Nakama is a 2D, side scrolling adventure which, upon first view, seems all too simple for its own good. Living in a pixel infused universe is fun for retro minded gamers, but it's a tried and true formula which makes these types of apps, if not done with innovation, all too commonplace. Does Nakama take the genre and elevate it to another level?

Nakama is a Japanese word for "friend" or "ally," and your goal is to lead your ninja on a rescue mission for his fellow warriors. Directional arrows are located on the left side of your device, with a slash and jump buttons employed as your "A" and "B" buttons. Power up attack and leap maneuvers are also important to effectively dispatch or avert your enemies, and you'll need an array of fighting skills to survive your showdowns.

Although random hearts collected during the battles replenish your health, don't expect an easy hack and slash ride with Nakama. The boss fights are difficult to the point of frustrating, and if you want a challenging beat 'em up, this app won't disappoint. Thanks to my yellow bellied nature, I usually let my friends die at the hands of a boss before I proceed into the fray. Unfortunately, my ninja puts self-preservation over glory.

Once you get past several bosses under Story Mode, you can enter the Ghost Forest, which places you and your companions into an epic confrontation with a slew of dark spirits. I died more than a dozen times during my quest to unlock this endless mode, and if you get frustrated from all your boss battles, don't be totally discouraged. Venturing into the Ghost Forest gives Nakama that added creative boost, and even though my time in this supernatural domain lasts just several minutes, the action, coupled with all those beautiful colors, is an exhilarating experience.

The Ghost Forest section also enables gamers to replay their entire fight and considering one's fingertips may get sore by all that tapping, watching a bit of video is a welcome respite from the action. One of Nakama's greatest features is the ability to actually enter a shop to upgrade your constitution and weaponry in the middle of combat. Collecting coins to increase your powers is the only way to go, since your health will definitely take a beating no matter how many hearts you collect or buy. Having enough firepower, letting your nakamas do some of your fighting, and jumping away from danger are the key ingredients to keeping your ninja alive as long as possible.

Although it costs $0.99, Nakama offers a ton of game play for a more than reasonable price. If the app went the freemium route we would probably get a ton of advertisements and necessary in-app purchases, and thankfully that's something gamers can avoid by plunking down a few coins. Amidst all that bloody warfare, there is also a tinge of melancholy to Nakama, even if it's briefly displayed on a glorified menu screen.

Nakama may appear as just another pixelated action app, but it's an experience filled with nuance and inspiration. The boss fights may give me occasional headaches thanks to their difficulty, but as long as I can venture into that vast, unforgiving Ghost Forest with my dearest friends, my spirit won't waver.


App Store Link: Nakama for iPhone & iPad | By Crescent Moon Games LLC | Price: $0.99 | Version: 1.03 | 11.1 MB | Rating 9+

7.5 out of 10 arcade sushi rating