The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors

A game by NatsumeAtari for Switch and PS4, originally released in 2019.
The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors (known as The Ninja Warriors Once Again in Japan) is a high definition remaster of Natsume’s 1994 SNES beat ‘em up entitled The Ninja Warriors (The Ninja Warriors Again in Japan, and Ninja Warriors: The New Generation in Europe), which itself was a follow-up to Taito’s 1987 arcade game, The Ninja Warriors. The SNES game acted as both a sequel and remake of the arcade original, fine tuning many aspects of gameplay to expand player capabilities and provide a more technical experience.

The arcade game set itself apart by offering a wide view across three monitors, similar to that of Darius, which Taito released the year before. The game stars a kunoichi dressed in red, with the second player taking on the role of a male ninja dressed in blue and possessing identical capabilities. Despite the spectacle of the super widescreen display, the game moves at a slow pace, with the protagonists casually strolling through a single-plane environment and taking on a continuous stream of bad guys.

What makes the game interesting is that the ninja heroes are actually androids, and taking damage causes their robotic skeletons to be revealed, with death resulting in them dropping to their knees and exploding. This game was ported to a number of consoles, losing the super widescreen effect in the process.

Years later, Taito decided to revisit the series with a Natsume-developed follow-up on the SNES (created by the same team that would go on to develop the cult favorite Wild Guns), this time developed from the ground up for consoles. Sadly, the game suffers the same fate as the SNES version of Final Fight, insofar as it does not offer 2P cooperative play. In trade, players are free to select from either of the protagonists from the original arcade game, as well as a new character, Kamaitachi, a robot with blades for arms.

The action still takes place on a single plane, despite the more common belt-scrolling format for brawlers, but it makes massive improvements to the overall gameplay. The game is visually impressive compared to its contemporaries, but the pace is still quite slow. Levels and enemies offer more variety, and each of the protagonists employs a wide array of character-specific tactics. Kunoichi is the average fighter with average strength and speed. Ninja is now a hulking beast of a machine that moves slowly but clobbers enemies with his fists and nunchucks, and he also has an array of grapple techniques (similar to Haggar in Final Fight). Kamaitachi slices baddies with his arm blades, which offer a longer reach than that of Kunoichi, and he moves more quickly.

This is the version of the game was remastered to become The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, which is a complete overhaul of the SNES game. Ninja Saviors offers a vastly increased resolution, redrawn environment and enemy graphics, and smooth animations that put even the original arcade game to shame, while retaining the vibrant colors of the SNES follow-up. Character animations present more weight to their movements and attacks, particularly Ninja, whose clothing animations help to convey the character’s incredible power.

The increased resolution allows for a more zoomed out view to showcase the environments, and the widescreen presentation gives the player a better view of the action. More importantly, the game offers two new playable characters, each of whom offers a very different gameplay experience, although both remain locked at the start of the game. When the game begins, players may select from Kunoichi, Ninja, or Kamaitachi, and players can also team up in 2P co-op. Completing the game once unlocks the first new character, a squat female warrior known as Yaksha. Completing the game a second time (on any difficulty and with any character) unlocks Raiden, a gigantic machine that dwarfs even the formidable Ninja.

The Normal difficulty mode is available at the start, with Hard mode unlocked after beating the game. Hard mode offers more plentiful enemies and introduces late-game enemies earlier in the experience. Each time the player completes a stage, he unlocks a time attack version of that stage (with separate unlocks for Normal and Hard modes) where he can work on his best completion times. This doubles as a practice mode for a 1cc run, which ranks the player’s total game completion via online leaderboards. A timer appears at the start of each run, but it is disabled if the player is killed.

Going into the Options menu reveals a sound setting that is locked to “once again”, which is the remastered soundtrack for this version of the game. By completing the game, the player unlocks “arcade” mode, which offers the original arcade soundtrack. Completing the game with either of the new characters unlocks “again” mode, which is the SNES soundtrack. Additional menu options allow you to adjust the scale, aspect ratio, and scanlines, as well as an option called “effect color”. Enabling this option turns some effects red, essentially acting as the game’s “blood mode” by offering crimson sprays when you damage enemies (as opposed to green).

The original arcade release featured red sprays of fluid as well, which were translated into green sprays in the Super Famicom release, and further toned down for the Western release, which replaced them with yellow starbursts. In addition, Western versions of the game removed female enemies and replaced them with the squat blade-handed foes. The Ninja Saviors remaster restores the female warriors, and also adds more destructible objects and throwable items to the environments.

As the story goes, a once great nation has fallen under the hands of a tyrannical ruler named Banglar, who uses his army to keep the people in line. An underground movement headed by an individual named Mulk hopes to depose this corrupt leader by using android technology. But before the resistance can launch their attack, they are found out, and Banglar sends in his army, defeating them completely... but not before they can activate their untested androids.

You take on the role of these androids, smashing through Banglar’s minions until you reach the goblin-faced dictator himself. All of the characters are able to guard, walk, crouch, and walk while crouching, but only some characters are capable of jumping. Each android has its own unique moveset, altering how the player navigates the environment and deals with enemies. In addition, a battery meter slowly charges – and is reset if the player takes heavy damage – allowing the androids to make use of character-specific special attacks and heavy finishers at the ends of combos. Or, once this meter is filled, they can unleash a bunch of bombs that damage every enemy onscreen.

