We’ve seen many re-releases, remakes and remasters this generation. A copious amount, in fact. 16-bit brawler The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors manages to stand out from the crowd and in numerous ways. It sees the original development team revisit one of the Super Nintendo’s lesser-known scrolling brawlers, effectively making it a director’s cut, adding new content while implementing new visuals beyond the limits of the humble SNES.
It’s a fascinating prospect, filling our collective minds with other 16-bit titles that would benefit from a spruce up. Improvements are numerous, such as a much needed two-player mode, two new characters – including a screen-filling android – and a smattering of gore.
We should also note that Taito’s SNES original – known as The Ninja Warriors, released in 1994 – is something of a hidden gem, receiving a limited print run in Europe via French publisher Titus Interactive. In other words: not only is this remake built on a sturdy foundation, but it’s also a game that only the most seasoned of SNES enthusiasts will be familiar with.
Initially, Return of the Warriors appears worryingly simple. It’s a scrolling brawler lacking a field of depth, forcing you to casually stroll from left to right while attacking a continuous onslaught of soldiers, thugs, smartly dressed mobsters, clones of M.A.S.K’s T-Bob, and a line of more sinister-looking mechs which can only be damaged from behind. They absolutely will not stop, ever.
It isn’t long until its hidden depths come to surface, however. This is a beat’em intelligently designed, featuring a creative and complex range of special attacks, all of which serve a purpose in specific instances. If you find yourself taking a significant amount of damage, chances are a move in your repertoire is being ignored.
Special attacks drain a power gauge; a gauge that’s replenished swiftly, yet due to the high enemy quota can still leave you open to attack while waiting for it to recharge. Take a hit, and the gauge will instantly deplete. When you’re destroying enemies with every move in your arsenal – constantly recharging the power gauge in the process – it’s possible to build great momentum, generating enough power to take down thugs in the flashiest of fashions without taking a hit.
The five playable characters (three returning, two original) are experimental androids, baring extendable cybernetic arms, spinning blades, and jet-powered jumping attacks. One character can fire projectiles out of their spine, while another can swing their metallic nunchaku in full rotation. Rather than use elaborate beat’em up style combo inputs, just one attack button is used throughout – when pressed in conjunction with a direction, a special move is usually performed.
Holding down the attack button blocks, and a full-power gauge can unleash a screen-spanning carpet bomb. During boss battles we found ourselves avoiding damage for as long as it takes to amass a full charge, keeping out of harm’s way. It’s a far cry from button bashing to victory.
There’s no move list; it’s up to you to discover the full range attacks for yourself. Over time further differences between characters become apparent, with the muscular Ninja able to carry objects and Kataitachi having a far wider reach than his cohorts.
Throwing background objects plays a key part – thrown items (including enemies themselves) have a satisfying domino effect, knocking down anyone stood in their path. There’s an enjoyable jaunt through a car park which can be cleared solely by lobbing motorcycles and vehicles best described as sit-on lawnmowers.
Enemies sometimes suffer their own demise too, walking into giant spinning fans and laser barriers. Rather than blaming poor AI, we put this down to the fact that all adversaries have been brainwashed by a grotesque portly alien. Either way, it’s amusing.
The whole shebang is tied around a simple premise: beating the entire thing with just one credit. It sounds impossible at first. Ludicrous even. But it doesn’t take long at all to notice just how superbly designed Return of the Warriors is, spurring you to achieve that ultimate goal. Energy pick-ups are placed shrewdly, usually just after hectic fights or before a boss battle, while the bosses themselves have attack patterns that are easy to memorise. After just a couple of hours, we were completing earlier stages with barely a scratch. Once a stage has been beaten a time trial mode unlocks too, adding further incentive to return.
The revised visuals look the part – it’s bold and brash, filled with large sprites and detailed pixel art backdrops, alluring explosions and subtle effects. Aspect ratios, scanline density, and a choice of soundtracks (arcade, or arranged) can also be toggled. It has that pleasing cybernetic future vibe seen in many ‘90s anime, recently mimicked by the excellent run ‘n’ gun revival Blazing Chrome. Only this is genuine ‘90s. The two new characters are distinctly different from the original crew, but ideally, a couple of new stages wouldn’t have gone amiss – the average playtime is par for the course for the genre, being little over an hour.
Apart from some tricky mortar bomb sections and an elevator stage (albeit one that moves horizontally, rather than vertically), there’s little in the way of variety either, so if you were expecting a shooter section or a vehicular level, you’re in for a disappointment. This is a straight-up, unabashed, scrolling brawler that’s unapologetically ‘90s. If you get that one credit itch it’ll serve you well.