Ninja Crusaders (NES) review

  • Title: Ninja Crusaders
  • Developer and Publisher: Sammy
  • Released: 1990
  • Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Ninja Crusaders is an action-platform game for the NES published by Sammy.  The game is a difficult and memorization-heavy title that will certainly provide a stiff challenge, but isn’t quite as hard as the NES’s most infamously difficult games.  I beat the game fairly quickly, when I played it for the first time recently, beating the game in just two days.  Ninja Crusaders wasn’t the best known game when it came out, and I can see why, it does look generic.  The cover art is quite bland, and the game has a lot of obvious similarities to Ninja Gaiden, most notably the ninja theme and the “fake isometric” graphical style, but the game’s not Ninja Gaiden.  It’s something more traditional, though not without its own unique elements.  This game doesn’t have much in the way of story for instance, with no intro except in the manual and just some lines of text at the end, and no story scenes in between.  You play as generic modern-day ninjas.  Go kill the bad evil guys.  But that’s all the story you need, right?  First thing though, one hit dies, and when you die, you get sent back to the beginning of the level (unless you’re at a boss, in which case you will start from the boss until you get game over; then you get sent back to the beginning of the level).  There are a variety of weapons to pick up, but there’s no shield or anything like that. Yeah.  It’s cruel.

However, at least the game does have infinite continues, which is certainly a big part of how I beat it so quickly.  And while each area has two stages (1-1, then 1-2 with the boss at the end of the second one), you never have to redo a stage you have beaten, you will start from the stage you’re on (so you don’t get sent back to 4-1 after getting game over at the level 4 boss).  Also the game’s not very long — there are only five levels, each with two stages, and only level 5 has a boss after the first stage of the level; in the first four the only boss is after the second stage.

Also, though I couldn’t test it yet, the game has two player co-op.  That’s pretty awesome, there are not many NES sidescrollers with two player simultaneous. 🙂

Really, I can see why this game didn’t seem to make a big impact — though nice graphically it looks a lot like Ninja Gaiden, and gameplay-wise it’s nothing very original — but the total package is solid and good quality.  I like this game, I wasn’t expecting much from this game I’d never heard of with quite generic cartridge art, but it’s good.  Yes, the difficulty level is high, and you have to enjoy frustrating games which kill you over and over and over and over while you memorize exactly where to be at each point of each level so that you do not die.  If you don’t like games like that, you will hate Ninja Crusaders, because that right there is the entire game.

However, as the fact that I beat the game barely over a day after starting it shows, the game’s not impossible.  This game may be hard, but it’s no Ninja Gaiden 1 or Jim Power or something.  It’s just difficult. 🙂

Anyway, the actual gameplay.  There are several different weapons, and the weapons are balanced so that closer ranged ones do more damage, and longer ranged ones less; still, despite this, the default shuriken is my favorite weapon because despite being weak (and you can only have one on the screen at once, too), the full-screen attack is really helpful. Sure the staff or sword are very strong, but good luck not getting hit when you’re using them, and with how dying sends you back to the start of the stage, you want to avoid getting hit.  There’s also a midrange whip or mace thing.  You can also transform into an animal form by holding up or down + attack, with a different form for each weapon.  You switch back by again holding up or down+attack.  The animal forms are only moderately useful however, and with three of the four you still die in one hit; the sword’s animal form is invincible, but it also only can be used once in a level and lasts a short time.  Still using them does make parts of the game easier, if you want a real challenge beat it without them.  That’s what I did, actually. I’m not sure why, it’s not like I needed to make this game harder…

The enemies are varied.  Each level looks different, and new enemies are constantly being introduced, until the end of the game — each area has its own new group of enemies.  Despite not being particularly original in style, the graphics are solid and look good enough, plus I do like the variety.  This game is from 1990, later in the NES’s life, and you can tell.  There is slowdown, I think, but rarely.  The music’s good but not great too.  It’s not outstanding, but it works and I liked some of the tracks.  The environments and enemies are nicely varied.  There are quite a few water stages in this game; there’s a significant amount of water in one of the two stages in each level.  Fortunately swimming’s not a problem in this game, and they aren’t too bad.

Enemies spawn when you are in certain areas, sort of like Ninja Gaiden but not quite as quickly (so you will not face a point where an unending stream of enemies materialize in front of you, each appearing as soon as you kill the last).  Many enemies take multiple hits, with the weaker weapons at least, but as I said in the weapons part that’s balanced nicely.  Enemies don’t have specific patterns they always follow no matter where you are, but instead have specific patterns that they follow that often involve aiming at you — enemies will target you, or vary how they move depending on where you are in the screen, so a big part of the game later on is learning how exactly enemies will move as you try different approaches through the level.  Despite great frustration at times, and parts where I’d just die and die and die, fifteen or twenty times maybe in the exact same screen, before finally figuring out how to approach that part, it was worthwhile.  It was always nice to see an area that I’d died in so many times before, but now I knew how to do and could get through more times than not.  🙂  The levels are also not that long; they only take a while to beat because of the difficulty level, not the length.

… I still hate those stupid fly enemies in stage 5-2 though.  For small enemies they sure are a gigantic pain!  They’re not the easiest to hit, and they just won’t go way… hope that you hit each one with your first shot at them, because if you miss one it’ll probably fly under you and below, and then fly up at an angle you can’t do much about and kill you (while another one above you makes it so you can’t jump, and of course you’re on a narrow platform so you can’t move around much either).

As for the bosses, as I said there are six in total, but they fall into two or three general types, so you’ll see multiple similar bosses through the game.  The hardest bosses are the level 3 and 5-2 (final boss) ones, which move around a lot and have tricky patterns to memorize… one hint for almost all bosses, though, is that you often can do the whole boss fight from the left edge of the screen.  This isn’t always true — the first form of the final boss cannot be fought that way — but with a bunch of other bosses, the best approach is just to not move from your starting position, or to return there often.  I mean, assuming that you’re using the shurikens like I was, for full screen range. 🙂  That doesn’t mean the bosses are easy, though, just that most of the motion required for most of them is in perfectly timing your jumps, ducks, and shots, not moving around.  All of that is quite challenging enough. 🙂  The bosses definitely can be frustrating, but all of them have patterns to memorize, and once you figure it out you’ll eventually manage to beat them.  When I finally got down the final boss’s second (and last) form’s pattern and beat it, it was pretty cool.  I will say though, the level 5-2 boss isn’t that much harder really than the level 3 or 4 bosses, its first form is actually a little easy (I can die, but usually got past it).  The second form is harder, but once I figured it out it went down.

Overall, thanks to the short length, extremely generic characters and story, Ninja Gaiden-ripoff visual style, and lack of originality this isn’t one of the NES’s great forgotten classics, but it is a solid B or C-quality game.  It’s frustrating fun that overall I quite enjoyed playing through.  Sometimes I dislike NES Hard games, but this one was decent and fun, when I didn’t want to stop playing it forever out of frustration that is. 🙂  I definitely want to try the 2-player co-op mode sometime.  I would recommend Ninja Crusaders for anyone who wants a challenging but beatable NES action-platformer.  The animal transformations, if you use them, can make some of the hard parts much easier.  Ryu Hayabusa couldn’t just fly over those tricky jumps, but in this game you can.  It’s not amazing, but it’s fun enough to be worth a try. Score: B-

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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