Chooseco, $6.99, ISBN 1-933390-16-6
It’s time to bust out all the Japanese clichés in existence in Secret of the Ninja, which is a PG-rated vicarious trip to Japan, where everything from time travel to meeting legendary mythical folklore creatures is possible. It’s all a PG-rated affair because there are several bad endings here where you can meet your end at the sharp edge of a samurai sword.
You play a female character here, judging from the illustrations, an American teenage girl who moves to Kyoto to master aikido full time. Your friend Nada at the start of the campaign tells you about how she may be plagued by an ancient curse. You see, ever since she receives a mysterious samurai sword in the mail, she’s been plagued by mysterious happenings, like lightning that strikes a little too close to be mere coincidence. She doesn’t have any answers to these happenings, she just knows that her ninja sixth sense is warning her that an evil presence is about. Yes, you will learn that Nada is actually a ninja, and she knows stuff like, er, ninja magic and even time travel. She needs your help in discovering the origin of the curse in order to break it. Do you want to go back in time with her to seek answers, or would you prefer to do your sleuthing in the present?
Yes, it’s a choice being “boring” and “exciting”, and frankly, it’s obvious from the start which option will lead to far more interesting choices. However, these options only serve to carry you through a series of short and often abruptly ended story arcs. Despite the presence of a number of interesting Japanese folklore details here, the adventure paths all tend to end abruptly. On the bright side, the narrative is clean, and there are a number of options here that actually require you to pause and think instead of just choosing the obviously right option. However, there are also options that require you to make a random choice, heh.
It’s also rather puzzling how passive Nada is when it comes to making a decision here. This may make sense considering the format of the gamebook, since you, not Nada, is the one who do all the picking and choosing. But Nada is the ninja here, while you are the novice. Perhaps it will be more believable if you play the ninja here and Nada just happens to be at the receiving end of a mysterious curse, but perhaps the folks behind this gamebook believe that American kids will relate to an American kid who just happens to stumble into things instead of a true-blue Japanese ninja.
All things considered, Secret of the Ninja is a pretty entertaining ride. It’s not perfect, but it does provide ample entertaining for a few short hours.