Salmon Ninja

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Krax Games for PC, originally released in 2016.
Salmon Ninja is a grapple-based precision platformer starring a moderately incompetent ninja with a poor sense of direction who has recently entered the afterlife. Upon entering this relatively featureless landscape, a glowing light appears nearby. However, the ninja remains confused as to which direction he should go, and instead of walking into it, he wanders off in the opposite direction, putting him on the path to Hell itself.

The ninja’s companion on his journey, whom he visits on several occasions, is a salmon. The ninja speaks to the salmon, which is only capable of responding with various “blub” noises, but the ninja seems to understand her. Dialogue exchanges are light and humorous, often with the ninja explaining his confusion as he descends further into the underworld. The ninja also speaks with each of the game’s four bosses before fighting them, and these exchanges are similarly absurd.

When the game begins, the player is presented with a world map, featuring a path with several lights along it, representing each of the individual levels. For the most part, levels must be completed in order, but there are occasionally branching paths that give the player the choice between two levels, but both must be completed before moving forward. There are four worlds in all, with eight levels each (counting boss fights), for a total of 32 levels. As with many precision platformers, levels are short and are meant to be completed in under 30 seconds; however, players should expect their actual completion time to be much longer than this, as death waits around every corner.

Taking its cues from the pantheon of precision platformers popularized by Super Meat Boy, the ninja has a high floaty jump with a great deal of midair direction control, as well as a wall slide and a wall jump. The ninja also has a long chain that he can freely aim in 360 degrees, grappling onto any solid surface and pulling himself instantly toward it at high speed. Using these tools, the ninja dashes across tiny platforms, around spinning saw blades, and over pits of spikes and pools of lava and acid, with very little room for error.

The ninja must occasionally deal with enemies, for which he has a fast-slashing katana. The blade can also be aimed in 360 degrees, although it has a wide slash, allowing the ninja to strike most enemies without having to specifically adjust his aim toward them, and enemies die in a single hit, allowing for high speed ninja kills along the lines of Super Ninja Warrior Extreme. However, since the blade can be aimed, it is possible to kill enemies that move in from behind, allowing the ninja to run away from pursuing enemies and save his bacon at the last minute with a well-timed strike. Players can also deflect darts back at emitters to destroy them from a distance, although other types of projectiles cannot be deflected. Destroyed enemies bounce off of walls and fall down shafts, leaving behind satisfying streaks and sprays of blood.

Challenges tend to alternate between running and jumping, grappling, and fighting enemies, although some of the tougher challenges require players to combine these activities to deal with enemy- and obstacle-filled environments. Fortunately, the grappling hook can also be used to take down foes – and this is required in some areas – allowing the player to stun enemies from a distance or pull them toward himself, often flinging them into environmental obstacles. However, the ninja is also flung if he grapples an enemy while standing in the open, allowing him to slice through his foe as they pass each other, but potentially killing the ninja as well if he is flung into danger.

Understanding the timing of the grapple chain is key to survival, as it has a cooldown period between uses, making for some challenging situations when the player is flinging himself past pools of lava or pits of spikes (which is most of the time). Pressing the GRAPPLE button also pauses the action for a few seconds, allowing the ninja to hang in the air and freely aim. However, this effect is only temporary, and failing to initiate a successful grapple within this time limit causes the ninja to fall (if he is in midair) and also activates the cooldown period, making it unlikely that the player will be able to recover before he is killed. This makes for some tough late-game challenges where the player must stay on the move and perform multiple midair grapples before reaching solid ground and the safety of a checkpoint.

Checkpoints appear fairly frequently, usually at the end of each challenging sequence, but sometimes quite a lot is asked of players between checkpoints, and there are a handful of blind jumps that will invariably send players diving face-first into spikes or other dangers on their first attempt. Also, new obstacles don’t load into the game world until the previous checkpoint is passed, occasionally leading to situations where fast-moving players run into deadly objects that had not yet been generated when the area was scrolled onto the screen. Each death results in a spray of brightly-colored blood which is persistent between reloads, offering players a reminder of their previous failures.

Getting killed yields a Game Over screen with a message stating the manner of the player’s death, along with an option to restart from the last checkpoint or retry the entire level. As with most precision platformers, reloads are instant, allowing players to immediately hop back into the action upon death. Players are free to replay any previously-completed level and are ranked with gold, silver, or bronze medals based on their completion time. Completing the level also displays a series of skulls representing each of your deaths, appearing one at a time, which can take a while for double- (or possibly triple-) digit failures, but it’s skippable if you don’t wish to be celebrated for your shortcomings.

Once the player gets used to the basic controls and learns when it’s better to jump than grapple, levels begin to require more precision and the use of advanced techniques. For instance, when the player grapples toward a vertical surface at a sharp angle, he retains some upward momentum upon connecting with the wall, allowing him to grapple just below a ledge and then slide up on top of it.

Later in the game, the player must grapple between multiple enemies while in midair – and there is no cooldown period after grappling enemies – in order to zip from point to point around rows of spikes and pools of liquid death. Occasionally, players are required to jump away from a platform and then aim back in the direction they came, pulling themselves around an overhang. And sometimes players must maneuver around corners by jumping off of a pillar, flying up over the spikes on top, and then dropping back down on the opposite side of the same pillar.

Some of the more interesting areas are the open environments. While most levels offer linear paths constructed of narrow death-lined passages, there are several environments where the player can freely grapple around and explore, and these often involve seeking out several keys to open a door to the exit. Here, players must use more strategy to determine from which direction to approach certain situations, and it’s a good idea to take out wandering enemies since players are more likely to fall down onto them, and open areas do not have any checkpoints.

After the game’s midpoint, the player is introduced to an advanced technique (which is available from the start) allowing him to break out of a grapple by pressing JUMP or GRAPPLE after making a connection. This technique is rarely required, but it allows players to grapple onto a row of spikes, fling themselves toward it, and then disengage and fall down onto a platform below or re-engage the grapple to hit a more distant point. Given the speed of the grapple retraction, this technique is quite difficult to engage successfully, as the timing must be very precise to avoid a swift and splattery end.

Each of the game’s four worlds ends in a boss encounter, and each of these is preceded by a humorous dialogue exchange. The first boss, Skellymoose (a skeleton moose), declares that the ninja is trespassing in his domain and wonders how he managed to get past all of his soul-collecting ghost bunnies… who have never before captured a single soul, but Skellymoose doesn’t want to fire them because they’re so cute. Then, he offers to help the ninja if the ninja can defeat him in battle, but the battle is won by decapitating the poor moose, leaving the ninja to press on in search of someone else to help him.

Boss battles are fairly simple pattern-based affairs, and generally involve dodging the same two attacks again and again, and then moving in to deliver as many sword strikes as possible. The battles are fairly easy, but they are humorous and offer a short break from the precision of the regular levels. Still, the ninja is killed in a single hit, and it can be somewhat challenging to remain unscathed for the duration of the battle.

Salmon Ninja was developed by Krax Games, founded in 2015 by David Andresen. Music for the game was composed by Benji Inniger.