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Ninja Shodown (Switch) artwork

Ninja Shodown (Switch) review

"Ninja Shodown doesn't show the sort of ambition required to throw down with the ninja classics of the past."

Ninja Shodown is easier to like before you actually start playing it. The thumping soundtrack and the cute parody cutscene disappear, and then you must select one of the three modes with which to entertain yourself. Unfortunately, those modes run the gamut from mediocre to mediocre. There's just not enough variety or depth to keep things interesting for longer than a few minutes.

Arcade mode lets one to four players cooperate as they attempt to survive a series of brawls with members of a rival ninja clan who are attempting to steal the mystical Jade Katana. The action takes place in a single chamber with platforms placed generously around it, as well as numerous doors and crates that contain power-ups such as throwing stars and magic spells. Goons flood this area if you time, and you must cut them down before they can beat you to the punch.

Ninja Shodown (Switch) image

Alone or with friends, this mission is much more difficult than it probably should be. Your ninja darts around the area like a mouse on a sugar rush, which makes precision movements a challenge. It's far too easy to run headlong into a thug, which is fatal unless you happen to be swinging your sword at that moment. If your sword touches a target before your body does, you might survive the encounter. Then again, you might not. There's a bit of uncertainty that accompanies every move, and that certainly doesn't work to the game's credit.

Individual stages don't last long, and clearing them in a rush is kind of the point. You produce a higher score by chaining attacks, and might even gain an extra life if you clear an area with sufficient speed. You'll need every extra life you can find, too; the wimps you slaughter in your first seconds of play (always with accompanying geysers of blood) quickly give way to heartier opponents, who in turn gave way to armored foes who can block thrown shuriken. At that point, your chances of survival feel almost entirely random. There's frantic gameplay, but without the accompanying fun that descriptor implies.

Ninja Shodown (Switch) image

Infinite mode, another of the game's options, works about the same as Arcade mode, except without the obvious progression. You still face tougher enemies the longer you survive, but the only things that really matter are your kill and combo counts. And eventually, those armored enemies will come at you like a brick wall and make short work of whatever was left of your run.

Ninja Shodown's saving grace is its selection of versus modes. As always, one to four people can be involved in the proceedings. They all must be in the same room, as no online functionality is supported, but that's probably for the best. You'll want to trash talk your buddies when you make mincemeat of them, or slug them on the arm if you think they're cheating (which they must be, if they somehow can overcome your barrage of ninja awesomeness).

Ninja Shodown (Switch) image

Four match types are available. In the first, Last Ninja, your goal is simply to exhaust your opponents' supply of ten lives before they send you to that great dojo in the sky. There is no time limit. In the second match type, Battle, you have three minutes to rack up as many kills as you can, while any opponents tried to do the same. Coin, the third match type, places objects around the arena that you can slash to produce a shower of coins. You need to track them down will also tending to any rival ninja warriors. And of course, you can steal loot from your competition. Finally, the fourth match type introduces a single crown. When you are wearing the crown, points are added to your score but you can't attack. Only the other players can get slice-y. Predictably, the winner is whoever manages to wear the crown for the most time before the clock expires.

Besides selecting the actual match rules, you can choose from a variety of background scans and room configurations, which adds a bit of replay value. Some areas have a lot of ledges, and others have no walls along the side, so that it's easy to accidentally jump to your death. While players aren't confident in their ability to move around the screen, those are big differences. They lose some of their impact once you come to grips with the overly touchy controls, however. Assuming you play the game that long.

Ninja Shodown has the looks, the sound, the attitude and even lays the groundwork for a compelling ninja-themed adventure on the Nintendo Switch. It simply doesn't build on that promising foundation, so the results can't help but feel half-baked and any affection you might feel for the overall experience is likely to prove short-lived. Unless you need a ninja game in a hurry, you can afford to wait for something better to come along.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (October 13, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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