I am a ninja. Not just any ninja, either. I am the Crimson Ninja. I’m also a super hot girl ninja. With the boobs ‘n everythin’. But not like that matters. All that matters is my mission – to descend this tower. Many have tried before me. All of them have failed. They sought treasure – I, however, seek only the truth. What horrors await me below? What terrifying presence lurks at the base of…
…the Super House of Dead Ninjas?
Heh. Super House of Dead Ninjas. If ever there was a title you could judge a game by, that is one ‘em. Luckily, this game is as funny-awesome as the title suggests. And, I mean… say that back to yourself. Super. House. Of. Dead. Ninjas. What could possibly go wrong when that headlines your entire production?
Super House of Dead Ninjas (PC)
Developed by Megadev – Published by Adult Swim Games
It’s only recently that I’ve been able to confidently say that Adult Swim’s logo is an assurance of quality when it comes to games. I still haven’t gotten over how weird that is, either. “Adult Swim makes good games.” Dear lord, I remember the days of Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s PlayStation 2 game – Zombie Ninja Pro-Am! A kart racing, fighting, and golf game hybrid. And about 100% less fun than that sounds, let me assure you.
But, no! Recently, Adult Swim has really started to come into their own! The first game on their site I remember caring about… probably Robot Unicorn Attack. It was a genuinely nice little game! And their stable has just been lining up recently, almost wall-to-wall with gaming goodness. With developers like Cactus on board, and their developing relationships with Valve? It’s all kinds of kick-ass. Needless to say, did not expect that from the people who made freakin’… Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro-Am. Eck.
My mission is perilous. As I make my decent, the dark walls of this tower conceal many threats. My enemies are as deadly as they are numerous; and twice as varied (though, half as cunning). The optimal tactic is to be quick, and efficient. And yet… I must pay attention to my surrounds. I cannot let myself lose sight of my goal. A mysterious voice is watching over me – I cannot be sure, unfortunately, of his allegiance. He seems to be my ally – at the very least, he is not my enemy – and yet, he constantly berates me for my mistakes. As I pick myself up from injury, I can hear his voice caress my ears:
This game is one of those (unfortunately rare) treats, which represents itself as “retro,” and yet doesn’t let itself be held back by the constraints of the past. While the majority of indie games calling back to the SNES era use it as an excuse to lack art design – y’know, they’ll just throw up a bunch of pixels with MS Paints and pretend they did work – Super House of Dead Ninjas does what many should do, making the sprites and art actually well-animated and nice to look at. Pretty, even. How about that.
No. Everything that is “retro” about this throwback to games like Ninja Gaiden only enhances the experience. Scan lines on by default really makes the sprites pop, and the fluidity of the animation – combined with the ingenuity of the designs – really creates a smooth, flowing visual atmosphere that compliments the quickness of the gameplay’s pace. For a game whose loading screen teases that it’s “blast processing one million bytes,” this game takes a decidedly clever approach to the whole nostalgia-fueled retro-throwback thing. It’s stuck somewhere between reverence of classics, and dedication to standing out as a quality product. Very cool stuff!
The monsters and enemies are all memorable, and cheekily fun. From a waddling fat guy, to what appear to be armless ninjas running around in circles, to cancerous giant pigs and well beyond – as someone who looks at Metal Slug 3 as if it were truly fine art, I have nothing but appreciation for the 2D animation in this game. The bosses in particular – the giant ones, that fill up the whole screen – have a level of detail in them that is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Perhaps best of all – every enemy satisfyingly sprays blood all over the walls when they die. Setting gore to “MAX!” in the options, and you’ll probably see quite a bit of inspiration from Mortal Kombat. These kills are not unlike Fatalities!
