Well, guess who bought this on sale on the Nintendo eShop on a whim and kinda regretted it.
I was surprised to see this on the “ACA” label, as The Ninja Warriors received a remaster on Switch, even on a non-limited physically produced cartridge, didn’t knew it had an arcade version…
and i was right because it didn’t, Taito just happened to make an arcade game called “The Ninja Warriors” (the one being reviewed here) in 1987 and then reused the same name for the sequel on the SNES… which is kinda confusing anyway(and also oddly appropriate) as it’s more of an enhanced remake.
And boy, the arcade precedessor/original, aside being outclassed in everything by the SNES game….didn’t age as well, as the arcade trappings are so obvious and dated, thought it’s not a complete disaster or a completely mediocre forgettable relic that leaves nothing to say about it.
Definitively this was a looker back in 1987, as the original arcade cabinet had a bigass widescreen display (done apparently by simulating two other screens at the border of the main one, )playing on, similar to the ones used for Konami’s first 2 Darius titles and their X-Men arcade game.
Gotta do something to catch the eye of the arcade goer in a decade so full of ninjas everywhere, after all, but honestly it looks fairly good, with a good number on enemies on screen, good details on the levels (the background though are a bit dull, even for the time) shown in this fancy-for-the-time widescreen display, and honestly controls quite fine… aside from the fact that you have to jump with the analog stick diagonals, like in a fighting game.
Yeah, the jumping not being tied to a button it’s an akward choice that pretty much makes jumping not that useful and stiff to perform anyway, but it’s the only issue in terms of controls, as otherwise your player character can attack while ducked, crouchwalk and attack, and throw ninja stars to deal with distant enemies, which are easy to see coming due to the huge widescreen display.
Problem is the robot ninja you control walks incredibly slow through the fairly long stages, and this isn’t a bug, it’s by design, as you’re controlling a Terminator-style ninja sent to assassinate the president of the United States, Barglar, who has become a despot and declared martial law.
And you definitely feel like you’re controlling a robot, as the player character movements have a detailed and deliberated robotic feel to them, so extra points for details and consistency, and minus points because you’d just wish you could simply move at a faster pace than “T-100 sprint”.
The other problem it’s the aged level design, which is so blatantly arcade, as in, a big ass quarter muncher: the levels go on and on, prey on your patience with hordes of repeated enemies and the stage end boss ready to pull some unfair shit on your ass, cheap shots like cannon fire from a tank well before you can even see there was a tank ahead of you shooting the shells, snipers coming into existence from impossible corners like phantom “Golgo 13s”, or surprising you with the need to navigate set of stairs after levels of straightforward progression from left to right.
Also, combat its fairly limited and the advanced enemies often pull cheap tricks or are hard to tell they’re being damaged by the ninja stars, despite the latter being essential for crowd control, or elite enemies have such reach that you’re guaranteed to take hits while trying to damage them, as jumping is awkawrdly done, you can’t block or dodge, while enemies can and will.
Or to be honest, you can block with the weapon, but you won’t find unless by accident that you can actually do that, not that it changes much as even medium tier enemies like the kunai wielding ninjasyou have to “button mash” match their attack in hopin that you’ll get some hits in, since they block ninja stars unless you catch them between them switching to high and low guard.
Just don’t expect too much in terms of combat depth, even the old Double Dragon had more, to be brutally honest.
And of course the ninja stars are limited projectiles, which can be regained by killing some mid (and higher) tier enemies…. and are also replenished to the default stock when you continue by inserting extra coin, or press the button the adds a credit, on the case of this release.
It’s a good thing you’re on free play emulation with save states and shit, because the only way to progress is the old way the game industry conned people into spending more. And more. And more. And more.
Even though its not that badly balanced, as in, you have a lifebar, an actual one, and with practice you’ll learn how to deal with most of the foes and hazards, which is pretty typical for the era this approach of memorizing the game to flawlessly go through it… even though the difficulty here it’s clearly skewed against you to make you drop dozens of quarters into it.
In terms of content, given the context/nature of the “beast”, it’s not even short, with 6 levels total, not bad for the time in terms of lenght for an arcade game.
Though, it’s actually a decent game, when you consider what it actually is and how old it is, so i’m not surprised that when it came out it was pretty well received and ported to a lot of systems, including the Commodore 64, the Amiga, the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad CPC, and even got console ports on the Sega Mega CD and PC Engine.
It just has the retroactive bad luck of being followed up by a far better game that also shares the same identical title, so in hindsight it’s bound to feel somewhat disappointing, even though the game itself isn’t really at “fault” for that, and on the flipside the naming meant it got picked up by the Arcade Classics Archives, as it’s part of arcade gaming history nonetheless.
Speaking of which, the emulation it’s great as always, and this release offers all three regional configurations/versions (Japanese, American, European), though i honestly didn’t notice much at all in terms of obvious stuff like blood or rejigged/censored text in the opening or ending movies (which are written in delightful engrish), alongside the usual Caravan Mode.
Of course the best way to play it is in two players local co-op as intended, you have different looking cyborg ninjas (male and female), but they control the same. Again, typical for the era, but as a single player affair it becomes a bit boring fast, since there’s no reason or emphasis on chasing high scores, after all points do not award you pick ups or lives or whatever that gives you any in-game advantage/help.
So overall not a necessary purchase but if you’re feeling that arcade ninja videogaming itch and have plowed through the more famous ones, the original arcade The Ninja Warriors it’s a decent “belt scroller” (as these kinds of arcade games are apparently called), and while it’s not that inspired visually, the music on the other hand it’s quite catchy and memorable work, to the point of even being worthy purchasing on its own.