When I wrote words about Space Funeral (my second favorite game this year (indie or otherwise)) I made mention of a little ninja game that let me love again. This isn’t that little ninja game. I don’t love it. I do, however, harbor a grade school infatuation for this little platformer that has kept me from my love for the past handful of days. Like, if this came out for the Game Boy Color a little over a decade ago -- and it plausibly could have, minus the gratuitous six-pixel bloodshed -- I would still play it now, off and on (but mostly off), on a battered backlit GBA at four in the morning. I would hypothetically smile, which I assume would shift into a nostalgic sigh, and I’d half-mutter, half-yawn to nobody “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore”. Insomnia can make you say stupid things sometimes**. I would be wrong, though, because they do make them like this anymore, and I‘ll be damned if still don’t find Mega Man-likes with retro aesthetics endearing. If my Teppoman 2 review isn't written by 2010 (protip: it wasn't) you know which game is to blame.
The game’s perfect, in its own limited scope. Graphics are beautiful in the way chunky minimalist pixel art can be beautiful, and while the music probably wouldn’t stand on its own composition-wise it thoroughly works in the context of playing. The backstory is told with both brevity and clarity: a woman is killed, and you, a ninja, seek revenge. The game controls like Mega Man post-Metal Man absorption, but your metal blades (er, shuriken) can only be fired horizontally***. The shurikens provide great visual feedback; if you miss your ninjee star will momentarily stick into the wall with an unsatisfying thud, but if your aim is true the enemy will explode in a bloody fashion -- even if said enemy was a ghostly apparition. You also inexplicably possess a double jump, which you’ll liberally use throughout the game’s 16 stages.
Ninja Senki is decidedly Japanese [ed.: Well, in a Canadian sort of way] -- it features Kappa, Oni, Tanuki, and many other creatures from Japanese folklore my Gaijin ass can’t recall. I have to brag about his Kappa design in particular. When you shoot the little bugger he retreats into his shell. If you keep shooting he’ll remain protected, and your ninja stars will bounce off his shell. Not only does this give you a reason to NOT jam the shoot button mindlessly, (a pet peeve of mine [why have a shoot button in the first place if its never a good idea to stop shooting?]) but your deflected shurikens can be used against airborne enemies as well. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool. The entire game is rife with this intelligently elegant design -- it may deter those who groan at getting hit-stun into bottomless pits though. If you’re like me and simply mutter “GOD DAMMIT” under your breath, learn from your mistake, and carry on you’ll... love it. I talked to the developer about this and he said he’s ecstatic with my response. All of his old favorite titles made him do the same, so it was an honor to have his game elicit this response as well. Bastard.
I just said I loved this, didn’t I? Well, I take back what I said in the first paragraph. I guess there’s enough room in me heart for two pixilated ninjas after all.
** Insomnia says stupid things most of the time, but I digress.
*** Developer Pixeltao recommends a joypad and I do as well.
**** People who read footnotes are awesome (less than three)