Developed by NatsumeAtari’s Tengo Project Published by Taito Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (also available on Switch)
The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors is a great revival of the classic Ninja Warriors game. I didn’t have the privilege to play the classics. But through some research and the power of the internet, I can tell the audio and visuals have been upgraded significantly. In 2019 the original developers got together to create this gem twenty five years after the release of the original Ninja Warriors. The core gameplay and levels remain unchanged, keeping the feel true to its original form. With this reboot, two new characters were added as well as two player co-op.
Stories in side scroller beat ‘em ups are usually simple. They provide the setting and reason for the melee mayhem. You’ll see a blotch of text when you start the game for the first time and another after beating it. The nation has been under the control of a terrible tyrant. The ruler used their powerful army to oppress the people. A resistance has been formed and created cyborg ninjas with the single objective to hunt down this tyrant and free the people.
You start off with three characters to choose from: Ninja, Kunoichi, and Kamaitachi. Unlocking the two new characters requires beating the main campaign twice. Once in normal mode and again in hard. Ninja is the heavyweight hitter of the starting three. Strong but slow, positioning will be the biggest challenge for using this cyborg. Kunoichi is the most agile and utilizes jump moves to reposition quickly. Kamaitachi falls somewhere in between with a good melee range. Each character feels so unique. You’ll want to learn the different moves for them as you try them out. Alternating between characters keeps Ninja Saviors refreshing and will leave you wanting more. The two new characters available to unlock are also fun and unique respectively and are well worth the effort to get.
Gameplay is simple yet challenging. Unlike more modern beat ‘em ups, levels in this game stick to the same plane. You won’t have to move up and down to reach an enemy. Everything happens to the left and right. Movement is restricted to walking. Each character has different moves to reposition faster. Kunoichi can do a jump flip that covers a large distance and Ninja has a long dash that requires a brief charge time. Most of the time, it’s safest to play as the walking death. Walking up to an enemy and punching them in the face is forever satisfying but if you get close enough, you can throw them too.
Tossing bad guys at other baddies is an effective way of temporarily clearing one side of danger while you work on the other. They have a chance at throwing you too, so careful positioning is important. Landing a full combo or a good throw remains entertaining throughout the entirety of Ninja Saviors. Level design is superb at balancing aggressive and defensive styles. It’s a joy to get through. Aside from the campaign, there is level select and an increase in difficulty after beating the game. You’ll notice there’s a time keeping system and you can compare your completion time against others. In order to have your time recorded, you’ll have to beat the entire campaign or level if you’re using stage select, without dying.
Visually, this game is still in the pixel art genre. I know it’s not for everyone, but for pixel art, this game looks great! The characters and the environment have been remodeled and look better than ever before. Credit to the original developers and their team. They did a great job revamping everything in Ninja Saviors. Audio gets the HD treatment too.
To filter my bias a bit, the game is a little dated. The tempo of Ninja Saviors is slow when compared to modern beat ‘em ups of today. Beating the game happens pretty fast. You can finish it start to finish within six hours. However, replaying the game with other characters is fun, too. Unfortunately, Ninja Saviors doesn’t seem it changes or adds any special levels or bad guys in the higher difficulty setting. Lastly, this game is a retro beat em up. You will feel like you’re playing an old game. This is mostly from the lack of combo chaining and flashy moves. If any of the things just mentioned are turn offs for you, you can skip this game without any fear of missing out. Since this remake doesn’t change the core gameplay even though it looks like a modern pixel game, it still feels very retro.
I had a lot of fun playing Ninja Saviors. I didn’t expect much at first for a side scroller. It wasn’t until I accidentally pulled off one of the characters special moves that a smile couldn’t leave my face. The game gave me a sense of nostalgia even though I never played any of its predecessors. On top of that, its good. It’s a great remake and worth the pickup for anyone who likes retro beat ‘em up side scrollers. If you enjoy replaying the classics and want to have a nice pick up and play experience, this is a sweet buy. It looks and sounds great and there’s great replayability value within each character. If you enjoy the challenge of putting your name on the leaderboard with the best clear times, that’s ongoing. You can play through the game with a friend now. Watching each others’ backs and ganging up on a boss has its own charms.