Ninja Shodown is a game that I feel like leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. The best thing that I can compare it to is a little product called Mad Dog 20/20. It’s colorful, it’s got a surprisingly diverse choice of flavors and, in the right environment, it’s a hell of a lot of fun at parties. But, if you’re drinking Mad Dog 20/20 alone, it’s going to ruin your night. That’s precisely how I felt about my time with Ninja Shodown.
There is a plot, but not really. There are ninjas, officially known as the Viper Clan. They were supposed to be guarding a Jade Katana and apparently failed terrifically, because it’s been stolen. Now you need to go and get the katana back, using your ninja skills of jumping, katana, shuriken, rocket launcher(what?) and any other weapons you find along the way. It’s an arcade brawler of minimalist proportions, and it’s ready to dance.
Ninja Shodown certainly looks alright. The sprites are smaller but still defined, and you’ll always known who’s a ninja and who isn’t. The levels are typically a bit darker, but not enough for there to be shadows for the ninja to hide in. The main character also is somewhat of a spider-monkey, and can easily scale the walls as quickly as walking, so it’s kind of cool to watch the ninjas blend into the background for an effect that’s only important to the player and not the AI. The bosses, for the most part, are also really well designed, blending some serious “dark ninja” vibe with a tone that’s almost parody of what could be expected. Like if Kung Pow! had a bigger budget.
Once you get into the single player mode of Ninja Shodown, you realize something is amiss immediately. The enemies appear on different levels and disappear in and out of doors, very akin to the pipe system in the original Mario Bros, but these ones explode in a shower of blood when you kill them. Most thugs will do down with one hit, but armored enemies need to be shot in the back with a throwing knife or something equally effective to be taken care of. The earlier enemies don’t really have an attack pattern, they mostly just mill about until they catch sight of you, but, the longer you play, it does seem like the AI steps up its game to target you with weapons all their own. But none of this matters due to the fact that jumping is tantamount to suicide.
For reasons that I can’t understand (and for the second time in recent memory that I’ve been hyper critical of jumping), as soon as you land on an enemy, you die. It never seemed to matter if they were aware of you or if I was in mind swing, I was just dead. It made sense that them running into me on the ground killed me, but it felt so cheap and unsatisfying to die because I landed on them, especially when trying to jump up to higher areas. The result is I never wanted to jump and kept my whole business down on the first floor. When the stage was clear, I might move higher to collect some items, but I mostly staying on the first floor. The only times I jumped were to climb the walls to avoid immediate death, but, now that I was airborne, it was almost certain that I would be dead shortly. This feels pithy, and I know the developers must be incredulous at my critique, but a ninja should be able to have at least a moment after he lands of not being dead.
If you have friends and you all like ninjas, then you’re seriously all set moving forward. Ninja Shodown is, first and foremost, a multiplayer game. When you have a bunch of people together to play anything it turns out well, and Ninja Shodown is no exception. With four different modes to choose from, you can easily turn this game into a no-holds-barred bloodbath that’s incredibly entertaining. The screen fits perfectly to having all four ninjas jumping around at one time, and the game moves FAST. Shuriken fly across the screen in the blink of an eye, and a ninja is already re-sheathing his katana by the time you realize he’s drawing it. In the sense of having friends, it’s a blast, and I can certainly recommend it for the college aged crowd looking for a game that’s much less intense than Brawl, available on the Switch and can easily be made into a penalty game. Not to mention these ninjas can jump, land on each other and not die.
The blood factor is over the top and I think it works out well. Ninja Shodown feels like kids who grew up with the reboot of Ninja Gaiden wanted to make an arcade game and it works out with plenty of geysers, giblets and gore coming out of the many, many deaths you inflict and receive. If you don’t like it, there is an option to toggle off the blood, but there is no option to toggle off vibration. Given that it’s standard rumble and nothing HD or special, I would have liked the option to turn it off.
Ninja Shodown feels like a great idea that everyone enthusiastically supported until they realized that some people play games by themselves. The arcade mode is great with two players, but if you’re doing any ninja-ing by yourself, it’s boring, frustrating and empty. I would absolutely only pick it up if you have more people who are definitely going to grab a controller with you, because the hangover isn’t worth the price if you’re going at it alone.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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