Back with a Vengeance
Growing up, I had a lot of rather fond memories of my local video store during my elementary school years. I’d get off of school on a Friday afternoon, and the instant I got home I’d drop everything, hop on my bike and take a short ride down to the shop to see what new games I could rent. I had a Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis at the time; and primarily I’d rent something for the weekend or if it was the summer hopefully the whole week. This was the way I experienced classics such as Final Fantasy III, Contra, and Sonic and Knuckles for the first time. However, while there are many games I rented that I had fond memories of (or not so fond. Wile E Coyote’s Revenge will always suck massive turds), very few sticks out in my memory as much as Natsume’s The Ninja Warriors for the Super Nintendo still does.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, The Ninja Warriors was a re-imagining of the previous 1987 arcade hit bearing the same name by Taito (Though in Japan the SNES redo was named Ninja Warriors Again). The arcade game was insane, being a massive cabinet holding THREE CRT screens presented in a panoramic style. Players assume the role of one of two cyborg ninjas, a female Kunoichi, and a male Ninja, built to assassinate a president turned tyrannical military overlord named Banglar and take out his army along the way. Even to this day the game looks pretty darn cool and has some fantastic music to go along with it made by Taito’s in-house band Zuntata (whose name will never be NOT fun to say). The game was so well-regarded it was ported to a ton of different consoles, even the Atari ST and ZX Spectrum saw ports of the arcade game!
Though the 1994 redo was supposed to be the same game, it was almost an entirely different experience compared to the arcade version. The graphics were completely overhauled, with gorgeous 16-bit sprites and backgrounds, redone music that’s some of the best the SNES was capable of producing, and a new character; the insect-like, arm blade-wielding Kamaitachi, to play as. Many of the enemies and locations are new as well. Though it is officially considered a remake, I’ve always viewed it as a standalone game due to how much was changed. Games like this helped establish Natsume as a developer worth collecting for on the Super Nintendo, and that love for Natsume (along with Taito’s work on the arcade classic) helped bring about ANOTHER redo in Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors (or Ninja Warriors Once Again in Japan).
More Explosions than a Michael Bay movie
The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors pleases the eye with gorgeous reworked graphics and fluid animation. Also, EXPLOSIONS!
Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors builds off of the already solid framework of the Super Nintendo Ninja Warriors game and inexplicably improves upon the game in every conceivable way. This isn’t a simple port with an HD finish. The graphics have again been entirely overhauled, gameplay mechanics have been tweaked, the sound has been remastered and re-arranged, and there are now TWO additional characters to play as on top of the three established in the Super Nintendo game, bringing the grand total to five.
Seeing this game announced instantaneously piqued my interest (especially considering the price the Super Nintendo cart goes for nowadays), but once I got the review codes for both the PS4 and Switch versions of the game and finally fired them up I was honestly taken aback at just how gorgeous the game looked. The player character sprites have been entirely redrawn and have tons of new frames of animation, the enemy sprites have been polished up, and the backgrounds have been entirely redrawn with tons of detail added in. If I weren’t aware of what the games were originally made for, I would have thought this was a game built on Neo Geo hardware. It honestly looks THAT good. Despite both the PS4 and Switch versions being locked at 1080p, they look absolutely fantastic with zero slowdown. When I talk to people about how good 2D graphics are capable of looking, this is the sort of game I talk about.
COME ON AND SLAM
Each of the characters play vastly differently from one another. Mastering their moves is tantamount to beating the game!
Even more important is just how smoothly the game plays, and the added gameplay tweaks make the game far deeper than it originally was. Juggling mechanics have been added to increase your opportunities for crowd management (And believe me, you WILL be getting crowded on quite a lot), and new special moves have been added that make each character more versatile than they were originally, and add new ways to take on enemies than originally possible. Your cybernetic assassins have a battery meter that charges up, when it’s charged enough you can hold up and press attack to unleash a unique attack for each character. Kunoichi, for example, throws shuriken for a long-range attack. Kamaitachi shoots needles out of his back, and Ninja flails his Nunchaku around with stronger force to cover more range than he does normally. You still have your screen-clearing bomb blast that you can unleash with a full battery charge, which will come in handy way more often than you might expect.
