I’ve never been very good at platformers. Maybe it’s my lack of patience, my easy to reach rage from constant deaths or simply my lack of gaming ability, but whatever the reason, platformers and myself just don’t seem to get along.
But regardless, here I am reviewing Ninja Senki DX, the 8-bit platformer from Tribute Games which is finally available to play on Sony platforms 5 years after its initial debut. The story is simple, a ninja named Hayate seeks revenge for the death of Kinuhime who was slain by a demon. It’s so simple in fact, that this is all explained in a 5-second opening cut scene.
The developer has actively stated that they take inspiration from 80’s NES platformers of old and this is instantly apparent by the games visuals. The game has the look and feel of a retro platformer, with eye-catching colourful landscapes and well designed 2D foes. Tribute Games have successfully recreated the look and feel of some of gamings classic settings with titles such as Mega man and even Super Marios Bros coming to mind. The love and care that has gone into replicating the style of these classic titles is clear to see.
There are 16 fantastically designed levels to navigate in Ninja Senki DX, taking you through dungeons, mountain landscapes and jungles. Enemies appear in many different forms, from soldiers wielding shotguns to jumping ninjas. Each one follows an attack pattern, such as shooting three bullets in one go every few seconds or being surrounded by a shield after attacking. To keep things fresh, each one requires a different amount of hits to take down. With their accompanying different movement patterns, this adds a nice extra challenge to each level. Your weapon in game is an endless supply of Shuriken, which can allow you to strategically take down foes from a distance. Sometimes I found it easier to run into a difficult area spamming the attack button, unleashing a tidal wave of metal stars everywhere. As there is no limit, either way can get the job done. The variety of enemies is refreshing and really keeps you on your toes allowing levels to remain interesting.
You start each level with 2 lives, with your character able to take five hits before losing a life. You will quickly become thankful of these extra allowances. Ninja Senki DX offers a stern challenge and the further you delve into the game the more difficult it becomes. At times it borders on frustrating as you find yourself dying over and over again. Luckily when you reach a new level, if you lose both lives, you simply restart from the beginning of that level rather than the start of the game. You’ll be thankful for that I can tell you.
There is also one checkpoint in each level, meaning that if you get a certain distance through a level and die, you won’t need to start from the beginning. Don’t rely on this lifeline though, as the game does not inform you when you reach a checkpoint, which can be rather annoying when you think you’ve navigated most of a level, only to find yourself placed back at the start after a death.
Controls are basic, with the two main moves in the game being to either throw a Shuriken, or to double jump. Sometimes you will need to incorporate both to successfully navigate a particularly tricky area. As is the case with most games in the genre, falling into the abyss below will result in an instant death so mastering the platforming side of things is essential. In my first playthrough I found it helped to be patient, as there was no telling what would be lurking just off screen.
The game plays seamlessly, loading screens are short and the gameplay is addictive. Even though I had many frustrated out bursts from countless deaths, I kept coming back for more. It is extremely satisfying to finally beat a level after what seems like hundreds of attempts.
Of course, I soon discovered that coming to the end of a level was in fact the most challenging and stressful part. Boss battles in Ninja Senki DX are fantastic, adding a further degree of extra challenge. Each one felt unique, blending the need for precise timing and perfectly-timed star shooting It was clear to see that a lot of thought had gone into each one. Though I will admit there were plenty of instances where constant boss battle deaths ended in me rage quitting the game altogether and throwing my Vita down in disgust. After completing one particularly gruelling battle, against an armoured, jumping, laser beam shooting, staff-wielding panda I literally fist bumped and shouted “Get In” at the top of my lungs. That feeling of triumphant is seriously what gaming is all about.
Ninja Senki DX is a well made, beautifully crafted game and it is clear to see that the developers have a strong love for the genre. But is that enough?
Indie developers using the 8-bit style is nothing new, with many taking inspiration from the games they loved from their childhood. The problem with Ninja Senki DX is that there is nothing new or unique here. There is no unique selling point, no twist, nothing to make it stand out from the crowd.
It provides a fun distraction, but it is unlikely to make a lasting impression. Except, of course, for the moments of mind-bending frustration and anger. As much as Tribute Games should be commended for their fantastic level-design and boss battles, the spike in difficulty that comes very quickly did at times seem rather unfair. Let’s use Boss battles as an example: the limited space accompanied with the boss’ ability to attack you from any distance, made for rather gruelling fights. Beginners in the platforming genre be warned, the game thrusts you straight into the carnage and very quickly you’ll be battling large numbers of enemies who can jump, shoot, kick and stun sometimes all at the same time.
DX is said to be the ultimate edition of the game and contains a whole host of extra content from its previous iterations. Even once you have completed the games 16 levels, there is hardcore mode, challenges to complete, secret areas, a new character to discover as well as multiple endings. So there are lots of reasons to return to the world. Enjoy it, embrace its beautiful 8-bit style, just don’t expect anything groundbreaking.