Before online gaming became crazy popular, local multiplayer ruled the competitive gaming roost. Players competed against each other in a variety of genres: fighting, racing, sports, and even first-person shooters. We all had to be in the same room, but most of us didn't see that as a downside. Local multiplayer games encouraged real, in-person socialization and friendship.
Local multiplayer has seemingly declined in popularity nowadays, thanks to the rise of online gaming as well as the aging population of core gamers. The older you get, the busier you become and the less likely your gaming friends are to live nearby. People still love playing in the same room, though. Even when games like Forza Horizon 2 and Battlefield 4 neglect to include local multiplayer options, plenty of indie games pick up the slack.
Slash Dash from Nevernaut Games epitomizes that indie local multiplayer support and takes it one step further – it can only be played with 2-4 local players. A group of gaming friends can crowd around a TV and compete in a colorful "ninja party playground." But does SlashDash have enough meat on its bones to keep your gaming group entertained for long? Read on to find out!
Getting your ninja party started
After a quick glance at SlashDash's Instructions screen (which displays controls but doesn't tell you how to play, annoyingly), you'll get things rolling by selecting Play. Next choose from four game types, which we'll describe shortly. Two of those types support 2-4 players; the others require four participants.
Everyone who wants to join in then presses the A button and selects a profile. The game supports guest profiles, so you don't need four Xbox Live accounts. But all four players can earn Achievements (sweet!), so everyone might want to use their own profiles. Everyone then selects from a palette of seven colors for their ninjas. More colors would be nice, but seven's not bad.
Next you'll choose a map on which to battle (or let the game pick a random map). The game offers nine maps, all themed around feudal Japan. Each contains unique features and hazards such as bamboo and pumpkins to slice, damage-dealing spikes, gaps that must be teleported through, slippery ice, and more. The maps can extend slightly past the borders of the screen, in which case the camera will pan to follow the action when necessary.
Finally, each player selects a projectile attack. You only start out with access to the kunai, a throwing blade that stuns enemies, but you'll unlock eight more by completing matches. Some of these have unique powers: the warp shot creates a gravity well that sucks victims into its center, the curse will reverse a player's controls, and clone fires a controllable copy of the player.
Once everyone has armed themselves, the match begins.
How to be a ninja
While SlashDash offers several game types, all involve attacking and defending against your fellow ninjas. These cuddly assassins have a few moves at their disposal: teleport, slash, and shoot. Teleporting sends a ninja forward a short distance. This proves useful for avoiding attacks, clearing gaps, and passing through walls and other objects.
The right analog stick aims a ninja's projectiles, twin-stick shooter-style, and the Right Trigger fires. Projectiles don't kill enemies, but they do stun them and set them up for greater harm. To actually kill an opponent, you have to slash him or her with your sword at close range. Ninjas that get slashed turn into logs before respawning – a clever use of the ninja log trope. So technically these ninjas don't die; they just disappear and come back somewhere else.
The four game types require 2-4 local players. SlashDash has no single-player or online multiplayer, so you must own at least two controllers to actually play it.
- Assassination: 4 players only. Players split into two teams. Each team has an AI-controlled shogun (general) that they must protect. This VIP always follows one player; slashing your own general passes him to your teammate. Teams score points by slashing the enemy shogun.
- Capture the Flag: 4 players only. Players split into two teams and try to capture the rival team's flag. Slashing your teammate while she carries the flag will send her flying forward, performing a "slash dash."
- Death Race: 2-4 players. Each ninja has a meter in the center of the map that fills up as she moves around. Stunning or killing a player causes her meter to stop filling until she starts moving again. The first player to fill the meter wins, so you'll want to stay alive and on the move.
- Mirror Match: 2-4 players. All players control a team of five ninjas simultaneously. Everyone fights to the death.
Looks and layout
The ninjas have boxy bodies and faces with long black eyes and eyebrows clearly inspired by Bomberman (a series beloved for its local multiplayer battles). Like the characters, the backgrounds are made up of simple geometric shapes. Throw in some simple details like clouds flying overhead and monkeys shrieking around a pond and you have a fairly appealing minimalistic art style.
While the menus themselves look good, they do have a design issue that impedes usability. When selecting modes and maps, the name of the option appears at the top of the screen and the artwork for it shows up at the bottom. Annoyingly, a thick green line separates the name and the artwork.
Since you browse this type of menu by looking at the picture of what you're picking, the natural place for its name to be is below the art. The line between the name and the picture separates them to such an extent that the user doesn't intuitively associate the picture with its name. Basically, this makes selecting modes and maps clumsier than necessary.
SlashDash has 17 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Achievements are probably the best reason to get this game, as you can get them all in three hours or so. You'll need four controllers though, since several Achievements are tied to the 4-player-only Capture the Flag and Assassination modes.
While the Achievements are completely easy to go after, the Capture the Flag one ' Trophy Room' requires an annoying amount of grinding. It takes a fair deal of time to capture 500 flags – I suggest watching a TV show or something while you work at it.
Too much Slash, not enough Dash
I recently reviewed an ID@Xbox game called Spectra: 8bit Racing that didn't have enough content to justify itself as a console game. The core of a decent game was there (if the difficulty were tweaked), but the developers didn't build enough off of that core to make a compelling product.
Sadly, SlashDash falls into the same pit of sharpened bamboo. It looks pretty good and the core gameplay works fine. But come on: no single player! The Bomberman series clearly provided some inspiration for SlashDash, but nearly every Bomberman game has a campaign of some sort. And even the few that don't still let you battle against AI opponents. SlashDash slashdoesn't.
Assuming a game you can only play with other people in the same room is a good idea, that game still needs some meat on its bones. SlashDash has a few modes and a fair number of maps. But once you've played each mode a few times, you have very little reason to come back. Blame the lack of options. Gamers can't set a match timer, number of wins, or anything else that might inject a little challenge or variety to the same old maps and modes.
Again, Nevernaut should follow Bomberman's example. Those games always offer something like ten different settings to tweak. If SlashDash borrowed some of those settings and added a Bomberman-style tournament mode for longer play sessions, I could see players sticking around for longer.
I doubt most players will get more than an hour or two of this game as-is. Achievement hunters (who own four controllers) will probably want to grab it for the easy Gamerscore, though.