I’ve always thought of myself as a pirate person. I found ninjas boring at best, sometimes repulsive. But something made me reach out to that retro-looking (something else I tend to hold in contempt) ninja game. It must have had something to do with the pretty colours. So, with no clue as to why I even picked this up, (and absolutely no skill whatsoever in fast-paced arcade games) I began to descend the tower…
Super House of Dead Ninjas is a ludicrously fast paced action/platformer arcade title, in which the protagonist (a ninjette) descends a tower in search of a legendary one-armed ninja master. You wish it was that simple. The tower is filled with devious enemies, insidious traps, and changing terrain to test the patience of any would-be assassin. You’ll have to jump, double-jump, crouch jump, crouch, whip, slash, bomb and drop in a flurry of blades to get past all of these obstacles.
The game looks great, even from the main menu. The pixel look works well, as it complements the gameplay, and it carries on from its Flash predecessor, House of Dead Ninjas. The action is tight, the controls responsive and there is never a dull moment. The only part of the game that doesn’t have neon lights screaming into your retinas is the introductory comic (not mandatory, but reading it does unlock a small bonus), which is reminiscent of an old-school manga comic, and yet manages to retain its own style. Don’t get me wrong, the neon lights screaming in your retinas are an integral element of the experience. They drive you forward. The little flashing signs that show you what you unlocked on your last run makes you want to try out the new thing and see if you can get further down the tower. There’s also an announcer that lets you know when you performed a particularly impressive move (“Good ninjing!”), or berates you when you slip up and die a horrible death (“You idiot!”).
The player can choose a loadout before going into the tower. This consists of a melee weapon (a katana to start off with, but others are soon unlocked and improved upon, such as a nunchuck that can deflect projectiles), a throwing weapon (mostly shurikens with various effects; I found the insta-kill ones particularly useful), some form of explosive (because action games without explosives are boring) and a spell, which destroys things on screen in various patterns. You can also unlock new suit colours as you kill thousands upon thousands of enemies. The names of the weapons and spells are a riot to read, as they have over-the-top complicated names such as “Shuriken of the Headless Brotherhood” or “Lightning Magic From the Heavens”. They are the kind of names you want to spell in all caps. They’re nicely presented as well, with the owner of the lodge giving you such helpful hints as “Not sure you can handle this”. It sure feels nice when you prove that quaint, nice old lady wrong.
You’ll need every advantage you can get, too. There are 350 floors, after all. And they’re never in the same order. The game really does push your reflexes. You have to react to a new situation in a split-second, and, when you succeed, it feels great. You know that just before you hit the ground that weird monkey thing is going to make a mad dash for you, so the very instant you hit the ground, you have to turn and throw a shuriken at its face. The creatures you fight are a weird and varied bunch. They range from the standard, run of the mill (ninjas just going back and forth, nothing special), to the somewhat strange (blue fox demons that sometimes inflate when you kill them), to the downright infuriating (I am on a vendetta against sthe corpions) and the completely silly (I just can’t take those bouncing birds seriously). Luckily, there are checkpoints at floors 250 and 150, but you have to get through a boss at each one.
Unfortunately, this was the aspect of the game I found least entertaining. They mostly seem to consist of jump over attack > hit boss. They are a good place to break up the vertical layout of the tower, but there is nothing to do in the boss rooms to take advantage of your ninja skills. Even the walls are covered in spikes, which just leaves you with running and jumping over or under the boss. There also seem to be a few floors that are nearly impossible to cross without taking any damage, which can be incredibly frustrating.
So I accepted to review this game, even though it was so far out of my comfort zone, compelled by some mysterious force (though colours probably had something to do with it). It’s a good, solid game, with a very high addiction level and a great amount of focus on what’s important, while still keeping an eye for detail. Fans of games like Super Meat Boy will definitely get a good kick out of this, while less hardcore arcade fans will probably get very frustrated with it, but it will keep you coming back for more ninja shenanigans.
8 Shurikens out of 10