Thank you Pumo for sending us a copy of the game to review!
If you've been a fan of the Nintendo eShop for any amount of time, you'd know there are a lot of games that have ninjas as their main character. Most are decent, some are bad, and then there's Ninja Smasher! from Pumo. This retro 8-bit styled action game takes a few mechanics from other successful titles that have appeared on Nintendo's early consoles, and makes its own experience from them. Metroid, Castlevania, and Ninja Gaiden are no doubt the first games you'll think of while playing Ninja Smasher!
You are a nameless ninja attempting to rescue a princess who has been kidnapped by the monster overlord, King Tengu. The game actually has no dialogue written in it at all, making it all about the action. Armed with only his sword, he must travel the land in order to obtain special skills that will allow him access to King Tengu. The ninja will find elemental magic attacks along the way. These will increase his damage potential and he'll also be able to buy bombs and shurikens from the shops, further increasing his deadliness.
The game plays out in a rather linear fashion, though backtracking is necessary to progress. Conveniently there's a room that acts as a gateway to each of the areas, albeit each door is blocked and can only be reached will newer skills. Each new area feels different from the last, with new enemies and obstructions constantly introduced, keeping things fresh. My only complaint is that movement is completely controlled with the D-pad. It's not a problem until you get the skill that allows the ninja to hang from ceilings. It requires precise directional inputs that just do not feel comfortable attempting with the D-pad. The circle pad would have alleviated this frustration, but for some reason it went completely unused. There's also the option to switch to a complete touch screen input, but I found this to be a less ideal way of playing the game.
Graphically, this game isn't going to win any awards, though the character sprites are well detailed. Backgrounds are messy and look unfinished. I can understand they are trying to keep it simplistic, but the art just looks out of place. As the map is displayed on the top screen there's no 3D visuals, which was a shame. Animations are smooth and buttery, though some areas of the game showed some slowdown for a second or two. The areas themselves are all distinct and feel unique from one another. The music doesn't change with the different areas, only changing in certain cavernous sections. It's fitting and pleasant, but the three hours I played could've benefitted with the addition of more music.
One of the first things I noticed when I started the game was the timer that's always on the screen. After a few minutes of jumping and wandering around, it became pretty clear that this game was designed to be completed extremely fast. One of the first upgrades you'll find is a double jump, obviously allowing the ninja a second jump midair. But jumping and slicing an enemy in midair not only keeps the ninja's momentum, it also allows another jump to be performed. Even taking damage from an enemy restores the ability to jump again, which is perfect for damage boosting. The developers built many of the levels around these mechanics, making traveling a breeze. It also should be mentioned that some of the achievements also encourage beating the game under certain time limits.
Ninja Smasher! is a game I wasn't expecting to enjoy as much as I did. It took me three hours to beat the game, and afterwards three new characters were unlocked. These new ninjas play differently from each other and actually provide a good reason to start a new game. The robot ninja in particular allows the player early access to areas because he has a jetpack and can fly for a few seconds. There's a lot to like in this small package, and with such a cheap price tag, it'd be hard not to recommend this one.