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Ninja Warriors (SNES) artwork

Ninja Warriors (SNES) review

"Upgrades? Are you serious? My friend, you are the upgrade system."

There are many arcade style fighters on the Super Nintendo, and The Ninja Warriors has a reputation to live up to. At least, it does in Japan. Let’s get this out of the way; it exists in a strange place where the Japanese release was entitled “Ninja Warriors, Again” as a reference to the 1984 arcade The Ninja Warriors. For some reason, even though the soundtrack is beloved, apparently Taito didn’t believe anyone would remember it in the West.

They weren’t exactly wrong. The Ninja Warriors, henceforth ‘TNW’, is a side scrolling single plane 2D fighter. Watch the Terminator inspired introduction text scroll the foreboding story of a tyrannical overlord and the rebel forces that would depose him. You play one of three Ninja Warrior robots, each programmed to assassinate this nasty fellow with an even nastier name: “Banglar”.

Bungler? Bang-lar? No, no, better leave that one alone. He must be evil incarnate because he’s got no hair, pointed ears and red eyes. He also looks like an orc in a suit. Unfortunately for the rebels, the plan is discovered and the robots must be activated at the last moment.

Which one will you choose? Kamaitachi is a weasel looking humanoid with massive scythes hanging from each arm; Kunoichi is a svelte blond haired warrior wielding both katana and kunai; and finally, Ninja, a hulking masked behemoth wielding steel nunchakus. The first favors speed and agility, but lacks in penetrating or grabbing ability. The second is swift and flexible with aerial strikes, but slow reaction speed. The third is the slowest, but can knock down or carry large opponents with ease, even bosses.

When you start, you’ll notice several things right away: TNW is colourful, the music is pumpin’, and the combat is ... well, slow. Perhaps a more accurate word for it would be ‘deliberate’. You crash through the window at Headquarters and are confronted by one-hit tumble soldiers. Like any well designed game, you’re given time to learn and the tutorial is in practice and experimentation.

Blocking, grappling and the steadily charging Blaster gauge vary things up out of sheer necessity. You can, any time at all, block incoming attacks with a single button press. There’s no counter system to be had, so you must time your blocks carefully or be knocked on your steel fanny. Some enemies can pick you up for a toss, as well, adding a rock-paper-scissors element to gameplay.

The Blaster can be frustrating; it charges consistently only so long as you don’t get knocked down. Once full, you get a screen wide blast which can be invaluable if used wisely. It also enables a “finisher” style alternative attack at the end of your standing combo if you apply the correct D-pad modifier at the right time.

Grappling, and throws, round out the available roster of combat mechanics. Listen to me right now. If you’ve any aspiration of becoming the ‘hero’ and assassinating Banglar, master throws. No arguments, just trust me. You may learn to cheese some enemies with low blows, especially with Kamaitachi, who seems optimized for such, but the quantity and variety of enemies is going to make the “Game Over” screen a regular event.

Not to fear! When you ... er, explode ... you are presented with a “Continue? | Yes or No” screen, which will place you at the beginning of last stage you reached. Persistence will reward you with tougher bosses, meaner versions of old enemies, and eventually, the red eyed monster, himself.

Upgrades? Are you serious? My friend, you are the upgrade system. As you progress, your understanding of enemy behavior, room layout and hard won experience are your lone ally. The developers surely knew how to portray the treacherous, dangerous life of a ... ninja robot assassin.

Except that the sprites haven’t aged well. Or rather, some of them, that is ... Kunoichi, to be exact, isn’t proportioned correctly. The sole female style humaniform of the lot, one has to wonder why, except that blonds are bombshells, they could have at least drawn her with a measure of anatomical accuracy.

Just look at the way she stands. You’ll get it. Kamitachi and Ninja look fine, really, and so does the rest of the cast ... except that the female enemies, cut from the North American release ... also have similar problems. TNW’s sprites have plenty of detail and combat animations are meaty and satisfying, but it is an oddity.

What’s fun?
The Ninja Warrior has thought and reflex testing combat, with rock solid controls and enough consideration for combat styles that it is a treat to learn. The music is especially energetic with the 90s-synth feel that will keep you focused and on target. Combat never becomes tiresome; the developers seem to know when you’re getting bored with a set arrangement of enemies.

What’s not?
There’s only one game mode, no upgrades, and Kunoichi, instead of being female, looks anatomically wrong. While she is the most diverse, she’s also not nearly as useful as her male counterparts. Enemies, particularly bosses, get cheap shots, and you’ll have to get used to unexpected deaths until you learn to use the system in your favour.

Laying your hands on this one isn’t going to be easy, as it’s not available for digital download in any form. You’re going to be hunting eBay or your local thrift for this fighter. In spite of strong combat, it’s just generic enough not to be memorable, and it stands against games that offer more reward for the effort and time you’ll be putting in to complete it.


hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (October 12, 2016)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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