Most AAA games nowadays try to do it all. Intense graphics, orchestral sound, complex systems, all in service of justifying the $60 we spend for the pleasure. It’s sent game budgets skyrocketing and made it difficult for even successful games to turn a profit. Around the same time of the AAA explosion, indie games began to grow in stature, providing experiences that forgo much of the bombast of AAA releases and instead focus on a singular experience. Ninja Shodown is an indie game like that.
In Ninja Shodown, you are a ninja tasked with defeating a never-ceasing horde of enemies. You have a variety of weapons at your disposal with which to dispatch your foes, like your trusty sword, throwing stars, and even bombs. But your opponents do have a distinct advantage: Powerful ninja or not, you are apparently made of sugar glass, as all they need to do is touch you to bring about your bloody death.
Single-player mode sees you facing off against wave after wave after wave of enemy ninjas. Your opponents start off very simple — no A.I. to speak of, they simply run across the screen, occasionally ducking into doorways and popping out of others. And again, one touch is death. But they’re easy enough to take down that you probably won’t even have to waste your consumable throwing stars on them. Difficulty ramps up, however, and not just by throwing more and more enemies at you. Eventually, enemies will come equipped with more versatile attacks, or even armor that protects them from the front. Your strategy will either evolve, or you will die.
During matches, items will appear on the field. Collecting them will give you a random special weapon, like the aforementioned throwing stars and bombs. Some weapons are incredibly powerful, but they can occasionally kill you, too, so you’ll need to get good at using them before they’ll be of any help.
Multiplayer is where the fun really kicks in. There are several modes to choose from. Last Ninja is a free-for-all, last-player-standing match between you and your friends. It’s probably the simplest to explain — lose all your lives, and you’re out. Battle is more of a tug of war. You gain points by killing your opponent, you lose points by dying. The player with the most points when time ends is the winner. Coin mode tasks you with breaking gold cat statues and collecting the coins that spill out. Every time you die, you lose a chunk of coins, which your opponent can then claim. And finally, Crown is like a bloody and violent game of keepaway. The player who finds the crown has to wear it, keeping it away from opponents. The catch is that you can’t attack while wearing the crown. Each mode shares five different levels, and each level has five different layouts to choose from, adding a lot of variety to the mix.
In a game that requires so much precision in even its most basic combat, I was frequently distracted by text popping up over and around my character. Scores, critical hits — a better place to display this without taking my eye off the action would have been appreciated. It’s a relatively small gripe in an otherwise manically fun game.
Everything comes together in a retro-looking package with a ton of attitude, from dabbing ninjas to a smack-talking announcer. It’s a simple game, but the variety of modes on offer makes it endlessly replayable. If you’re in the market for a bloody and fun party game, Ninja Shodown is worth checking out.