Speaking of unique characters, Natsume Atari have really outdone themselves with the two new characters in Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, Yaksha and Raiden. Though they’re locked behind one game clear each (normal for Yaksha and hard for Raiden), unlocking them makes an already fun game a blast to play through over and over again. Yaksha is a short (as well as ridiculously stacked and bouncy) female Ninja with extend-o arms akin to Dr. Octopus. She moves incredibly slowly for her size, so utilizing her arm grabbing techniques to fling yourself across the screen as well as dispatch enemies puts a unique twist on playing through the game’s eight levels. Raiden is a different beast altogether. This hulking behemoth takes up the entire height of the game screen, and while he can punch and throw enemies mercilessly, he is also a humongous target. If you’re not careful playing as him you can easily get overwhelmed. To help keep enemies away from him, he can transform into a giant walking cannon that can take down hordes of enemies at once. These two characters are amazingly well done, and mesh in with the game’s world perfectly.
Anybody up for a barbecue?
Crowd management is important in The Ninja Saviors, even more so when you’re playing co-op. Definitely bring your A-Game here!
Even more surprising is Zuntata’s (god I love saying that) re-working of the Super Nintendo game’s soundtrack. The core music titles are still as they were back in the 16-bit era, but the sound fonts have been reworked to add additional clarity to them, and certain sounds like the drums and melody synths almost sound like they were recorded live. I fondly remember each of the level’s music from my childhood and hearing these remastered tracks was similar to my experience to playing through Sonic Mania for the first time. As a bonus, beating the game on normal unlocks the original arcade game soundtrack, while beating the game with Yaksha or Raiden will unlock the original Super Nintendo soundtrack. There are a ton of hidden features in Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors!
Being an arcade-styled game, Ninja Warriors is very easy to pick up and play but incredibly hard to master. Clearing the game is enough of a challenge on its own despite unlimited continues, but completing the challenges for the PS4 trophies involving beating the game with each character without continuing is insanely hard. Clearing the game on hard or with Raiden and Yaksha is a crazy challenge as well. The game offers time attack modes for each level as well as online leaderboards, but dying once in a run pretty much negates it, so tackling the boards is definitely not for the faint of heart. Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors also offers a local two-player co-op mode. This makes the game even more fun to play, but don’t think that makes the game any easier. If anything, it makes the game harder! The game balances itself out to accommodate two players, and you also share a life bar. Once it hits zero, you both die. If you think the game is hard and you’re being relentlessly swarmed in single-player, have fun trying to manage the military and robotic hordes in co-op and stay alive. You’ve been warned!
Despite some challenge and a learning curve for each character (which is admittedly fair, for the most part), Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors is an excellently crafted game and a perfect example of how to do a remaster. Though a US release has been delayed until October 15th due to some overseas logistical issues for the physical version, the game is still available via other region’s digital shops, or you can import an Asia English copy from sites like Play-Asia if you want (as our editor in chief did to snag his copy early). Personally, I’m waiting for the release of the US physical version so I can add this excellent remaster to my Switch library, but getting a taste of the game early was just what I needed to tide me over until the game makes its’ way stateside. Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors is a must-have for a fan of action games, awesome music, robot ninjas, or all of the above. You may find yourself wanting to crush a controller or two from some particularly tricky moments the game has to punish you with, but the payoff is so worth it. Definitely add this one to your library when you get the chance.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch (Reviewed); Publisher: Taito Corporation (Japan), H2 Interactive (Asia), ININ Games (Europe, US); Developer: Natsume Atari Inc. ; Release Date: July 25th, 2019 (Japan, Asia), August 30th 2019 (Europe), September 26th 2019 (US); ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Nintendo Switch review copy of The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.