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Ninja Warriors (SNES) artwork

Ninja Warriors (SNES) review

"Insurrection Resurrection"

Released in 1994 for the Super Nintendo, The Ninja Warriors is a side-scrolling action reinterpretation of a 1987 arcade title by Taito. As such, both share the same plot where the villain, the sinister, superbly-named Banglar, has "brainwashed" the general public and plunged the nation into darkness. And just like the original, a "resistance group" has unleashed a gang of robotic ninjas to thwart the demon king's evil intentions. Though, considering this was 90s Nintendo, I wasn't all too surprised by the slightly-modified plot, one in which the resistance group was actually a bunch of anarchists in the original, wanting to cause further disorder by crumbling the government.

The modifications continue from there as, given this is an SNES release, one of the arcade's biggest features is now absent; initially a widescreen dystopian adventure in the arcades, the journey has now shrunk to a 4:3 output aspect ratio. Not a huge loss, since the SNES version still manages to be a game beyond the removed gimmicky vista, as players plow through Banglar's military with an assortment of weaponry and moves. Take to the streets with the ponytail-donning female, tackling numerous soldiers gripping knives, rifles, and grenades with her kunai, sword, and jump kicks. Or manhandle melee fighters and giant death machines with an equally-hulking blue ninja, bashing heads with his nunchucks or tossing trash with one-handed throws.

Similarities with the 1987 coin-op continue dissolving, as the SNES game introduces such elements as the ability to select the red or blue ninja at the beginning, not to mention the addition of a speedy third android with arm scythes and an exposed mechanical interior. Another interesting inclusion is a special "bomb" attack which, after slowly charging over time, can injure every enemy onscreen; useful for when the field gets too crowded. Even the overall atmosphere has a "happier" change with its brighter color palette. It's hard seeing this as a downtrodden country under martial law when normal soldiers look like discount power rangers, bare-knuckle fighters wearing purple outfits with green straps, and a chainsaw-wielding samurai boss in a yellow outfit.

However, of all the things that could have changed in this remake, one very unfortunate flaw remained largely untouched. You know those normal soldiers I mentioned? The ones that are basically fodder? They come at you a lot, and these moments are the most repetitive and dull parts of the game. The biggest issue is that they don't have a lot to offer in terms of countering. Sometimes they'll duck and attack... but that's it. In the arcade version, they eventually start jump-kicking if you try crouch-attacking them in anticipation. Why was this interesting tactic taken out of the SNES rendition?? The rifle soldiers have been handicapped, as well; they rarely fire their weapons for some reason...

Unfortunately, these soldier "battles" make the first two stages nearly a bore to play through, and I genuinely thought about giving up once the third stage commenced.

Thankfully, focus shifts away from said soldiers and more on tougher enemies during the mid-to-latter half of the game. Oddly, while the basic soldiers were tamed, the specialized enemy types have been reworked to be more tolerable in this iteration. These encounters, from Oni-masked ninjas and hunchback claw foes, to such rivals as towering muscle goons and suit-savvy martial artists, are still challenging; but they're challenging in a way where chipping at their weaknesses doesn't feel like you're discovering exploits, unlike the arcade title. Fighting a varied gang of stronger enemies can actually be quite the juggling act, especially since you have one life to work with.

Now, having one life sounds terrible, but the way The Ninja Warriors handles this is smart. Once your health meter is depleted, your ninja is sent back to the start of a section. This, of course, means you have to redo all those fights again, but at least it's not at the very beginning of the stage. This is a fair challenge, especially since certain hallways can be long, filled with various enemy types, and with only one health refill hidden inside a crate. This creates just the right amount of tension for the player, because they have to fight with actual care and planning, and not mindlessly bash through everyone without fear of consequence.

This also creates an interesting dynamic with your explosive special attack. There's one extra tidbit I withheld about its charging concept: if you get knocked to the ground by an enemy prior to it being completely filled, the charge reverts to zero. So not only do you have to be careful about fighting tough enemies and manage health delicately, you also have to be careful about the possibility of losing a trump card during shuffles. Granted, you can semi-cheat by standing in empty locations after defeating a group, but that won't be possible in a frantic fight, when you're being crowded, low on health, and desperately in need of breathing room.

Though, despite the positives, The Ninja Warriors is ultimately an in-the-middle action release. The improvements for tougher enemies and how they clash with mechanics definitely save a good chunk of the stages from being soulless experiences, but it can only carry so much of the game on its back. The annoyingly basic soldiers don't help the flow in some cases and, regardless of the refined stronger enemies, the game pretty much stops doing new things in the latter stages. This is especially true for stage six, where players only fight rehashed enemies in an extremely short area with one hallway... There's just a lot of untapped potential that could have made this concept more entertaining.

Once again, perhaps?


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (October 23, 2018)

Gomu Gomu no Bō...

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