Volgarr the Viking: 2013 Game of the Year
Oniken: 2012 Game of the Year

Super Ninja Warrior Extreme

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Ho-Hum Games for Xbox 360, originally released in 2012
While Super Ninja Warrior Extreme has an objectively incredible title that would have practically guaranteed its success in the 16-bit days, it smacks of a cheap cash-in when placed amongst the glut of moderate- to low-quality ninja-themed games available in the downloadable space. All the more pleasantly surprising, then, is the fact that the game offers the solid mechanics, chunky presentation, and old-school thrills you might expect from the consoles of yore.

Super Ninja Warrior Extreme falls into the same category as Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes in that it has a chunky art style, simple enemies, a small number of moves, and short levels. On its own, there’s nothing terribly special about any of these things, but the overall presentation, level structure, and unforgiving-yet-rewarding 1-hit kill gameplay make all the difference.

Here, the player takes on the role of a ninja as he travels through 30 short levels killing bad guys, dodging projectiles, and riding platforms to victory. The ninja has a variable height jump that maxes out at 3x, allowing for some high-flying action, but also a great deal of precision, as the player can readily adjust anywhere between a 0.5x jump and 3x. In early levels, this added control is a nicety, but not a necessity. But about 2/3 of the way into the game, mastery of variable jump heights is required for success. As with any ninja worth his katana, the character can wall jump, wall slide, and climb up vertical surfaces by performing multiple wall jumps.

The only weapon available to our ninja hero is a sword… Well, presumably it’s a sword, because the character has no animation whatsoever when attacking, and all that is visible are the bluish-white air sweeps that indicate the range of the weapon. The sword’s invisibility/non-existence does not make the weapon any less effective, however. Quite the opposite in fact. The weapon moves very quickly, has a long range, and takes out enemies in a single blood-showering blow.

There are a small number of enemies in the game, each with his own behaviors. Ground based enemies come in 2 varieties: the red masked ninja and the yellow masked ninja. Each walks slowly along and each has a circle of energy that appears around him when he takes notice of you and prepares to attack. This is not a sneaking game, however, and you are free to arcade them right in the face with your ninja sword (yes, we’ve just used “arcade” as a verb). The red masked ninja will attack with a sword of his own, while the yellow masked one will toss kunai. There are also flying bird-like enemies which also have masks, and these critters just fly left and right.

There are bosses as well, but these are perhaps the least important bosses in all of gamedom. Bosses wear horned masks and take a whopping 2 hits to destroy. There’s one at the end of each level that must be destroyed before you can move on. They are slightly faster than the other masked ninja enemies, but otherwise act as glorified finish lines at the end of each level. While it’s certainly possible to be killed by them, they’re not exceptionally harder than other enemies, and your quick blade can often deal its 2 deadly blows before the boss can even react. Of course, if you are killed by a boss – or anything else in the level – then it’s back to the start of the level with you, so you want to be extra careful not to mess up, particularly if you’ve just survived a difficult level. But this die-and-restart mentality is core to the game’s entire design.

The player has infinite lives and each level is designed to be beaten in approximately 30 seconds. Levels are populated by enemies, bottomless pits, spikes, flying projectiles, and moving saw blades. Touch any of them, and you die instantly, only to be tossed back to the start of the stage to try again. There’s a password system in place (visible at the pause screen) to allow the player to resume playing later if he gets frustrated, but the entire game can be beaten by a skilled action gamer in about an hour.

In addition to the enemies, the player will also need to do some precision platforming to make it through each of the levels. There are numerous instances where wall jumping is required to get up to a higher area, which is often populated by enemies. There are also a number of moving platforms that travel horizontally or vertically, and they can crush you if you get between them and a solid object.

While the presentation is quite simple, there’s actually quite a bit of variety to the locales and to the gameplay offered within. For instance, a couple of levels have walls of projectile-firing launchers that send walls of kunai moving from the left to the right and the player must position himself between the killer projectiles, running at full speed, jumping over pits, and killing enemies along the way. Pausing for just a moment too long can result in a level restart.

There are also instances where the player must fall down between walls of moving saw blades, using his mystical ninja midair direction change to move back and forth between them, or using his wall slide (assuming there are no spikes on the wall) to slow himself down. There’s even a level that requires a blind faith jump from a high ledge, sending the player falling through a large room with intermittently-spaced spiked walls, spiked floors, and loads of flying enemies on the way down. Here again, the 30 second design of the levels allows for crazy frequent death with minimal punishment.

This isn’t to say that the game is without challenge, however. Most players should be able to make it through the first 2/3 of the game with persistence and moderate action skills. However, things start to get tough around Level 19, which is suitably titled “Play More Serious”. At this point, more complex layouts start to appear, requiring more care on the part of the player and making it ever more difficult to get through a level without making a mistake.

Here, you’ll find a scenario where you'll have to ride a platform while dodging saw blades in a corridor packed with spikes. There are also instances where you’ll have to purposely run off of an edge that terminates at a pit of spikes, grab onto the wall and slide down, and then jump (but not too high, lest you hit the spikes on the ceiling) and kill an enemy standing on the far ledge. Jutting spikes are also introduced toward the end of the game, requiring extreme care when platforming and simultaneously dealing with enemies and flying kunai.

A perfect run is technically required in all levels, but slicing up the boss at the end of a particularly difficult level is all the more rewarding… and equally frustrating if he manages to get the best of you. Again, the short levels generally allow you to laugh at your own failures and learn something from them, and few levels feel insurmountable once you’ve made a handful of attempts. The game also offers a bit of between-level humor with some of its level names, featuring some purposeful Engrish, such as “It Have Begun”, and other humorous titles such as “Attack Aggressively” (which we assume to be a Contra III reference) and “You Spoony Ninjas” (Final Fantasy IV). There’s even a level called “Empty Level” which is absolutely packed with enemies, moreso than in any other level.

Super Ninja Warrior Extreme was developed by Ho-Hum Games, whose previous work includes the decent 1:1 avatar fighting game called Avatar Rumble.