IFDB page: Ninja
Final placement: 36th place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition
You know, for all the newsgroup fuss and furor that Paul Allen Panks has created over the years with his obsessive marketing and subsequent defenses thereof, I’ve never actually played one of his games. I’ve been wishing for years that somebody would review Westfront PC for SPAG, but so far, no takers. Of course, what I’ve gleaned about that game is that it contains hundreds of fairly samey rooms and a bunch of randomized combat, so I can’t say I’m terribly surprised not to have received a review. Heck, the SPAG standards say that reviewers must finish a game before reviewing it, so maybe somebody started in on it the first time I made the request (in 2000) and still hasn’t gotten through it yet.
At any rate, Ninja v1.30 is Panks’s first comp game, so I was interested to see how well he presented himself. The answer: not very well. It’s bad. Really bad. For one thing, it is so primitive as to lack almost any IF conveniences. There’s no “X” command, no “L” command, and no “I” command. It goes without saying that there’s no SCRIPT or UNDO or anything handy like that. Despite the fact that it contains only four rooms and one puzzle (which is so heavily clued it can hardly be called a puzzle at all), to detail all its failings would be a pretty mammoth undertaking. So let me just pick a few choice ones:
- The sudden-death endings, which frequently hit out of nowhere. Note that these are particularly annoying in an environment without UNDO.
- The utterly arbitrary restrictions. For instance, this:
You are within the shinto shrine. The room is lit by only the light from a nearby window. All else is darkness. You may 'exit shrine' to the south, or head west out the window.
Your path is blocked. Try 'exit shrine' instead.
- The maximum score, different every time the game ends. (Well, I guess the second number in the score might not be the maximum, but if so it’s left completely unexplained.)
- Terrible writing. For a game that probably has less than 300 words, it’s amazingly well-populated with comma splices, redundancy, and awkward phrasing.
- Bugginess. For instance, at one point the game started printing “>20” after every command, inexplicably.
Okay, enough of that. It’s just really not good at all. But there is a way to enjoy it, at least for me. See, I like to think that there exists a tiny sliver of possibility that Panks is actually just a satirist with a very, very, very dry wit. I mean, really — if IF were a Christopher Guest movie, Panks would just have to be a character. It’s almost as if he’s playing a character all the time in his postings, and this game works perfectly as reductio ad absurdum interactive fiction. Look at it as a parody, as perfectly straight-faced and utterly ridiculous all at once, and it may provide a moment’s entertainment. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’d give it a high score in the comp or anything.