a goal. There is one right way to do it. You can’t cut corners. The procedure must be flawlessly executed, sometimes even with exact timing, to save the day. Do it wrong, and you may never reach the innocent victim. Even worse, do it almost right and you’ll reach the person you have to save, but not be able to get them to safety.
It’s a satisfying experience to know you’ve done such a thing right. The more you play a Ninja Usagimaru game, the better you become at recognizing familiar setups. Usagimaru can push, pull, lift and throw blocks. He can make one block high leaps. He can throw kunai to aid him in his endeavors. He can even jump and crawl through small areas. You become familiar with his abilities, across both games, and learn how to properly proceed through each puzzle.
This becomes a comfort. As freeing as open-ended puzzle games can be, more formulaic games like Ninja Usagimaru installments present us with stages where there is always a right answer. We go in knowing we can complete this area within twenty minutes. Once we stumble upon the right steps, we can recognize patterns from previous challenges and pick up on solutions.
Ninja Usagimaru games force you to think inside the box. Both Ninja Usagimaru: The Gem of Blessings and Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle require you to do things in a certain order. You can’t dilly dally. There’s no experimentation. You do it right or not at all. While that may seem harsh and restrictive, it forces you to think a certain way, learn specific strategies and become masters of certain techniques. By the time your time is done and each games’ six realms are complete, you’ll be a ninja master and perhaps a better player.