Recently on our Max Level Podcast, we discussed the resurgence of the beat-em-up genre and how nostalgic everything has felt in the modern industry. Games like Mother Russia Bleeds, River City Girls, the Yakuza franchise (to an extent), and now The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors have brought back the glorious days of the 1980’s and 1990’s to the current generation of consoles. You couldn’t go a month or even a few weeks without a new, off the wall beat-em-up releasing in the early-to-mid 90’s. Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, The Simpsons Arcade.. hell, almost every arcade cabinet in general was a beat-em-up in one way or another. We’re a far cry from that time period in 2019, but it’s so refreshing to see studios like Taito attempting to recapture the magic of an era that many of us hold fondly in our hearts.
Title: The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors
Publisher: ININ Games
Developer: Natsume Atari
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 15, 2019
Game Provided By ININ Games for the Purpose of This Review
The Ninja Warriors is a bit of an odd series of games. First releasing back in 1987 on Arcade cabinets, Taito added ninjas to it’s famous Darius cabinets and the rest was history, Fast forward to 1994, and a reboot of the game was released on the Super Nintendo as The Ninja Warriors (the exact same name it released under back in ‘87), and this version went on to be generally well received by fans and critics alike. 25 years later on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, we have The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, which is more or less another reboot of the series, but this time, instead of being an almost identical game, several new pieces of content was added throughout development.
Set in a dystopian future, the world is ruled by a dictatorial regime under the leadership of Banglar the Tyrant. Decades upon decades have passed with little to no threat for his power, but now a similar mutant humanoid to Banglar, Mulk, is leading a rebel army to challenge the superpower. You play as one of three self-aware combat robots stylized after Japanese ninjas who are apart of this rebel army. Enemies such as brainwashed human soldiers, vicious mutants, and non-sentient combat robots will be constantly throwing themselves at you to try and prevent you from reaching Banglar.
First impressions are always critical, and The Ninja Saviors leaves a great lasting first impression. If you have a soft spot for this genre and have been craving another beat-em-up this year, this is sure to satisfy a lot of fans. Very much reminiscent of the 16-bit golden age of the genre, we were harkened back to days sitting around playing Streets of Rage, Final Fight, and so many other great classics. But unlike those games, the action in The Ninja Saviors all takes place on a straight line basically. You cannot move up or down the screen and around the areas. You are locked to only moving left and right, but it works rather well for the most part. There were times that so many enemies were present on the screen that we would almost get lost in the shuffle of all the character models on screen, but a few button mashes later and bodies would be flying everywhere.
Another aspect that I feel is worth mentioning is just how truly difficult things can and most assuredly will be, even in the first stage. Enemies are constantly appearing from both the left and right sides as you progress through each stage as your chosen ninja. There are times when 5 enemies will enter from the left, and while you start to engage in combat with them, 3 or 4 more enemies will appear from the right. Couple this on with the grenades that are being fired at you from afar and dropping down on your head the entire time, and things are going to get a bit dicey and fast. Luckily, health pools are rather generous in The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, but that does not mean you are invincible. I watched in horror as my health bar, completely full upon reaching the end of the first stage, drastically took a nose dive off a cliff into a shallow pool of water as I couldn’t keep up with the amount of damage being dished out to my character. When I did finally manage to come up with a strategy to get through it with little damage, the boss just wrecked me anyway, and that’s the fun of a good beat-em-up!
As mentioned earlier, there are two new playable ninjas that become available after beating the game on normal and hard difficulties, Yaksha and Raiden. They each bring a nice new addition to the cast, providing slightly different ways of play or thinking how to overcome a certain boss. Nothing earth shattering or redefining in any way, but still nice to see additions being made to a game that continuously keeps trying to reimagine itself in a different light.
Graphically speaking, The Ninja Saviors feels like a nice throwback to the 16-bit era of dominance for the genre. Color palettes feel accurately used and the locales vary in setting and ambiance. Much like back in 1994, we still feel like the game is just too short of an experience. Once things really get moving and you’ve settled into a groove, it literally ends. There’s a handful of stages, but seeing as technology has advanced significantly and so much more can be done, adding a bit more to the narrative in terms of locations and settings our ninjas get to travel to would have done wonders for this release.
Zuntata returns with the composition to the game, the in house band over at Taito. Hearing “Daddy Mulk”, often considered one of the stronger pieces of music ever composed for a video game, brought back to life in The Ninja Saviors was quite exhilarating. 80’s synthwave and retrowave are infused into epic backing tracks and rocking beats throughout the entire soundtrack. We’ve often talked about the music to this game on our video game music podcast, BGMania, because it’s just so damn good.
While The Ninja Saviors remains like its predecessors before it and is easy to pick up and play and begin mashing buttons to send enemies flying, it doesn’t go much else in terms of fixing the feeling of repetitiveness that has always plagued this series. Because the action takes place on a singular plane within the game world and you aren’t free to move around, things do get dull and rather quickly. Maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t artificially inflate the length of the game by adding stages, but we feel as if more could have been done this time around in 2019 when amazing releases in the genre, like River City Girls, are coming out around the same time.
If there’s one thing to take away from all of this, it’s the fact that the beat-em-up is hopefully back for good and not going anywhere. Whatever your cup of tea is in the genre, whomever has their fists flying and legs kicking, there’s sure to be a new game in the modern era to please fans of this style of game. The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors is not only a return for this series, but it’s a return for all games that fall into this same category. It feels right at home with everything else releasing, but it’s time to take the ninjas into a new setting now. That’s secretly what I’m hoping for with this re-emergence 25 years later.