This review is the first installment of our eShop Spotlight series, where I explore some of the hidden indie gems hiding in plain sight on Nintendo’s eShop. Each review includes some background on the game, its main selling points, and my personal experiences with it. I’m here to help you find fun games and experiences for your Nintendo Switch in between major releases, so let’s dive in and see if this game is for you.
The Nintendo eShop is home to dozens of fun and thoughtful indie titles, spanning across so many genres—but how many of them feature a dabbing ninja shooting down a horde of assassins with an uzi, or taking out sumo wrestlers with a bazooka? Only one game can scratch that particular and luckily for fans of depraved kung fu dabbing, that game is Ninja Shodown.
Boiled down into a badass sentence: Ninja Shodown takes the spirit of the 8-bit Ninja Gaiden games and infuses that into the gameplay of the 100-Man Melee mode in the Super Smash Bros. series, with hints of TMNT III: The Manhattan Project for NES.
Developed by UK-based Bitmap Bureau and published by Rising Star Games, Ninja Shodown fits in well with their previous retro-inspired Switch releases.
Playing as, of course, a ninja—you use swords, shurikens, uzi’s, shotguns and much more to kill every enemy in your path. Across five distinct stages, the single-player campaign has you taking on waves of enemies and using random special item drops that equip you with guns and explosives. Once you’re done with that, there’s also local multiplayer co-op and death matches to try out.
It’s crucial to point out the fact that this game only favors the quickest, most skilled warriors. You only have a limited number of lives, all of which are one-hit-kills—so you need to utilize your ninja speed, agility, and arsenal of weapons to advance to the next level. If you’re not lightning quick and constantly aware of your surroundings, you’ll be unapologetically sent to the GAME OVER screen before you know it.
There’s no real narrative to speak of, loading screen updates provide much of the contextual heavy lifting—but basically, a priceless artifact called the Jade Katuna has been stolen and you, member of the Viper Clan, are searching for it. The tongue-in-cheek presentation of this “narrative” compliments the playful tone of Ninja Shodow. The game isn’t afraid to kick your ass like the beloved classics that inspired it, but with its gleeful announcer berating each and every failure, Ninja Shodown doesn’t mind making fun of you in the process.
What I Enjoyed
Now don’t judge me, but I wanted to quickly talk about palette swaps. I know I know; the simple inclusion of being able to pick the color of your ninja seems like a minor detail but actually, this kept me hooked a bit longer with each sitting. When I’d get tired of getting my ass kicked over and over as the gray ninja, my thumb would hover over the Home button to quit. But I’d hesitate. For whatever stupid reason, I would convince myself that simply swapping my color would give me a better chance at victory—as if my opponents would be distracted by my decadent purple garb and I’d get a few extra kills in as a result. Maybe I’d channel my inner Deadpool and dress in red, so they can’t see me bleed. Or maybe I’d have better luck wearing white. Sure, there’s no real competitive advantage but I swear the placebo effect helped me out a time or two.
It also made me reminiscent of getting my ass kicked in TMNT III: The Manhattan Project for NES, one of my favorite games of all time. While each turtle had different weapons and abilities, I was young and not particularly great at the game, so it was more of just a psychological advantage when I’d switch to a different character and suck a little less on the next play through. My attitude was something like “Alright Donatello, you’ve had your chance to impress. Enough messing around. Time to switch to Raph and actually murder these guys.” Which, strangely enough, would get me killed almost immediately. Then I’d pick Leonardo, whose leadership qualities grant him a cooler head and I’d utilize his longer reach, dying far less often. It’s amazing what meta games you can invent with a simple palette swap.
Regardless of my stupid rationale, this feature is a simple but effective consideration that developer Bitmap Bureau included and allowed me to be more invested in each campaign. And even if I continued to suck and if I was going to die in an embarrassing 27 seconds, I was going to look damn good in the process.
The soundtrack and overall sound design kept me hooked when it wasn’t drowned out by my screaming and the punching of nearby surfaces. The backing tracks of each level features fun synth pop and high energy chiptune techno, which really adds to the arcade aesthetic and retro feel. Also, each of the sound effects of the different attacks and special items added a level of satisfaction to each kill. The shotgun has some serious kick to it, mines are shocking and brutal when triggered, and pegging someone in the face with a rocket from across the level really is a heartwarming feeling. The sound design really added to the gameplay experience overall, adding to the game’s tone and style while complementing the retro art style.
While the single player campaign scratches the itch that retro game fans have for brutally difficult arcade beat-em-ups, multiplayer is truly where this game shines. The Last Ninja mode is an ultra-fast paced duel, very similar to the popular indie fencing game, Nidhogg. The one-hit-kill system produces some intense couch multiplayer that will have you playing “just one more game” all night long.
