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Ninja Shodown

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Bitmap Bureau
Release Date: Oct. 6, 2017


Switch Review - 'Ninja Shodown'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 22, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Ninja Shodown is a four-player competitive and co-op action/platformer that sees every ninja for themselves in the ultimate battle for the Jade Katana!

The big arena-style combat games are a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch, a console that has already become a go-to multiplayer system for many other genres. Many gamers are still waiting for Super Smash Bros. to hit the platform, either as a brand-new entry or a port of the Wii U edition, but some are hoping indie developers will fill that void. With bigger games like Duck Game being delayed for netcode improvements and no word on Towerfall: Ascension, other indies have stepped up. One of those games is Ninja Shodown, the latest title from the developers of 88 Heroes.

Ninja Shodown features three modes, with the Story mode housing a very basic premise for the proceedings. You're a member of the Viper Clan of ninjas, and you're sworn to protect a sacred katana with your life. Naturally, someone is after this katana, so it's up to you and your fellow clan members to take down the threat and keep the sword safe. For this mode, that means going through rooms, clearing out waves of goons, and there's an occasional boss fight thrown in for good measure.

For the most part, your ninja is quite versatile. You always have a sword at your side, and while you can deliver some basic combo attacks with it, there's a bit of a delay between each slash. You also have shurikens at your disposal, though their supply is limited, so you'll search for crates to replenish your stash. On the field, you'll also be able to pick up other ninja-related weapons like kunais, and you can teleport to another location. You'll also get other non-ninja weapons, like mines, Molotov cocktails, pistols and an Uzi. As for movement, you can do a ground dodge, and you can cling to walls, which is perfect for climbing up to higher spots.

Your default running speed is pretty fast, which leads to a feeling of your ninja sometimes being too twitchy when moving around the battlefield. That's problematic since enemies can kill you by simply touching you. You can spawn into the level, move forward, and instantly die because you fell on top of someone. Enemies are present almost all of the time, so death can come quite easily unless you play things defensively and strike from afar, which feels contrary to the game mechanics.

Other elements dull the gameplay. For one thing, the stages last far too long, especially when you're going after enemies that run into you just to kill you. There are no checkpoints between waves, so losing all of your lives means restarting from the beginning. You also don't have much respawn protection time, so you can spawn into an area and die immediately if it's a bad spot. There's also no indicator about which special weapon you have or how many of them you currently possess, leaving you in situations where you may try to hit someone from afar only to realize that you can't do it. There's also the issue of these special weapons can kill you as well. Mines arm themselves almost too quickly, while the Molotov cocktails have such a wide spread that you'll most certainly get caught in the flames.

When combined, you're left with a mode that is too difficult for all of the wrong reasons. It can be a real struggle to get out of the first stage unless you get lucky. Even then, the difficulty and the other game mechanics will make you want to give up on the mode, something that's easy to do because nothing can be unlocked by completing the Story mode. Likewise, the brutal difficulty also means that playing Infinite mode is out of the question, since it's essentially the same thing but with only one life at your disposal. You can mitigate the difficulty by having up to three other people join you, but few will bother to do this.

Instead, players will gravitate toward Versus mode. Right off the bat, you'll realize that every ninja is the same regardless of color, so no one has a distinct advantage or disadvantage. Secondly, the game sports five environments, but each has five different stage layouts, giving you a healthy total of 25 stages. Finally, the game doesn't have anyone die simply through touch.

This is where the gameplay mechanics really flourish. Fast movement is advantageous here, as the numerous one-hit kills mean that you'll be able to make up for the lack of defensive capabilities, like being able to deflect projectiles since you can outrun them or jump to avoid them. The environment can be used to your advantage, since you can slice barrels to roll them on opponents. Games are more fast-paced, so you can get in plenty of matches in a short amount of time.

With that said, there isn't much difference between the four different multiplayer modes. Two of the modes are simply deathmatch, but one has a time limit while the other has a score limit. Coin proves to be more interesting, since you're concentrating on gathering coins from golden cat statues while cutting up opponents to deplete their count. Finally, Crown has you trying to grab a crown and hold on to it for as long as possible before time runs out, with the catch being that whoever holds the crown can't attack at all. They're fine modes, but the lack of any real differences between them means that standard timed deathmatch will be the go-to mode.

Much like 88 Heroes, the presentation is both modern and retro. The music goes for more of an electronic vibe, with an emphasis on action minus the use of heavy bass. The effects are fine, but the voices are merely passable. As mentioned before, every ninja is the same, so you'll hear the same clips over and over, even if different people win. The announcer chimes in far too often with praise and ridicule, so he can become a nuisance. Meanwhile, the graphics go for a 16-bit SNES look that's amplified with loads of details. While it certainly works better on a TV, the action isn't too hard to follow on the Switch's own screen.

If this were any other platform or if this were released much later in the system's life, Ninja Shodown wouldn't be anything extraordinary. The multiplayer does the job, albeit without much flair, while the rest of the modes are more frustrating than enjoyable. On the Switch, however, the title barely has any competition, so those looking for a party-style combat game will find it more appealing despite the $15 price. If you can find Ninja Shodown for cheap and you're guaranteed to have a bunch of friends over often, then give this game a look until some of the stronger multiplayer combat titles hit the scene.

Score: 6.5/10

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