At one time, gaming was overflowing of ninjas. Games like Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, Tenchu, The Legend of Kage, and Kid Niki: Radical Ninja all centered around the exploits of stealthy assassins. Today, the most prominent ninjas we have are Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s one-armed wolf, Naruto Uzumaki, and a Fortnight streamer with dyed hair. Seemingly, the glory days have passed for the surreptitious one-man armies.
Like its title infers, The Ninja Saviors is here to rescue the covert arts. Originally a 1987 arcade game known as The Ninja Warriors, the title was noteworthy for a triple-screen layout, allowing players to see distant enemies in this horizontally scrolling brawler. Depending on who you ask, a 1994 SNES version of the game was either a remake or a sequel. Despite a bit of contention over its place within the franchise, critics and players generally thought it was a solid action title.
And here we are in 2019 with another iteration of the game. But unlike most remakes, this one has pedigree. Natsume Atari’s Tengo Project reunited the game’s three core developers, designer Shunichi Taniguchi, programmer Toshiyasu Miyabe, and composer Hiroyuki Iwatsuki. Unsurprisingly, it’s a cut above the typical enhanced adaptation, establishing a high watermark for the thirty-two-year old series.
Like most brawlers, the presence of a skeletal storyline has little effect on enjoyment. Revealing its arcade roots, the game’s plot centers around a pig-eared ruler with a tyrannical grip on most of society. Humankind’s resistance is rooted in the development of a fleet of robotic ninjas, with eight stages standing between you and the dictator’s downfall. While an engaging impetus isn’t essential for enjoyment, Ninja Saviors could have definitely offered an optional tutorial. Sure, there’s an in-game manual available from the menu system that reveals each character’s move, but it’s always at least five button presses away.
In principle, game’s three button move-set might seem to recall the simplicity of classic coin-op brawlers. But each of the game’s three preliminary ninja-bots and two unlockable ones have divergent and surprisingly complex arsenals. Attacks are executed by simultaneously pressing attack while moving in different directions, with most strikes leading into combos. Given the sophistication, Return of the Warriors feel like less of an antiquated ‘80s era brawler and more like a streamlined fighter. Think Super Smash Bros.-style offensives and you’ll have a rudimentary idea how the title plays.
Like a respectable fighter, each of the game five combatants feels fundamentally different. Not only does each cyber-shinobi have their own weapons and fighting style, but they have their own movement speed and pace of pugilism. As the generic moniker implies, Ninja is your typically balanced warrior. Armed with nunchaku, he’s capable of throwing opponents, and even rocket-spinning upward, his backblast scorching any foes unlucky to be next to you. He can even propel himself horizontally, bowling over foes.
Sister-in-arms, Kunoichi, is nimbler and can keep subordinate enemies in check with her kunai. Her proficiency are aerial attacks that can quickly cover a lot of ground, causing her voluminous mane to twirl. Kamaitachi’s assault are even quicker. When crouching, his kusari-gama strikes with the speed of Edmond Honda’s hundred hand slap, terminating in a medium distance slash. The game’s two unlockable fighters, Yaksha and Raiden are suited for advanced players. Their aptitudes are a bit more challenging to master but take them time to learn them will pay dividends.
Pleasingly, there are a number of common techniques across the Ninja Saviors cast. Throws are particularly useful, offering temporary invisibility during you wind-up. Tossing an opponent into others can knock down small mobs, providing an effective crowd-control strategy. Each ninja also has a battery that is gradually charged as long as you don’t take a hit. This is crucial for executing special moves and if filled to capacity, can topple every on-screen opponent. Additionally, stages are filled with gimmicks, that range from bulky machinery that can be flung at foes to environmental traps like giant propellers that can shred both you and your adversaries.
Occasionally, some of the tossables hides an energy-revitalizing item. You’ll definitely need these, as Return of the Warriors provides players with a single life (albeit multiple continues). Interestingly, the game doesn’t use a traditional scoring system. Instead, you’re racing against the clock, attempting to complete the game’s the game as quickly as possible to earn a spot on the online leaderboards.
Habitually providing players with limited move-sets, brawlers often deliver fleeting enjoyment. The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors bucks that trend, providing players with a larger arsenal to use against a continual onslaught of enemies. With gaming demonstrating a downturn in ninja protagonists, it’s great to see a shining revitalization like this, even if the leads don’t show an iota of stealth.
The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors was played on
Switch with review code provided by the publisher.