Ninja Warriors
by Polly





Ninja Warriors began its life as a really looooooooooooooong arcade game. I don't mean long as in it'd take forever to beat, I mean that the arcade unit featured a display that was three god damn screens wide and used an interesting technique utilizing mirrors to present all three displays so that they appeared as one.


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This "super widescreen" set-up was used for a decent number of arcade games back in the late 80's, and though it really offers nothing to gameplay other than a largely increased number of enemies to have to bat away, it was still a fairly unique way to go about doing things.

The Ninja Warriors arcade game wasn't anything terribly revolutionary or ground-breaking. It's just a simple left to right beat 'em up with a gimmick, robot Ninjas, some memorable tunes, and very slick animation. If it piques your interest, have a look, but other than the name and sharing a couple characters, it really doesn't have much in common with the game we're having a look at today.

Ninja Warriors, (Ninja Warriors Again in Japan) is an SNES remake of the original game, developed by Natsume, a bit of a stalwart developer in the 16-bit era, producing quite a few great games, but never really enjoying the attention or success larger companies experienced on this side of the globe. This remake is almost entirely unrecognizable as one and easily stands on its own as a completely original (and much better than its arcade counterpart) game.

At first glance it's easy to see that Ninja Warriors is your typical side-scrolling beat 'em up with a couple of very minor kinks. For one, there's no two player option usually seen in these kinds of games, and that's simply because it isn't really needed. Secondly, all of the action takes place on one 2D plane. Unlike your Double Dragons and Streets of Rages (Final Fart is stupid and for babies, just sayin'), there's no isometric movement up and down the screen, and that may seem disorienting at first, and even confusing as to how you could do a game like this without more range of movement, but it works just fine. I mean, it sorta, kinda, almost, maybe worked for Bad Dudes, right?

On the surface, Ninja Warriors is as simple as the title and genre might suggest. Walk around, beat the shit out of doods, then walk around some more and beat the shit out of some more doods. There's quite a healthy amount of that in the game, admittedly. There's so many enemies coming at you left and right all the time that I guarantee you won't be letting off those attack and jump buttons for very long. Ninja Warriors' formula does go a bit deeper than that though.

In the original game, which could easily be seen as just Contra With Ninjas, you walked around, sliced fuckers up, and threw ninja stars as red and blue Ninjas that really didn't differ from one another at all. This remake throws that away and now gives you the option of playing as any of three selectable robot Ninjas out to put a stop to some evil post-apocalyptic goings-on of some madman or something. I didn't read the manual and the story scroll at the beginning was just too god damn slow for me to care. Each robo-Ninja-badass comes with their own unique appearances, move sets, and attributes. Your choice of character plays heavily into how you'll have to approach the game, and the characters themselves are all designed so that they never all feel exactly the same. Something else I should note is that while each character controls similarly in most cases, you'll want to either look up an FAQ or drag out the manual before diving in to learn the individual unique maneuvers for each character and now to pull them off.

Let's have a look at our "Ninjas" then, shall we?

NINJA

His selection screen bio should have "(In Name Only)" printed directly under it, because despite what his sprite and name may have you believe and what you expect from these types of games, this guy is fuckNOTHING like a ninja at all. I'd be surprised if the word "stealth" was even programmed into this guy's memory.

Ninja is actually the Mike Haggar/Max/Goddamn Brute of the group, and if his damn near one ton of presence and moveset aren't enough to convince you of that, then let the pain he inflicts on his adversaries do the talking.

First timers may want to avoid their initial inclination and not try this guy first unless you're just playing to fuck around. For one, unlike a Ninja, he's the slowest of the bunch and when he gets surrounded (which will EASILY happen in this game) it's not easy to get yourself out of that situation. His moveset is arguably the most damaging, but it's also the hardest to use in the game due to a lack of speed and maneuverability. He doesn't even have a true jump, so you've always got to be thinking more along the lines of "HOW CAN I SMASH MY WAY OUT OF THIS ONE."

He's not impossible to use, and I've beaten the game with him, but you really have to know what you're doing to utilize him properly.


KUNOICHI

Kunoichi is the sorta middle-of-the-road character. Her speed and damage are about average, but her range suffers just a bit. She's a great starting character for folks who don't wanna just rip through the game. More on that in a moment...

She's also probably the closest to a Ninja the game got, though. Ya know, minus that whole "HEY EVERYBODY, LOOK AT ME, I'M DRESSED IN ALL BRIGHT GOD DAMN RED, HERE'S WHERE I'M AT!"

Kunoichi's moveset is also the closest to what one would imagine for a ninja. Her attacks are swift and graceful, while also being able to get her moving around the screen pretty quickly. Her throws are the best in the game, and the ability to jump kick off one enemy and flip back to attack another behind her are her bread and butter. She can repeat this action as many times as you wish, so long as there are enemies on both sides of to bounce off of. I've done it as high as fourteen times in a row, and it may not be the most damaging, but it gets the job done (ESPECIALLY in tight situations) and looks pretty fuckin Ninja silly in the process. Her normal kunai combos are alright, but again, you've got to be mindful of her limited range.

Overall, she's balanced and fun to use in all situations, but it may be hard to get her out of really tough or cheesy situations if you're unprepared.


