The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors review – more than meets the eye

I’m at the point now where the idea of being an amateur gaming historian is exciting enough that I’m willing to go out on a limb and play classic games not just for enjoyment, but for context. Granted, The Ninja Saviors (aka The Ninja Warriors Once Again) is more of a reimagining than an outright ROM dump, but it’s a curio for most because it’s a follow up to an arcade game that I’m guessing a lot of people have never heard of, let alone played.

The game is a beat ‘em up of the highest order, replete with the pre-requisite battle on an elevator, a player move that clears the room at the cost of energy, and bosses that are difficult because they overwhelm you with minions. While it looks miles beyond what came before it, the gameplay loop in The Ninja Saviors is tried and true to a fault. If tromping hundreds of nameless bad guys is your thing, than this is a stellar addition to the genre; but if you’re not into the punchy/kicky stuff, this won’t sway you.

Rather than regale you with details you likely already know, I’m more interested in telling you the things that set this game apart from its brethren. The first is that the five playable characters (three at the outset, two that you unlock) play vastly differently from one another. Everyone uses the same jump/attack/special buttons, but the moves they execute are extremely varied. The bulky character, Ninja, is as described: a beast of an android who can’t really get off the ground, but can clear a crowd in no time. Kunoichi is lithe and fast, darting in and out, and pecking at baddies like your typical stereotyped female protagonist. The others either land in the middle ground or go to an extreme, making the game feel distinctively different according to which hero you choose.

What’s interesting is that if you’re playing in co-op, you share a life bar. It’s an interesting choice that means you either triumph together or you fail. At first I’d get frustrated with my kids (my eternal co-op buddies) for getting whomped, but I eventually realized it gives this game an air of teamwork that you don’t often see in games like this, and I began to defend them and help them figure out how to get out of certain situations. You also share an energy gauge that fuels your room-clearing move as well as individual power moves. It replenishes on its own with time, so there’s a certain optimization and management to the game that has you not just pummeling the opposition but keeping an eye out for dire situations and planning accordingly.

The Ninja Saviors is fair, but difficult. There are no options to save your spot, which requires you to play the whole game in a single sitting. There are checkpoints, but they aren’t what I’d consider consistent. Sometimes you’ll get to continue right before a boss battle, whereas other times you have to retread almost the entire level to get back to where you were. Without individual life bars, you can’t simply continue if you die as long as the other player is alive, which could potentially mean retreading a lot of ground. It’s not ideal, but the game doesn’t play like it wants to steal your quarters, so most of my losses were because of my own ineptitude.

The Ninja Saviors is a wonderful weekend romp, a lovingly crafted reimagining that, from what I understand, was built from the ground up by the same team that made the original game. During their heyday, beat ‘em ups were a dime a dozen and felt the same, but The Ninja Saviors sticks out of the pack with its creative premise, solid and fair combat and unique design choices.

The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors was developed by Taito and is available on Switch and PS4. We reviewed the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for The Ninja Saviors was provided by PR Hound. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.