Revenge Of The Ninja

HIGH Learning to chain disparate moves into screen-clearing combos.

LOW The entire experience will last only a few hours for most people.

WTF The designer of these killer robots sure liked the female form a lot…

Ninjas! They’re great, even if it’s confusing whether the plural is ‘Ninja’ or ‘Ninjas’.

These bloodthirsty maniacs were everywhere in the ’80s, from all-time classic movies such as Revenge of the Ninja starring Sho Kosugi, to numerous cartoons aimed at delighting children with martial arts prowess and a less-murderous approach to conflict resolution.

This era also gave birth to many ninja-themed videogames. Amongst these, a 1987 arcade title called The Ninja Warriors. A sequel with the same name followed in 1994 on the Super Nintendo, and now there’s a modern remake of that version called The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors — infinitely less interesting than the original Japanese title, The Ninja Warriors Once Again.

Following the same general beats as the SNES version, this 2D pixel-based beat’-em-up should seem refreshingly familiar to anyone who dropped quarters on it back in the day, only now it comes with better animation, more detailed backgrounds, more characters and other assorted tweaks help to set it apart from its past incarnation. It looks great, has an awesome soundtrack, and that the gameplay is pretty good too.

Taking place in a hellish future where the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth turns out be a mutated despotic tyrant with scant regard for human life, a beleaguered rebel organization unleashes a tiny number of robotic ninjas to turn the tides of war for them and wipe out the most dominant military force ever conceived. Seems legit!

Each playable character has unique advantages and disadvantages. Ninja’s a buff looking robodude with a pair of nunchaku — a little slow, but does good damage. Kunoichi’s faster, better at jumping and stringing together attacks, and Kamataichi’s got blades on his arms which make him look like a malformed preying mantis while also giving him access to fast slicing attacks and additional range at the expense of overall damage output.

There are also two new unlockable characters, Yaksha and Raiden. The former uses extending arms to beat the bejeezus out of her opponents, and the latter is absolutely freaking huge, looking more like a boss than a playable character. He’s powerful, but if a bunch of enemies surround him he can be picked apart in no time. This pair are very different from the rest of the cast, that’s for sure.

The mission structure is incredibly simple. Players start on the left side of any given stage and walk to the finish line on the right-hand side. Along the way they’ll be accosted by numerous martial arts masters, guerrilla soldiers, biomechanical abominations and more. It’s entirely possible to defeat them all solo, but there’s also a two player mode included because bloody massacres are always more enjoyable with a friend in tow.

There’s a constant stream of flunkies that can be largely ignored as they take a single hit to dispatch, but occasionally tougher enemies requiring multiple hits will act as roadblocks. These must be annihilated in order to progress.

Players can can grab nearby objects in the environment such as broken-down machinery or massive rocks to hurl at foes, but most of the combat is up-close and personal, with a battery gauge constantly charging to allow access to more powerful attacks. Getting knocked over while it’s charging depletes the gauge completely, but smart use allows players to extend their combos, chuck ranged weapons or unleash screen-clearing smart bomb attacks. Remember those?

The combat system in Ninja Saviors is also a little deeper than it looks at first glance. The Kunoichi, for example, can throw an enemy into the air using her hair, somersault into them with a slashing attack, dash across the ground to stab them as they fall, and then pull off a super for a slick-looking sequence of attacks that rips through health bars. In lieu of any canned combos, this approach to stringing disparate moves together into cool (and practical) assault sequences can be satisfying both to discover and to execute.

On the other hand, some of the enemy behavior can be a little irritating. Walk towards a foe at the edge of the screen and they’ll sometimes back out of sight (and out of reach) while wasting everyone’s time until they scuttle back into view. 

More annoying are enemy throws. They often happen instantly with no warning, and there’s no mechanic to negate the damage. It’s frustrating to beeline over to piledriver a goon, only to get randomly chucked aside instead. It’s likely there’s some internal logic to throwing that I’m not seeing, but it’s difficult to discern how the AI throwing priority works. Enemies occasionally break out of a throw a little too quickly for my liking, as well.

While The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors is a cool, modernized reminder of a bygone era, its main downside is that arcade-style titles were usually designed to extract the maximum number of quarters from their audience in as short a time as possible, so longevity and variety weren’t high on the list of design requirements back then. As a result, it isn’t likely to hold someone’s attention for long if they aren’t interested in attempting to top the leaderboards. The campaign will take most gamers a couple of hours to complete at most, and the unlockable hard mode and new characters aren’t enough to give it legs.

With that in mind, this spruced-up blast from the past is enjoyable while it lasts — it’s just a shame that there’s not a little more mechanical meat on these robotic ninja bones.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Natsume and published by ININ Games. It is currently available on PS4 and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the singleplayer mode, and the game was completedOne hour of play was spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Fantasy Violence and Mild Suggestive Themes. The ESRB also mentions that ‘some female ninjas are depicted with jiggling breasts’ — this is very, very true.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no outstanding issues. Many attacks are primarily visual, though battle cries do occasionally precede them. Most of the (meager) storyline is text-based, keeping true to its old school roots.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Darren Forman
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