KAMAITACHI

In Japanese, Kamaitachi's name translates roughly to "OH, HI! I'M HERE TO FUCK ALL YOUR GUYS' SHIT UP, AND AIN'T A GOD DAMN THING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, 'KAY?" Using a few different Kanji we can also rework it to "Okay, the designers clearly just gave the fuck up at this point on this whole ninja-themed thing."

No really, what the hell is he even supposed to be? He looks like some kinda gnarly alien-robot hybrid and nothing he does at all seems that Ninja-like to me.

Kamaitachi is a fucking beast, and if you want the easiest time starting out, this is the guy to go with. His speed is unmatched, both walking and crouch-walking, and his attacks come from out of nowhere, leaving enemies just crumpling to the ground mere moments after entering his presence. His attacks are the least damaging in the game, but his mobility and swiftness are enough to keep him from being trounced. His only real downfall is that he can't grapple enemies. He can throw them, but he can't grapple them prior to the throw, so you have to be careful when attempting them, because you can't stop enemies from attacking with the momentary "grapple" animation other characters have.

Other than that, Kamaitachi could almost be considered Easy Mode. You'll still get your ass beat on occasion, and fights are going to drag out a bit longer, but he's more than equipped to handle it.


In addition to each character's normal moveset and the ability to pick up fucking MOTORCYCLES AND SHIT TO BEAN PEOPLE IN THE FACE WITH, each character has a "bomb"-type move they can use to inflict damage to every enemy on screen. This move isn't a "kill-all" button. It's meant almost entirely to pull your ass out of the heat if you're getting worked something fierce. The move relies on a separate gauge from your life gauge and builds up over time. Should you be knocked down while it's building up, the gauge resets to zero and you have to wait again. Some characters' moves are also reliant on this gauge being fully charged, but they're not super vital to your success. It's always best to make strategic use of this special attack and to always use it when you're sure you'll be able to hold out until it's fully recharged.

You also have the ability to block attacks by holding the attack button. You can block both high and low (but should just always block low since it seems to cover everything blockable anyway) and move while doing so, however your back side will always be open. It's also possible to block enemy combos even if the first attack or two hits you if you're able to get your guard up in time. Playing defensively can prove to be a life saver, but there seems to be a great deal of inconsistency on what can and can't be blocked, and the only way to find out is through trial and error (though obvious things such as explosions can NOT be blocked). Which leads me to what is likely the most unfortunate aspect of the game...

That good ol' "old school difficulty" problem that creeps up from time to time.

Ninja Warriors is definitely meant to be a difficult game, and for the most part it feels fair. Recognizing enemy patterns, adapting to situations as they arise, and executing attacks at the right time are all par for the course of old school gaming. Ninja Warriors is even more fair in that it won't let your character be knocked out of a move they're already in the middle of, however a few normal enemies and a couple bosses seem to play by entirely different rules and can easily knock you out of attacks, knock you back down as you're getting up, or just pummel you until you fucking die. There's also a huge problem of missiles that rain down on the screen from time to time. They're damn near impossible to dodge because they fly down too fucking fast, and even with the aid of seeing a shadow a VERY brief moment before the missile connects, it's already too late to move because your character is so tall that you have almost no reaction time. There isn't even any recognizable pattern in how they fall so that you can try to dodge next time (I'm a derp, I'll freely admit it). The saving grace here though, is that you do have infinite continues to complete the game, and even though you're only granted one life per continue, your lifebar is large enough for you to soak up a decent amount of punishment before it's lights out. If you're bloody persistent enough, it shouldn't be a problem to whack your way through this one in one sitting.

Visually, Ninja Warriors is pretty much just "alright." Other than the main characters' appearances and attack animations, nothing really stands out much. Even the backgrounds and end of stage bosses are all fairly ho-hum and can be entirely boring to look at. As is typical of the genre, you'll see only a few different actual types of enemies and they'll be recolored to death by the end of the game. This isn't anything that really hurts the game much, and a dystopian future probably doesn't need too many vivid colors anyway,

Carrying on the arcade game's tradition, there's quite a selection of really good tunes here. All the stage themes fit the theme nicely and are catchy enough, and that's really about all there is to say about them. Bonus points for including a sound test option (Hold L+R and press start on the title screen) to go back and enjoy the more memorable selections anytime you want. Sound effects are your standard punch, kick, hit sounds, and enemy death voice samples are typically forgettable.

One final interesting note about this game is that the engine would later be re-worked and gameplay simplified by Natsume for the first Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers SNES game. The core mechanics of the game remain intact and both games share quite a few visual and audio themes (especially sound effects), but the difficulty was toned way down and unique character movesets were almost completely nixed in favor of creating a simpler game that children could play. Power Rangers is still a pretty good game, if a bit dull, and the fact that it's a licensed game that didn't make me want to tear my fucking hair out is even better. The second game even more so. It's definitely worth checking out, but you may wish to do so before playing Ninja Warriors, else the Power Rangers game will likely seem incredibly dull and uninteresting. It still has some really excellent animation though.

While it's flawed with a fair share of the typical "old-school bullshitty difficulty" sometimes, Ninja Warriors is a true hidden SNES gem. It's clear that a lot of thought went into the characters, their movesets, and creating a game around them that could be balanced and fun. In all likelihood, you'll only need one playthrough to enjoy everything the game has to offer, but if beatin' the shit out of fools and crazy Ninja shit is your deal, it'll most definitely be a fun playthrough. 100% recommended.






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