Despite its cool title, The Ninja Warriors is an average, everyday beat-em-up. I've never been a huge fan of this genre of games, but I may have liked Ninja Warriors a little more than its brethren. I finished both its "normal" and "hard" mode settings in only a few hours after playing the game for my first time. It's short, simple, and, for the most part, easy, but I sometimes think that with beat-em-ups, it's better when they're over with quickly.
In a story that is one part Terminator and one part typical beat-em-up plotline, you control one of three cyborg ninjas who are on a mission to stop an evil alien from conquering the world. (The ninja warriors even have endoskeletons that are a rip-off of the Terminator.) Their ranks consist of a bulky, slow-moving ninja clad in blue, a female ninja, and a robot with blades on its arms. Although it seems possible to beat any part of the game with any character, some areas and bosses were designed for a specific ninja. You only get one life, but you have unlimited continues. So, the trick is to play with one ninja until you reach something that you can't pass, and then switch characters until you find one that makes the current situation easier.
One thing that's kind of unusual about Ninja Warriors is that you don't have 3-dimensional movement like you do in most beat-em-ups; you can only move left and right. This seems to make the pacing a bit faster; no time is spent moving all around the screen. It also has an interesting super bomb feature: The longer you go without taking hits, the more your super bomb meter fills up. When it's full, you can unleash an attack that hits all on-screen enemies. But if you get hit while your meter is still charging, it will drain, sometimes completely, so you have to play well to earn use of it. I like this system a lot more than collecting power-ups or having a chunk of your life meter disappear. The super bomb is balanced so that it's helpful without being completely overpowerl (ie, it can't take out a boss with one hit.)
The main reason I dislike most beat-em-ups is that much of the gameplay is walking forward, then kicking and punching whatever comes in your way. Ninja Warriors is no exception, thus the variety of its stages is lacking. The enemies are diverse, but you'll still end up fighting the same ones after awhile. Ninja Warriors also subscribes to the beat-em-up rule that enemies are only a threat when they surround you. If they're all on one side of the screen, they're easy to deal with. The levels do have some inspired creativity. In one scene, a helicopter hovers in the background and fires a machine gun at you. You not only have to deal with enemies, but dodge the shots, too. In another level, you have to fight enemies while walking through timed fan blades. I wish there had been more moments like those.
The boss fights of Ninja Warriors are also somewhat creative. Some of them require a specific strategy, such as one big green alien fight where the trick is to stay ducked down as much as possible due to his long-reaching arms. The final boss, which is like a cross between the first Shredder fight in TMNT4: Turtles in Time and the Laser Shower boss of Super C, took me several tries to figure out. At first, I thought this was a really good boss fight, but then I discovered a very simple strategy made him easy to beat. Of all things, I wasn't expecting the final boss would be designed for one specific character.
The best part of Ninja Warriors is the hectic melee that occurs right before the final boss fight on the hard mode. During this battle, just about every type of enemy in the game, sans the bosses, gangs up on you here. This was very difficult and took me many tries - I had to resort to using a special trick I discovered to get past it. I was relieved to see that the hard mode didn't involve enemies taking more hits. Instead, there are more enemies in some areas and some had slightly better AI.
Ninja Warriors' graphics aren't particularly special. The backgrounds look like they could've been lifted from just about any other beat-em-up, and the scenery is rather mundane. There is some nice animation for the playable characters, like the female ninja's hair, and when the bladed robot spins his arms. One boss even has a Predator-style camouflage (also used by the Sting Chameleon in Mega Man X). The music is neither good nor bad, just there, and it's rather subdued (it's easy to forget it's even there.) I think the ending was trying to be ironic, but it's actually rather goofy. The plot doesn't really do anything to make you care about it, but it doesn't really matter.
If I had paid full price for Ninja Warriors, I would feel rather spurned. But for a $5 bargain bin price, it was all right. I liked it a little more than some other beat-em-ups I've played, like the Super NES Final Fight (which felt tedious to me, and I didn't like its play control), but I don't like it as much as TMNT4 (my favorite). I don't regret playing it, and it was actually one of the few beat-em-ups I wanted to replay immediately after I was finished.
On a final note, this game was censored (in 1994!! After Mortal Kombat!!) The Japanese version of Ninja Warriors had female ninja enemies that were removed from the American version. The tone of the opening dialogue was watered down. Finally, a little bit of green blood would spurt out when you hit enemies. Why it's green, I don't really know.
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