Kunoichi attacks with kunai at a short range, although her combos are quick and finish with a katana strike that extends her range. Her special attack allows her to toss a few shuriken as long as she has a partial battery charge (as opposed to the limited supply of shuriken she had in the arcade original). She can perform a jump kick, a back kick, and a drop kick, and she can grab and throw enemies.

Ninja is the heavy of the group, and he is not able to jump. Instead, he can perform a boost dash that lets him slide quickly across the ground, after which he can follow up with strikes to deliver heavy damage to enemies. He can also perform a spin attack that boosts him off the ground a bit, and he can grab enemies and perform a couple of different throws.

Ninja's strikes are slow, but building up a combo causes him to pull out his nunchucks, which move more quickly and have a longer reach, striking enemies in front of him and behind. With his increased strength, he can pick up heavy objects and walk while holding them, as opposed to weaker characters that remain locked in place until the objects are thrown. This is a change from the SNES version where all characters remained stationary when holding heavy objects.

Kamaitchi moves quickly and can attack at a medium range with his arm blades, as well as performing slashing combo finishers, extended arm special attacks, jumping spin slashes, and a jumping arm blade attack. He can also toss enemies to the left and right, or kick them, and his special attack allows him to launch spikes from his back, or perform a diagonal midair dash. These attacks are effective for dealing with the small number of midair foes but aren’t as useful against ground-based enemies.

Completing the game unlocks Yaksha who plays quite a bit differently from her companions. First off, she is considerably shorter than the others, and her jump height is very low… but she makes up for this with her speed and agility. She can slide along the ground, deliver quick kicks, and knock enemies further into the air than the other characters can jump.

She also has a secret weapon, which comes in the form of Doc Ock-style extending appendages. These allow her to grab the ground and fling herself into the air, or grab enemies by the head and fling them upward. She can also follow up combos with extended punches, and she can reach down from above with her extended arms to punch enemies from the air.

Raiden is the final unlockable character, and his design borders on the ludicrous. He towers over the other characters – and most bosses – and weighs in at a whopping 32 tons, dwarfing even the beefy Ninja. At first glance, this appears to be a game-breaking character that is incredibly overpowered, but in practice, he requires his own set of strategies to be successful in combat.

With his slow movement and large frame, he's an easy target for fast-moving enemies (although it’s questionable whether a human-sized android could destroy him by punching him in the shins). All of his attacks take a long time to wind up, and his devastating explosive downward fist attack takes so long to initiate that it’s only useful in very specific situations.

Raiden’s most effective attack is an overhead smash that allows him to take out several enemies at once. He can also swing his entire frame around, allowing him to attack enemies in front and behind, which is useful given that he takes a long time to turn around (done via a button combination). He can grab and throw enemies, although grabbing a single foe is less effective than smashing a bunch at once, and he also has some heavy fire-based attacks for dealing with groups of baddies.

Most interesting is Raiden’s ability to transform, taking the shape of some kind of bipedal wasp with a machine gun for a face. In this form, he can unleash bullet sprays that damage even shielded enemies, and he can keep firing until his battery runs down. This makes short work of most of the game’s tougher foes, and it can wear down bosses in a hurry. He can also unleash some more powerful armaments while in this form, but the machine gun blasts are more than enough to do the trick… at least until his battery runs out, at which point this alternate form is useless.

The game takes place across eight levels and is fairly easy by brawler standards, especially given the fact that the player has infinite lives and respawns at a checkpoint when killed. There are also yellow crates containing health restoratives that appear with some regularity. Enemies come in an array of humanoid fighters who attack with fists, blades, and guns, along with the occasional oddball characters, such as the fire breathers. There are also some level hazards, such as spinning blades, bombs that drop out of the sky, and laser barriers, and these damage the player and enemies alike.

The toughest enemies come in the form of cargo robots that are immune to most of your attacks… and they’re all the more dangerous when they come at you from both sides. In order to damage these enemies, you must throw them, toss enemies or destructible objects into them, or get in behind them to attack them from the rear… which is easier for the more agile characters who are able to jump over them.

Each level has a couple of miniboss encounters – some of which show up as regular enemies later in the game – as well as boss encounters against big brutes, ninja masters, and even a strange mutant creature. Bosses often have support enemies that must be dealt with or avoided while you focus your attention on wearing down the bosses’ life meters, which are not overlong compared to those found in other genre entries. The only boss that’s a pain is the final boss, which cannot be attacked directly and requires that you to rely on throws rather than your impressive arsenal of attacks.

The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors was developed by NatsumeAtari. Specifically, the game was created by a team within NatsumeAtari called Tengo Project, whose members previously worked on the SNES version of The Ninja Warriors, as well as Wild Guns, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition, and Shin Kidou Senki Gundam Wing: Endless Duel. They are also responsible for the high definition remaster of Wild Guns entitled Wild Guns Reloaded, and the revisit of the Pocky & Rocky series with Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. Music for the game was composed by Zuntata, the Taito Sound Team.

The game was published by ININ Games, a publishing label of United Games GmbH that focuses on retro, indie, and arcade games, including Ultracore, CrossCode, Turrican Flashback, Turrican Anthology Vol. I & II, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, and Jitsu Squad. The game was published in conjunction with Taito (now owned by Square Enix), which is best known for the seminal Space Invaders, as well as dozens of other classic arcade titles.