The sound design (and what little writing there is) compliments all of this. The music is charmingly retro-esque – though I’ve not heard a game make as good use of the bass frequencies for a long, long time. A nice touch is that the soundtrack is available for download as an unlockable extra (which, look, if your game doesn’t come with a soundtrack edition, should be standard at this point). It is the narrator, though, who steals the show. With a deep voice not atypical of arcade classics of yesteryear, he announces most everything, from item pick-ups to the activation of RAGE mode. It is when he compliments or berates you, however, that he really shines. Dialog like “you did good. Sort of” and “good ninjing!’ are frequent, and adds just enough tongue-in-cheek smarm to the game that it feels like an Adult Swim joint. And yet, it doesn’t overpower anything. The game is funny, but it doesn’t force jollity. It just… is jolly. It’s delightful.
Something nice to mention. The game is so dedicated to at least feeling like an old-school SNES or Genesis game that it comes equipped with both scan lines and that “help I’m out of RAM” slowdown that cartridge games often had. If such things will cause you, y’know, horrific ‘nam-esque flashbacks to the choppy frames of the before times, you can switch both things off, so the game runs consistently silky-smooth. I assume it’s 60fps. I didn’t bother to count. (The game is locked to 4:3 though. For that old-school charm, obviously. So people with ultra widescreen setups might consider that a shortcoming – I’m happy to report, though, that it was absolutely not an issue on my 1680×1050 display.)
I move swiftly. I’ve little choice – there’s a timer counting down to my demise, and unless I refill it, and also dispatch of these hordes out for my blood, it’ll be my head. And so, I dash. I make my way down, only occasionally forcing myself into combat. These halls twist and turn, and I twist and turn with them. I want to stay vigilant – there are treasures in this tower – but my ultimate goal is to reach the bottom, and slay whatever lays beneath. Whatever may lead me to the truth. Filled with RAGE, I slaughter my foes as if I were invincible. Actually, hold on. Let me check. Yep, I do believe I AM invincible right now.
Super House of Dead Ninjas is a super-tight, super-slick platformer. I don’t think I will ever get sick of playing these. VVVVVV, Super Meat Boy, Dustforce, They Bleed Pixels… the idea of having a heinously fast character, that turns and stops on a dime, with controls that are ultra-responsive? That’s my jam, daddy-o. And this jam is full of phat beats, you know what I am saying, brother? No? Oh. How dare you.
At any rate. The player character in SHODN, the Crimson Ninja, handles perfectly. She jumps when you tell her to. She clings to walls and wall jumps with the best of ‘em. Her attacks are quick and brutal. In other words – she’s a ninja! She controls like a ninja. I mean, like what we think are ninjas, not actual ninjas, which were boring. No, I’m talking like the ninjas out of wicked sweet wire-fu films! Fun ninjas. Not stupid-ass boring ninjas. It’s a videogame, not a documentary, ya poopface!
The combat is equally responsive. The fluidity of the attacks is palpable – and with quite a few weapons to unlock, you’ll find yourself borderline overwhelmed with choice. I myself, I’ve been sticking with the whip and the “token handgun,” since both hit instantly, and the whip has excellent range on it. You can deck yourself out with shurikens, and nunchucks that deflect projectiles, and all kinds of other sweet kit – including an unlockable lightsaber! …also, you have bombs, and magic powers. I found myself not heavily relying on either, but they were both useful abilities to have in a pinch, so I shan’t begrudge the game for over-encumbering the player with gear.
What I will begrudge the game for though. Hmm.
The game is about going down very quickly, right? Sure, you get points for dispatching enemies and collecting things, but you also get points for completing it quickly. And, also, you have a constant 30 second countdown. When it reaches the end, Death comes and beheads you. SO I DUNNO, I FEEL LIKE THE GAME WANTS ME TO PLAY QUICKLY. I gotta find those time extensions and whatnot. …and yet, the game punishes you for not looking around. When you kill enough enemies, you enter RAGE mode, which makes you invincible, and makes all your attacks kill in one hit, as long as you can keep up the constantly depleting RAGE bar. So, alright, I’ll run straight down while I’m invincible, kill all the enemies and such. But when I rush, I’d always miss out on the coolest loot – and power-ups, which made it so when I got to the mid-level bosses (which are brutally difficult), I’d always not have enough ammo (or whatever) to defeat them.
