I’ve no idea if it’s something in the water or what, but I’ve been on a major ninja kick lately.  Maybe it’s a simple re-hash of my childhood, or maybe there’s just something extra awesome about the word ‘ninja’ but I keep getting drawn into games that involve them or have them in the title.  Thus when I noticed that copy of Ninja Warriors sitting on my shelf, I knew I had to take decisive action.  It was time for another ninja-tastic RETROspective, SNES style.

Cuz we're not playing Caveman Warriors here, bro.

Ninja Warriors arrived on Nintendo’s 16-bit box of awesome courtesy of Taito and Natsume in 1994, a mere six years after its appearance in the arcades in 1988.  In the arcade version, Ninja Warriors was a two-player simultaneous side-scrolling 2D beat ‘em up, kind of like Shinobi or Bad Dudes only in wide-screen format.  Once it arrived home on the Super Nintendo, Ninja Warriors lost its two-player capacity, gained a third playable character, and served as a sequel to the arcade original.

Aaaah! It wants to suck my blood!

Following in the steps of other established brawlers, the game gives you a choice of the traditional 3 character types for your solo trip through the post-apocalyptic future. Average Jane Kunoichi wears pink and does everything equally well with her knives and swords; the smaller, unassuming Kamaitachi functions as the faster-but-weaker character type who uses chain sickles to a deadly end; and the huge, blue-clad Ninja is the full-bore powerhouse killing machine that moves slowly but inflicts horrendous damage with his nunchucks.  Oh, did I mention that all three ninja warriors are actually androids designed and programmed to look and function just like ninjas?  Hmmm…I guess it’s easier to train robots than people.  No matter, a ninja is a ninja and to think otherwise is dishonorable.

Let's kill something!

But why all this carnage and unleashing of robotic ninjas in the first place?  The answer my friends is Banglar.  Banglar isn’t a very nice dictator at all, a problem likely stemming from the fact that he looks like the obese result of a tryst gone wrong between a Vulcan and Ferengi.  Undoubtedly, somebody somewhere has written a fanfic where this happens–if this is the case, please don’t share your diseased plot bunny with me.  Send it to James instead (I hear he’s into that kind of thing).

Yeah, this is the pint-sized dork causing all the trouble.

Anyway, Banglar is pissed so he’s taken over the country and now the citizens live under the oppressive thumb of a butt-ugly dictator-for-life.  But just like in any good action picture featuring an evil empire, there’s also a rebellion!  They built the androids but had to send them into battle untested after Plan A went up in smoke.  Thus: ninjas!

Chain sickle attack!

Gameplay is similarly basic as your cyborg-smack-down-o-tron walks (and I do mean walks–apparently the rebels didn’t install the “move your butt faster” modules before sending them out into the world) through eight lengthy stages of varying themes, cutting down enemies left and right with their own weapons and pretty much anything else that isn’t nailed down like chunks of cement, metal safes, abandoned motorbikes and explosive gas canisters.  At the end of each stage (surprise, surprise!) you face a boss intent on forcibly reprogramming you with things like chainsaws and giant lasers.  Much like a schoolyard bully deliberately gut-punching a younger kid in full view of the prefect, Ninja Warriors is unapologetic in its assimilation of the genre standards.  If it wasn’t so pretty, it’s likely we would hold that against it.

Ninja demonstrates his aptitude in "Bowling For Bungholes."

The other thing Ninja Warriors refuses to apologize for is an utterly brutal level of difficulty.  The game lets you think you have a choice in the matter since you can pick between Normal or Hard on the title screen, but really what it’s asking you isn’t “What difficulty level would you like to play at?” but rather “How quickly should I grind you into metal shavings, loser?”  Pick Normal if you want to see anything past stage 2 as a beginner.  Pick Hard if you want to experience a total eclipse of the nuts.  Either way, be prepared to see the continue screen a lot.

Dwarf to the left of me, poseur to the right...who do we slay first?

Occasionally Ninja Warriors will blindside you with things you don’t expect from this type of game.  What’s more, in a nice departure from tradition, these kinds of surprises can hinder your opponents in addition to you.  Nothing is more annoying in a game than watching your enemies walk straight through mine fields or charge right through shrapnel-filled explosions without a scratch, so seeing the baddies get taken out by their own laser gates, rotating fans, or the indiscriminate fire of an overzealous helicopter gunner made my day.  Taito gets a huge thumbs up for this feature alone, and if anybody is going to rip anything off from Ninja Warriors it should be this mechanic.

"Men call me...Chainsaw!"

Aside from co-op play, one thing I really miss from the arcade version is the soundtrack.  Ninja Warriors has decent music, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something delightfully cheesy about tearing through a military base hacking apart knife-wielding commandos and mini-mutant Wolverine clones while a piece of 80’s techno with synthetic electronic voices urges you to “Go ninja!” all up and down the octaves.  Admit it: you know that sounds damn cool.

Bet ya feel that in the morning.

Ninja Warriors doesn’t inspire to be anything more than what it is: a no-holds-barred festival of butt-kicking wrapped in a beautifully-animated package.  While the lack of a two-player mode is mystifying given that most players have taken this sort of thing for granted since the days of Double Dragon, it’s hardly a deal-breaker.  And while I’m not going to spoil it here, the ending takes great pleasure in smacking you upside the head.  The first time you finish Ninja Warriors, you won’t know whether to be pleased with yourself or angry with the game.  Once you know what’s coming, it’s a lot easier to take it in stride.  Taito has some stones finishing the story that way though, I’ll give them that.

Kunoichi Hulks out for the camera.

Enough jabber.  You’ve got a growth-stunted Vulcan/Ferengi hybrid and his entire army to slay.  Best get to work if you want to call yourself a real Ninja Warrior.  Go ninja!

Teenage Mutant Ninja WHAT?

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Game Name: Ninja Warriors
System: Super Nintendo
Publisher: Natsume
Developer: Taito Corp.
Online/Multi: One ninja only.
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: February 1994

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