Released for the SNES back in 1994, Natsume’s The Ninja Warriors would have definitely been my cup of tea at the time had I (a) actually been aware that the game existed, and (b) owned a SNES to play it. I was a Mega Drive gamer back then, you see.
Thanks to the arrival of The Ninja Saviors – Return of the Warriors, however, I am now aware of it, and I no longer need a SNES to play it. Available on both PS4 and Switch, this enhanced remaster of the game not only benefits from re-drawn graphics, but also additional features such as two-player local co-op and two additional playable characters.
A side-scrolling beat ’em up, The Ninja Saviors – Return of the Warriors presents players with eight levels to battle their way through. And of course, at the end of each stage there’s a boss, often gargantuan in size. The stages are a varied bunch, taking you through streets and military bases, and new enemies are frequently thrown your way to keep the action interesting. Although the playable characters and the moves they put at your disposal do a good enough job of that, anyway.
There’s just one attack button, but a lot can be done with it. Tapping it when an enemy is in range performs a combo that ends with most enemies being floored, while holding it puts your character in a defensive stance. The attack button can be combined with actions such as jumping and crouching to open up new attack options, too. Each character has their own repertoire of moves available that makes them completely unique. You need to make use of their strengths to succeed, as they all have their Achilles’ heel.
The most useful and devastating attacks in The Ninja Saviors – Return of the Warriors rely on a Battery gauge that sits at the bottom of the screen. It refills automatically, but if you get knocked to the floor by an enemy attack, the gauge resets back to zero unless it’s fully charged. Each character has both ground and aerial attacks that make use of the Battery gauge, and they are often very powerful. If the bar completely fills, you can even make use of an ultimate attack that pretty much clears the screen.
Initially three characters are available for you to kick some shins with, and they’re all robotic. Ninja is the largest of the three, stereotypically slow but powerful. Then there’s Kamaitachi, a skeletal-looking android that’s fast but hits weak. Kunoichi is the character that sits in the middle. Well-balanced, she makes a good choice for beginners.
New to The Ninja Saviours – Return of the Warriors are two unlockable characters that offer yet more gameplay opportunities. Yaksha is a tiny female android that makes use of flexible arms to attack at a greater range with unpredictable attacks. Raiden, on the other hand, is a behemoth. Capable of transforming between two modes, he can crush enemies in his more human-like form, or take to the air to shoot opponents in Blaster Mode. They complement the original cast well, expanding your combat options rather then overlapping them.
Completing all eight of The Ninja Saviors – Return of the Warriors‘ stages is likely to only take you a couple of hours, though you should probably expect to die a lot until you’ve mastered the game; the bosses get a little bit tricky toward the end, even on normal difficulty. The last boss, however, is a total pain in the backside. You have to throw enemies up high to defeat him, but the game doesn’t make it easy. And if you do get stuck, don’t even think about quitting back to the main menu and going back to have another go later; leave your current game, and you’ll have to start back at the beginning.
When you do finally complete the game, you can play through it again on hard difficulty. Alternatively, you can tackle each stage in Time Attack mode, or engage in some local multiplayer action. Playing the game in co-op is unique in that both players share a health bar, so while you have someone to cover your back, it’s also easier to get in a bad situation when faced with attacks that can hit both players. Still, it’s fun to tackle the game with a friend. Online leaderboards track single and multiplayer performance, too. If you’re the competitive type, that might add some additional incentive to play.
It’s clear to see that some love has been put into this remaster. The visuals are unashamedly retro, but so detailed that you can’t help but be impressed. It’s the animation that really stands out though – it’s just sumptuous. Throw into the mix a fantastic soundtrack, for which there are multiple options, and you’re onto a winner.
The Ninja Saviors – Return of the Warriors should be considered a must-have for fans of side-scrolling beat ’em ups. It has some flaws, but it’s still a standout title in the genre that remains fun to play thanks to the updates that have been made. It’s just a shame that some of its later bosses feel a bit cheap, especially when playing as certain characters. Those with patience, persistence, or indeed, skill, will overlook this issue, however, and simply have a brilliant time flooring mobs of goons.