Brawlers. Beat-’em-ups. Those games where you walk down the street and punch hordes of enemies in the face. No matter what you call them, these games used to be one of the biggest genres during the ‘80s arcade era. Some of the biggest titles in the genre are considered still cherished to this game because of the sheer amount of action-packed fun they were whilst being easy to jump into. The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors recaptures the magic of the ‘80s coin-op brawler in spectacular fashion while elevating the genre with some cool gameplay ideas and interesting boss fights.
This remake of Taito’s 1987 cyborg ninja beat-’em-up carries much of the original game’s gameplay over and amplifies the aesthetics making it a stunning blend of modern HD graphics moving in classic arcade style animations. One of the core differences The Ninja Saviors has compared to other beat-’em-ups is that levels play out on a single plane, meaning you can only move right and left. Admittedly, this was jarring at first as I’m quite used to moving up and down and using the terrain as a way to round up all enemies into one big pile I can pound my fists at. Turned out it was a conscious design choice as all of the cyborg Ninjas have more than just punches and the screen-clearing super they can unleash once their bar is full.
Each of the game’s three base shinobi death machines and two unlockable ones has his or her own playstyle and special moves. Oddly enough, the super seems to be exactly the same across the roster with just a difference in the animation. The athletic and agile Kunoichi is the perfect balance between mobility and versatility with her acrobatic jumps and throwing kunai. The hulking Ninja, on the other hand, sacrifices his jump for a boosted dash and wide hitting nunchuck attacks. Finally, Kamaitachi has a shorter range but has fast attacks with his scythes. Yaksha and Raiden are unlocked by beating the game’s eight-level campaign. Yaksha has stretchy arms she can use to pull herself across the screen or grab enemies and pound them to the ground while Raiden is a giant samurai helmet touting mech that’s as big as some of the bosses in the game.
The boss fights in The Ninja Saviors are one of the big highlights of the game as they are all well designed and unique in their mechanics. From the traditional screen-filling mountainous boss to a limb stretching mutant abomination, the bosses in this game all bring something unique to the table that requires a more methodical approach to take them down. The one gripe I had was that most of them were supported by droves of additional lowbie enemies which ended up being frustrating to deal with rather than add to the interesting mechanics of the main bosses.
Another sore point of The Ninja Saviors is that the game doesn’t explain its combat system. For the first two levels, I found myself relying on my basic punches and super to get through them which made both the levels and their bosses a lot more frustrating. It even made the whole game feel basic and shallow. But once I discovered each cyborg ninja’s special attacks I started having a much better time of it by utilizing their cool attacks and performing combos. For some, this will probably be part of the experience from the ‘80s arcade era but for a newer generation of gamers, I’d recommend looking up command lists.
I’m a giant fan of the side-scrolling beat-’em-up genre because I grew up with Streets of Rage and Final Fight. Popping in coin after coin in arcades that had other titles, even bad ones, comprised some of my most cherished gaming memories and The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors brought those back in spades. What ties all the fun gameplay, intense levels, and challenging boss fights together is a banging soundtrack by the legendary house band Zuntata. Needless to say, I’m still humming the heroic tune of the game’s opening level long after I’ve completed the game a few times. It may sound like an overpriced title with only a mere eight levels and two difficulties but it more than makes up for it with the variety of playstyles it offers with its five ninja roster. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or want to jump in head first then you have to pick this title up.
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