Meet your new best friend. It's an androgynous clumsy ninja, designed by Natural Motion .
There's an increasingly rare moment that you can stumble upon in freemium games. You pay nothing, and the first forty-five minutes of play are blissful. They're productive, compelling, and completely engrossing. And then you hit the inevitable pay-wall. It's rare that I make it past this part. It can seem as though developers are trying to rob you at every turn. (I say 'rob', you've just played their game having a great time for forty-five minutes for free.) I fly in the face of fashion at this point. I've never been attached to the gambling games that top the grossing app charts, nor the work of the devil that is Candy Crush Saga. I tend to veer towards the world-building weirdness of the Nimblebit games, or as previously discussed, my worrying addiction to The Simpsons:Tapped Out (although that has now ebbed again thanks to work starting back up for the year).
Clumsy Ninja approaches the freemium model from a different angle. I'm surprised it hasn't been used before. Much like the Tamagotchi craze of the 90's, Clumsy Ninja basically tasks you with a vulnerable figure who needs your care. The tale is simple: teach the Ninja how to become an almighty master so he can rescue his girlfriend. To do this, you'll need to use a variety of exercises such as trampolines, punching bags and live chickens to empower his evolution. After you've used a specific piece of equipment, it's 'out of order' for a certain length of time. The time can be shortened with real cash, as can a large variety of costumes for your little dude. After the first five or so levels, the time delay becomes too much of a nuisance to be bothered with, but the initial kick to your maternal instinct is remarkable.
This is due in large part to Natural Motion's astonishing character animation. Your ninja is beautifully and intuitively responsive. Transitions between behaviours are invisible; your Ninja never glitches or seems anything less than a breathing, living human being. Like a dumb, mute dog with big, begging eyes, the Ninja is unflinchingly loyal. You can molest, tickle, throw, abandon and harass your Ninja until your hearts content. It doesn't matter, he'll still return to you and ask politely for a high-five upon completion of an exercise. He's just so happy you're here.
Unfortunately the pay wall and wait time wasn't enough to keep me around, even though I could see the future for my Ninja had promise: new maps, dozens of new toys, and a consistent string of humour throughout. Nevertheless, the constant repetition of the punching bag and trampoline became boring. Unlike the world-building games, Clumsy Ninja doesn't ask you for any creative input apart from the character's costume. Nor does it even ask you to gamble on chance, like the immensely successful Candy Crush Saga. Effectively, there's no way to lose. There's only one path: steadily upwards. For any remotely regular gamer it's an uninteresting prospect.
I suspect the game will find its success with the most casual of players who find endless joy in the swift character animations that the game does so well. And indeed, for half-an-hour of playtime, it's absolutely worth the free download for these attributes alone. Children and the young-at-heart will love it and grow endearingly attached to the little guy. It's hard not to. Clumsy Ninja represents a potentially important first step towards a style of freemium game that I would guess we'll see a lot more of in 2014: the adorable, vulnerable pet, who only needs 0.99 cents for him to be absolutely besotted with you for another twenty minutes.