Ninja Senki DX (PlayStation 4) Review

By Nikola Suprak 02.07.2016

Review for Ninja Senki DX on PlayStation 4

There has been no shortage of retro inspired platformers recently. There is something about a healthy dose of nostalgia that makes people's brains turn off, making them willing to throw money at something if it reminds them of the warm happy feelings of their childhood. The problem is that not many of them are actually enjoyable, and frequently they fail to capture the critical elements that made many of the old classics so revered in the first place. Ninja Senki DX, developed by Tribute Games, is an example of a retro game done right. The original Ninja Senki was released six years ago, and while that might not be old enough to classify it as retro on its own, its old school inspirations are obvious. Now, a remastered and improved version is available for the PS4, Vita, and PC to show all these whippersnappers what games used to be about.

The ninja Hayate has been having a bit of a rough morning. Princess Kinuhime managed to get herself murdered by a demon, leaving Hayate alone with his sorrow. He decides to exact some revenge in the most ninja-y way possible, carving a path through any creature stupid enough to cross him and chase down the ones responsible for Kinuhime's death. The story here is basically restricted to a brief beginning and ending cut-scene, in vein with what should be expected from something that draws on NES titles for inspiration. The plot serves as a pretext for sixteen different levels of platforming goodness, with plenty of monsters and coins to find along the way.

The gameplay is incredibly simple, with the vast majority of the buttons never finding any use at all. There is the standard movement buttons, and Hayate can throw a seemingly endless supply of shuriken at foes or double jump his way around and over obstacles. That's it. There are no special moves to learn, no upgrades to acquire along the way, and really no way to get any additional health outside of a refill that comes at every 1000 points. The simplicity here is rather well executed and allows the game to focus on coming up with interesting ways to offer up challenges from the levels and design themselves. There is no overly complex combat system to learn, and that's because it really isn't needed for what this is going for. It harks back to the days of a number of classic NES platformers, and while the gameplay is very simple, it doesn't mean that it isn't fun.

Screenshot for Ninja Senki DX on PlayStation 4

The basics are simple, allowing the player to quickly become acclimated to them and move on to the real meat. Something this basic could get boring if the developer hadn't been careful, but luckily Ninja Senki DX does a great job with both the level and enemy design to instill a real sense of challenge. The level design is fantastic, and the team clearly knew just the right time to throw in an inconveniently placed platform or instant death spike pit. Enemy placement is even better, and some of the places the team decides to place an enemy borders on cruel. The enemies themselves don't keep regenerating, with each level having a specific amount of foes to get through and once they are dead, they stay dead. There is a really nice variety to the types Hayate will have to face, as well, with later levels featuring some enemies that can parry shuriken if attacked from the front or floating demon monsters that seem to lock on and follow at an aggressive pace. A retro-inspired title like this basically lives and dies on how strong the level design and enemy variety is, and Ninja Senki DX passes both of those parameters with flying colours.

Boss fights serve as a strong punctuation on certain levels, and like most of the game they really feel like something that could be found in one of the classic NES titles. Every fourth level has a true boss encounter, and the second level in-between those will throw the same mini-boss in Hayate's direction for a total of eight different encounters. The repeating door boss is a little bit disappointing, but the others are all good fun. The final boss, in particular, is wickedly clever once his little trick can be figured out, and it will take several times through to figure out exactly how to manipulate his movements. The boss design in general, like the enemy design, is quite strong and a lot of thought was put into really diversifying their attack and movement patterns. Hayate might have little at his disposal other than a double jump and a simple shuriken, but the baddies here still do a great job testing these skills.

Screenshot for Ninja Senki DX on PlayStation 4

Perhaps the best aspect, though, is the challenge. There is a trophy for completing everything in under twenty five minutes, and none of the levels should take more than a couple of minutes to finish once the layout is fully understood. It is unlikely, though, that most people will be able to get through any of these levels the first time round. There is a mid-point checkpoint somewhere in each level, and each boss level will have another save location right before the boss fight. However, Hayate only has two lives throughout the entire romp, without any way to pick up health without the refill given out at every 1000 points. If all lives are used up, level progress is reset to the beginning of the stage again. There is no penalty for continuing in the normal mode, but it still requires careful playing to ensure the whole level doesn't need to be started over again. The difficulty here is almost perfect, finding that great spot between truly challenging and simply frustrating and the level and enemy design certainly helps here, as well. None of the challenges feel unfair, and a death is far more likely to result in a renewed determination to do it again, but this time to do it right, rather than simply rage quitting.

There is also a good amount of extra content here outside of the main quest. There is a boss rush mode unlocked after finishing everything, and each of the levels have their own challenges outside of simply completing it. Finishing it is tough in itself sometimes, but on top of that each stage has four separate goals to polish off. Defeat all the enemies, collect all the coins, speed-run under a certain time, and finish the level without getting hit. On top of that, there is another character that can be unlocked and an extra brutal hardcore mode that doesn't allow saving and penalises continuing by taking away points. There is a lot to do here, and this is the kind of game a hardcore old school platforming enthusiast can really sink their teeth in.

Screenshot for Ninja Senki DX on PlayStation 4

There are plenty of good things to say about Ninja Senki DX, but it certainly isn't perfect. The biggest issue is that while everything is certainly good, very little here is great. It is definitely fun, but it falls just short of other, similar titles. This is no Shovel Knight, and while the platforming is good, there are very few truly memorable segments. Furthermore, it doesn't really add anything new or interesting to the genre. It adheres to all the rules of the old school platformers, but doesn't expand upon it, and real fans of the genre won't see anything here they haven't already seen done dozens of times before, and done better.

Furthermore, it almost feels like the game takes its foot off the pedal during the second half. The first half is executed brilliantly, but when the time comes to ramp up the challenges near the end, it doesn't really have anything additional. The final handful of levels actually almost feel easier than some of the stuff in the earlier sections, especially as the various tricks the game likes to use are already figured out. It is certainly still fun, but it almost feels like the developer chickened out a bit to stop things from getting too hard and there aren't any really great challenges to find outside of the final boss himself.

Screenshot for Ninja Senki DX on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

While Ninja Senki DX doesn't really add anything new or offer anything that can't be found in dozens of old NES titles, it strikes all the right notes and fans of retro style platformers will find plenty to enjoy here. There is some really clever level design and enemy placement, and enough challenge to keep even the most masochistic of masochists entertained for quite a while. Too many retro inspired titles are content to throw on an old school coat of paint but forget to nail what is truly important: the gameplay. Not here. Ninja Senki DX will serve as a warm glass of nostalgia and good feelings for people that grew up on the NES and a demonstration for younger gamers of exactly what the appeal was in these sorts of titles in the first place.

Developer

Tribute Games

Publisher

Tribute Games

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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