As the controls are easy to learn but difficult to master, and since the slightest slip up can result in death, it really levels the playing field for new players and makes a perfect party game or multiplayer demo for those new to the Switch. As long as you keep people from spiking their joy-cons when the lose, it’s one of the better multiplayer experiences on the eShop. If you only play this game single player, you’re missing out on some great experiences.
What I Had Issues With
Lack of Info on HUD
While the heads up display is well done visually speaking, paying homage to arcade games of yesteryear, I felt that it was unfortunately bare of important and useful information. How much time I spent on this level isn’t nearly as important to me as my special item or ammo situation. It’s really not ideal that I can only see how many shurikens I have by throwing one, and I often have no idea what special item I last picked up and how much ammo I have left without firing it. As some of these items, like the mines, can result in your own premature death, it’s a bit of an oversight not to have this information in a dedicated section of your HUD. There were numerous times that I wasted my last shotgun shell or blew myself up with an explosive when I was just trying to check what item I had or how much ammo was left, which is unfortunate. Even when playing in handheld mode, there seems to be enough empty space on the HUD to allow this inclusion, so hopefully this is solved in the future or in Bitmap Bureau’s next title.
No Info on Enemy Types
Now I know that the gaming community has grown tired of hand-holding and excessive tutorials these days, and favor trial-by-fire rather than getting spoon fed information without asking for it. And sometimes finding out secrets of the game yourself is much more rewarding. And typically when you actually need a question answered, there are wikis and forums galore that can help you out. Unfortunately, games this size don’t typically have the same wiki resources as Fallout or Skyrim. And when I’m dying over and over because I can’t figure something out, the charm is lost on me.
A prime example of this is the big kevlar vest ninja in the first level. He’s invulnerable to standard blade strikes, shurikens, shotgun shells and uzi rounds. Sometimes a critical strike can kill him, mines work some of the time, and rockets have mixed results. As this is a one-hit-kill game, I was stuck for days on how to kill these guys, and when I’d accidentally kill one I’d die trying to figure out how it happened.
All I’m proposing is that one of the times the announcer calls me a disgrace, he also adds what the hell these guys are vulnerable to. In a perfect world, a gallery or index in the settings that give you a few sentences on each enemy as you discover them. A source of information like this would’ve made me enjoy the game much more instead of blindly charging back into battle and dying repeatedly from sheer ignorance. Maybe it’s my fault for not figuring it out soon enough, but I think that providing this information to players would only make the game better, and lack of information just leads to frustration.
Who This Game Is For
Quick, Punishing Arcade Fun
Fans of brutally difficult retro games from the arcade and NES eras will gravitate toward this game’s aesthetic and snappy controls. If you’re looking for a small arcade experience instead of a dense narrative campaign, this game will call you. Plus, it has uzis.
High Score Chasers
For players who are actually good at the game and are still craving a challenge, the high score and grading system extend the replay value of this game’s simple single player campaign. Scoring more multi-kills and combos while dying less each round will allow you to rack up more points and achieve a higher grade at the end of each level. If this is one of the few games that you’re going to be playing on your Switch, it will certainly take a long time to master, so you’ll get a lot of value with this mentality.
If you’re looking for a game to show off the multiplayer capabilities of the Switch or just have fun with some friends, Ninja Shodown is a great option. The simple controls allow for players of all skill levels to have a chance in each round. The fast paced matches allow for either a few quick rounds or to spend hours in tense competition without even noticing. This addicting multiplayer mode is essentially the selling point of the game and sets this game apart from other indies.
Pickup & Play
The fast paced arcade nature of Ninja Shodown makes this a perfect game to play when you find yourself with only a few minutes to play your Switch. If you only have a few train stops to go, or feel like playing a few rounds during commercials, this is a great game to consider. Unless you’re like me, dying frequently and swearing continuously under my breath. That might not go over well with your fellow passengers.
Ninja Shodown is all about combining old and new. Simple sprites and bold vector art, classic arcade gameplay on a hybrid console, shurikens and uzis, ninjas and dabbing. Bitmap Bureau infused this new indie title with some old school game sensibilities and payed homage to the classics with their own twist. While I struggled with some lack of information, simpleness is what Ninja Shodown thrives on. There’s no denying the quality of this game’s fast-paced combat and its cohesive presentation. Ninja Showdown speed, difficult and fun factor make it a worthy pickup for classic arcade fans and serves as one of the best multi-player titles on the eShop.
*This review is based on the final build of Ninja Shodown, courtesy of Rising Star Games.