Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle Review

By Shawn Collier on December 15, 2016

While there’s a fair bit of shovelware on the Nintendo eShop, there’s some hidden gems in the rough that don’t have that triple-AAA branding but still are worth looking into if the notable games out there don’t catch your fancy. Case in point, Aksys Games’ Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle is one such title.

It might look like an action-focused title from the graphics, but the primary gameplay elements in this title are puzzle-based. There’s villagers you need to rescue in the stages, protected by demons which you need to take down. After doing so, you need to guide the villagers to the exit. Of course, there’s various enemies and obstacles in your way both getting to them and to the exit, so it’s not a cakewalk either way.

This game is a sequel to a prior title on the Nintendo eShop, which had a kite, grappling hook and kunai as item choices to use. The sequel adds a rope item that allows Usagimaru to cross gaps that block his path, as well as a pinwheel that acts as a checkpoint. This in particular is useful, as some of the later levels in the game were quite lengthy and when you die the game has a handy “retry” option front and center right there for you at arms length, assuming you placed this item prior.

While most of the levels are generally well designed, there are a select handful that feel obtuse in nature and exceptionally unfair to the player. This is added to by the fact that the difficulty curve doesn’t scale gradually like you expect, instead almost moving randomly as some later sections are exceptionally easy while earlier sections are much more difficult.

One thing I did like is that for those who make it to the end, there’s a special mode that opens up where you play through levels that get rid of the villager saving mechanic — instead tuned solely to Usagimaru’s abilities. This made me think in ways the main game didn’t, and I would really like to see a future game in the series expand upon this.

Final Thoughts

While it has its rough edges, it’s not so mysterious to see why people would be interested in this sequel. It involves getting used to the mechanics and the uneven difficulty curve, but once you invest the time there’s a worthwhile smaller portable experience to be had here to play in short bursts.

Ninja Usagimaru: The Mysterious Karakuri Castle was reviewed using a digital copy provided by Aksys Games. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
The handy retry option when you die is a nice feature.
Outside of a select handful of levels, most of the levels are designed well.
Once you unlock the special mode in the post-game, the challenges there really flesh out the game nicely.
When you run into the handful of badly designed levels, they become a real chore to play through.
The difficulty curve doesn't scale in the way most players would expect.
Would really like to see a game entirely made out of the post-game's mode.
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