Strangely enough, I happened to be playing the original precursor to The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors at a local retro arcade club just mere days before receiving the review code. The 1987 Taito classic The Ninja Warriors was stationed in a rather interesting cabinet that combines three CRT monitors with mirrors to create a wider-than-widescreen effect. Despite never actually seeing the machine out in the wild as a kid, this enticing little gimmick would have certainly had me reaching for change in my pocket back in the day. It doesn’t really hold up too well nowadays if I’m honest, but, for what it’s worth, it’s still easy to appreciate what the industry was once trying to achieve.
The sequel The Ninja Warriors Again – or, more accurately, the remake – was a far better effort released exclusively on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System by the same team who are now known as NatsumeAtari. It arrived a little later on in the console’s lifecycle and was visually impressive for the system, with animations, sounds, and colors that wouldn’t look out of place running on a decent ’90s arcade system board. For whatever spontaneous reason, the original developers have decided to get the band back together to not only re-release this niche SNES classic but also remaster the remake of the original. But, rather than throw a few polygons behind it or rework the graphics entirely, The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors aims to faithfully build upon what they once recreated 25 years ago.
You choose between one of five cybotic ninjas, including the dagger-wielding femme fatal from the 1987 original and two brand new characters who are unlocked once you have beaten the game multiple times. Each robo-ninja has its own diverse special set of skills to fit its design, weight, and playstyle. Although, to be frank, they are probably more suited to wearing Stone Island jackets rather than a getup designed for the shadows considering how confidently they stroll around during daytime shamelessly cracking everyone in sight. While it may not sound like it, this idea of a terrible sneak assassin working as a scene-destroying terminator is far more logical than it sounds. After all, everyone from the ’80s to early ’90s only really cared about three things: robots, ninjas, and big-arse explosions. So, why the hell not?
Yet, the more I think about it, the more a remaster such as this does make a great deal of sense. Why not keep the style of the SNES game, throw in a few more frames of animation while implementing some additional command attacks? Could you imagine if the same treatment was given to say, Final Fight? Maybe give Guy and Cody some extra moves reflecting the Street Fighter Alpha series with some added visual flow. It sounds like a great idea to me.
While Ninja Warriors Again on the SNES is not quite as well known compared to games in line with the Capcom classic, The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors still does a grand job at fulfilling a similar motive. However, don’t expect any command inputs to be much more demanding than a single directional input combined with a button or two. What it does do though, is make a ’90s classic into something that feels familiarly nostalgic, while keeping the gameplay favorably consistent.
The general formula of an arcade side-scrolling beat ’em up usually consists of a fairly wide lateral area to roam in, an attack button, a jump button, and a health-draining special attack of some kind when both of the buttons are combined. The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors does things a little differently. For starters, all the action plays out on a single plane, so there’s no need to worry about staying in line with an enemy when dishing out the damage.
Unusually for a game of this type, there’s also an ability to block incoming attacks by holding down your own attack button to lay down a simple, yet effective tactical element into the mix. Finally, each playable character has a super meter of sorts that will gradually build up during gameplay which can be spent either all at once or rationed across character-specific special moves. Take a whack to the face during its refill period and your meter will reset right back to zero.
Gameplay mechanics such as these are usually part and parcel for a competitive fighting game as opposed to a ’90s arcade side-scrolling beat ’em up. It’s unfortunate then, that this sort of evolution in merging the two would be implemented towards the end of its popularity lifespan. It’s a game that could easily be left unappreciated today – especially with what NatsumeAtari had looked to achieve back then, and are now trying to do with this remaster. Even modern indie takes on the genre will often callback a bit too close to the chemistry of repetitive restrictions of the coin munchers from back in the day. To see something like The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors keep the true essence of the arcade, while seamlessly stirring in new elements like they have always been there is a forward-thinking way of reintroducing a classic.
As a result, The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors managed to reignite that feeling I used to have when games such as Batman Returns and Streets of Rage were constantly jammed into my systems. The satisfying sound and background music crossed with lush, fluid sprite animations pushed the envelope of nostalgia even further. Despite how wonderfully silly the overall concept is, the character designs are undeniably cool with combat characteristics that mold charmingly relevant during a time where ’80s callbacks are a fashionable source of entertainment. It is an incredibly short game though, and not particularly difficult to beat with very little extra content outside of a time attack option, online scoreboard, and a harder difficulty setting that you can unlock. It would have also been great to see the SNES port included, for both comparisons and legacy sake.
If you find old school side-scrolling beat ’em ups boring and repetitive in general, then The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors probably won’t persuade you into thinking otherwise. However, if you’re like me and cherish the bygone times of risking that last coin to gain distance, or adore the memories of pummelling thugs with an explosion of 2D sprites complete with ’90s coin-op sound, then you really can’t go wrong with The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors. It’s a prime example of what Capcom should have done with Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers and should be referenced by anyone else trying to resurrect their own past passion project. Even the small touch of adding multiplayer to the game for the first time expands the fun factor and attention to detail that the SNES version probably wasn’t technically capable of. It’s good to see the Taito logo back on gaming systems. It’s even better to see a rehash of a remake done right.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by ININ Games