It’s overwhelming. I want to compliment the game by saying that it shows a very mature approach to make-your-own-difficulty – you can either walk through slowly, avoiding obstacles and collecting things, and face the wrath of the clock , or run through against the clock and miss opportunities. Perhaps it wants you to actually be a ninja, and do both. All it does is make me feel is conflicted, though. It’s a shame, because I absolutely love playing the game! I just don’t know if I’m doing it right! That lack of feedback can be a little disconcerting!
As you play, you constantly unlock new items to use. This is a game that is perilously difficult, but you finish the main tower in under twenty minutes. So, y’know, you’ll keep dying. It’s fun, though! The game is dangerously addictive, and since you keep unlocking new outfits (my Crimson Ninja is fluro-green…), and new kit, each playthrough is reasonably unique. The game promises “randomized towers,” though it really is just a randomized arrangement of pre-determined rooms. You have to make it down 350 floors, and there’s only 180 rooms the game has to choose between, so it’s not actually as different each time as the game wants you to think it is, but nevertheless, this game is made to play over and over again and the quick pace combined with the addictive unlock system makes you want to play over and over again. Also, the game is just incredibly enjoyable to play anyway! So that’s that.
I feel like I’ve been here before. “Déjà vu,” I think the French call it. No, I have definitely seen all of this before. These walls, these monsters… I am retreading my steps. I wonder if it’s worth continuing to retread them…
Here’s a tiny little clincher. Super House of Dead Ninjas is a not-for-free version of a game that is for-free.
Now, I don’t want to suggest for a moment that this game isn’t worth the asking price. It’s less than a tenner, y’know? I don’t want to come off as stingy. But I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out of this particular version is worthy the prefix of “Super.” This isn’t like Super Meat Boy, in which the game was rebuilt from its Flash build entirely. No, the game is still built in Flash, using the same assets except for a handful of sounds, and a handful of new bosses. There’s a second tower you can explore, too, but it’s really more of a joke tower than anything – “Transdimensional Leakage”. It’s basically the regular tower, but a few of the walls are replaced with pop culture references. Joy.
One major edition is that of a level editor, which hooks up directly to the Steam Workshop. Using an impressive WYSIWYG editor, you can create entire, multi-floor rooms for other people to traverse, and then upload them to (presumably) unanimous praise. That’s a nice feature. Is it “Super” nice? Mmmm. Maybe. Also, there are new weapons and outfits. So that’s definitely great. …no, look, this game is worth paying for. If you think it sounds fun to play, that’s because it goddamn is fun to play. So go and buy it! I’ve no gripes of charging for this version. I’m just not entirely sure if this version of House of Dead Ninjas is truly a Super House of Dead Ninjas. Not even the inclusion of a black-and-white, backstory-filled comic book affords it that. Not even the clever use of the Dark Souls-esque “this player died here just now” online feature affords it that. Though, that is awfully charming.
At the end of the day, Super House of Dead Ninjas is a cheap, slick, extremely well-polished and presented update to a well-loved game, created by developers that obviously care about the era of gaming they’re imitating, as well as updating the tropes of the era with modern technicalities. It’s funny, it’s fast and fluid and all sorts of other positive words beginning with “F”. It’s balls-hard, but it’s built around replayability! It isn’t the perfect update, but it’s close to being a perfect game. Overall, this comes highly recommended, and if nothing else, I’m keeping a very close eye on Adult Swim Games, because if this is the sort of content they’re gonna keep churning out… well. Colour me impressed, and consider me a fan.
It might not be modern classic like Super Meat Boy or VVVVVV, but it is one bloody hell of a good time… pun intended.