The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors
Developed By: NatsumeAtari
Published By: ININ Games
Category: Action, Arcade, Fighting
Release Date: 10.15.19
Video game history is a personal passion of mine; I love reading about the history of gaming and dreaming about all the games I’ve never played – but someday might. In recent years the debate over preserving the history of games has been centered around remakes and backwards compatibility, but the objectives of both come down to the same thing: keeping old games alive. For games like Ninja Warriors, an arcade beat-em-up later remade for the SNES, backwards compatibility isn’t really an option; modern consoles and PCs don’t really have slots for SNES cartridges or arcade boards (I guess there’s emulation, but let’s avoid that rabbit hole for today, shall we?).
So that leaves us with remakes – but that still leaves the question of what to include in a remake. If you alter the game from its original form, have you really preserved it? The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors for the Nintendo Switch is a remaster of the SNES version of Ninja Warriors, containing the original game plus a new time attack mode. Is it still the same game? Largely, yes, I would say so. The graphics are cleaned up and altered mostly to fit today’s widescreen ratio, unlike, say, what Square-Enix is doing with their Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest remakes, which alter the graphics significantly. Ultimately I would say Ninja Saviors is an example of re-releasing games the right way; while it may add new features to make it more attractive to new players, the focus is on preserving the original experience as closely as possible.
That original experience revolves around a fairly standard side-scrolling beat-em-up template. You can choose one of the game’s three original characters, and step into gameplay that will be very familiar to fans of Final Fight or Streets of Rage or any of their brethren. Each character has a limited selection of combo moves in addition to the standard run, jump, regular attack, and special attack functions that makes each character feel unique. Sure, the game mostly boils down to spamming the regular attack button a lot of the time, but the characters’ unique abilities give them different strengths. Kunoichi’s moves are superior in the air, while Ninja is pretty slow, but his dash move is actually excellent for clearing enemies on the ground. My only real complaint with the game is the speed of the action; while entertaining, it’s just a little too slow compared to a lot of modern beat-em-ups.
In contrast to a lot of other beat-em-ups, Ninja Saviors limits players to just one life; if your health bar runs out, that’s an instant game over. I thought that this was just a hella cheap way to suck down quarters they forgot to balance out in the console release and found it frustrating as heck… until I opened the menu to look up some combos and found out you could block. I felt incredibly stupid, but the game also became a lot more strategic and, more importantly, balanced after that. Under your health bar is a battery meter that fills over time. Using a combo will deplete a portion of the meter, but if you wait and let the meter fill all the way up you can unleash your character’s special bomb attack. The attack is the same across all characters; you jump in the air and toss bombs around, hitting every enemy on the screen. It’s pretty useful for clearing a room of baddies, but honestly I always tried to save it for bosses when I got towards the end of a level.
Ninja Saviors makes a few other concessions in the name of balancing its difficulty, too. While you don’t have multiple lives, you regenerate half of your health bar after every mission. You can also find energy tanks to replenish your health inside of destructible items throughout the game’s eight levels, so you don’t have to beat the game on only one health bar. That would be truly insane. Speaking of destructible items, throwable objects like gas tanks, motorcycles, and crates are strewn throughout most levels, which is a lot of fun. You can also pick up and throw your enemies (except bosses), for added strategic value. You can throw objects and enemies quite a ways, which makes them perfect for taking out a big group of baddies all at once.
As for new features, there are only a few. First, you’ve got online functionality, like worldwide leaderboards and online co-op play. Then you’ve got a new time attack mode; as you beat each level in regular mode, that level is unlocked for individual timed runs. Most importantly, two new characters are introduced for play! They aren’t unlocked automatically, but they do introduce their own cool mechanics into the gameplay. Beating the game with one of the original characters unlocks the new ones.
The game’s audiovisual components did undergo a slight revamp for this release, which in general is a concern for me regarding remastered games. I really prefer that the game be presented as close to its original context as possible. The pixel art spirit of the original SNES release is present, however. Honestly, until I read on the game’s page that the graphics and music had been touched up I thought the only thing that changed was the game’s aspect ratio. The designs of the game’s protagonists are pretty cool (especially Kamaitachi), and the backgrounds are highly detailed. The visuals in general are vibrant and engaging. The 16-bit soundtrack is fast and intense; as good as any old-school side-scroller you care to name (except Mega Man; the Blue Bomber’s soundtracks are a cut above everything in my 100% factually-supported opinion). The music was retouched just like the graphics, but again, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between how it sounds here and what the SNES was capable of.
I always appreciate any steps taken to preserve gaming’s history; whether it’s just a straight-up, no-frills re-release a la GOG or a total remake, I just want games to be available for future generations of gamers. I’d prefer the games be as close to their original release as possible, but that’s not always viable for the companies releasing their older libraries. The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors splits the difference the right way; things are retouched, certainly, but not in an obvious or intrusive way. The game underneath that remaster is a fun example of where arcade action games were in the mid-90s that remains pretty fun to play today. I hope more companies follow this remaster’s example.
Buy The Ninja
Saviors: Return of the Warriors
$19.99 Digital / $29.99 Physical
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.