Ninja Shodown Is a Colorful and Fast-Paced Beat-Em-Up Title That Leaves a Lot to Be Desired

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From Developer Bitmap Bureau and publisher Rising Star Games comes Ninja Shodown, the colorful, fast-paced, and brutally unforgiving multiplayer fighting game where it is every ninja for themselves in the ultimate battle for the Jade Katana.

In the year 199X the world is teetering on the brink of total destruction. The mystical Jade Katana with tremendous and lethal power has been stolen. If it falls in the wrong hands, humanity will most certainly fall! And so the Viper Clan prepare to embark on their most perilous mission yet as sworn guardians of the Jade Katana, and they vow to retrieve the sword at all costs!

Ninja Shodown Selection Screen
Up to four players can play along, each able to customize their ninja!

Multiplayer games are nothing new with the Nintendo Switch. It’s been an important selling point for this console and I think part of why the Switch has been so successful this early on is because of the wide variety of quality multiplayer games. However, in an increasingly saturated multiplayer game market it’s becoming more important to have very high quality games, and while I think Ninja Shodown is a cool concept and has some great potential, it just falls short in too many areas for me to really strongly recommend it.

The game offers six ‘distinct’ game modes to choose from, including Last Ninja, Battle, Coin, Crown, Arcade, and Infinite. I put quotes around the word distinct because four of these six modes are essentially the same multiplayer experience with slightly different focuses. Each of the four versus style modes (Last Ninja, Battle, Coin, and Crown) create a different path to victory overall, but the idea is to simply kill your opposing players enough to either collect resources to win or to tally up kills and win. Since these are just slightly retooled versions of the same experience, these multiplayer offerings feel very stale and when I played with my friends it resulted in the gravitation towards only one of the four modes.

Ninja Shodown Downtown
Multiplayer madness in the downtown scene

The benefit of these four modes, however, is the ability to customize the staging options and travel to any one of the five unique fighting locations. These include the Temple, Dojo, Downtown, Museum, and Area 88. All of these locations have unique gameplay features that help to create diversity in the gameplay experience, but it isn’t really enough to make up for the lack of difference in the game modes. I will say that the mode my friends and I enjoyed most was the Arcade mode. It was fun for us to team up and slash our way through wave after wave of enemies and was very reminiscent of some of the classic beat-em-up titles from classic systems like the Super Nintendo.

Beyond the content, the gameplay features aren’t anything unique but rather they’re often very frustrating. This game is brutally challenging, even on the first few levels, and offers no adjustment to difficulty. The controls would feel much better if they were slowed by about fifteen percent, and the sporadic movements, small hit box for melee attacks, and one hit kills on your character result in a gameplay experience that has you replaying the first few stages over and over until you finally get a combination of luck and skill to make it beyond that. I’m not one to rage quit, but this game filled me with enough rage to need to put it away for a while. I would like to see some type of setting created to taper the difficulty a little bit and allow for a greater amount of accessibility to Ninja Shodown. I’m all for challenging games, but with how challenging it was right out of the gate it makes it really difficult to feel like you’re able to accomplish anything, which is an essential feeling to create in order to keep gamers coming back to a title.

Ninja Shodown Dojo Fight
A scene from the dojo!

One of the redeeming factors of Ninja Shodown for me is the graphical design. This game has created some of the best retro inspired graphics I’ve seen on a Switch game so far. Each of the in game avatars is clear and clean despite being designed in the retro style. All of the environments are colorful and dynamic in their own way, which adds to the overall aesthetic of the game. You’re also able to help your ninja stand out on screen by customizing the color and name for each player slot. I found this to be useful when playing with four people and watching all of our avatars run around a chaotic screen. This game is very well designed from the larger environments to the smaller character details. It’s a perfect tribute to retro graphic styles of old but also mixes in the high definition capabilities of the current generation of systems.

Ninja Shodown Art
Not only are they kung-fu masters… They also dab!

All in all this game left a lot to be desired for me. There was surprisingly very little diversity of content for the price point of $15. The controls weren’t tight enough and felt way too accelerated while the gameplay difficulty had you entering into a very discouraging battle. Unfortunately for both of those things, neither one could be adjusted to ease players into the game. It’s also disappointing that this game doesn’t include any online multiplayer options. Quite a few of the heavy hitting multiplayer games offer this as a way to connect with other users, but this game relies exclusively on local connections. And while Ninja Shodown did offer some of my favorite retro inspired graphics for the system, this wasn’t enough to redeem the tremendous potential for this title and make it something I would recommend.

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