Super Ninja Warrior Extreme is one of those platform games. You know, those. ‘Punishment platformers’ – the ones that like to bully you, give you seemingly insurmountable obstacles and then sneer at your inadequacy. I hate those games.
I don’t hate Super Ninja Warrior Extreme.
For most of its 30 levels, SNWE is reasonable. You control a basket-hatted swordsman who is out for revenge on unspecified persons for an undisclosed crime. This is much plot as we get, or need. The details don’t really matter – either to us or, I suspect, to the ninja himself. You make some wall jumps, dodge some buzzsaws and cut down some henchmen. The game definitely takes its cue from Super Meat Boy, and although it never reaches corresponding heights of teeth-grinding frustration, the format is certainly familiar.
This ninja’s mission doesn’t just lift Team Meat’s ideas wholesale. The influence is strong, but SNWE does its own thing, and manages to avoid feeling like a mere wannabe. Each level is one room full of traps and obstacles, with a boss swordsman at the end who must be reached and cut down like the mangy cur he is. Unlike Super Meat Boy and its budget knock-offs, there are enemy warriors scattered strategically around the levels, and the ability to attack them by pressing X makes more difference than you might think to the feel of the game. In some levels, working out which enemies to eliminate and when can be crucial to getting through. SNWE is no Tenchu, but it’s a nice touch.
I’m not so keen on the boss enemies, though. They’re not real bosses, just the same slightly tougher enemy at the end of each room. They serve only to throw in the occasional irritating last-second death, which feels a bit cheap when you’ve finally got through a labyrinth of traps after a few dozen attempts. Still, the bosses aren’t actually a problem, just superfluous.
Fortunately for someone like me with a low tolerance for sadistic torment, Super Ninja Warrior Extreme doesn’t feel like it’s difficult just for the sake of being difficult – a flaw common to ‘punishment platformers’ (or ‘painformers’ if you prefer). There are a couple of points where it starts to stray into this territory, but they’re brief and not worth getting hung up on. The difficulty is a little erratic, though. Even after the two or three simple tutorial levels, some levels can be finished on the first attempt while others require patient practice and a lot of luck, and this challenge doesn’t grow in a neat progression. By my reckoning the game took me 75 minutes to finish. I spent 15 minutes making countless attempts at (I think) level 24, and just shy of half an hour sobbing my way through (definitely) level 27 – yet levels 28, 29 and 30 only took a couple of tries each.
This, too, isn’t a major complaint. There are worse crimes against game development than uneven difficulty. Again, for the most part the difficulty is pitched at a level that’s more challenging than average but not frustrating. It helps, too, that the retro ninja aesthetic is quite well done. The music is nothing to write home about, but the visuals are decent, the player sprite is distinctive, and the pre-level messages of encouragement have a (presumably) intentionally hammy tone that reminds me of Mute Crimson.
It’s a good thing that the game is so short, as I wouldn’t recommend leaving it mid-play. The reason is very simple: in place of any sort of save system, Super Ninja Warrior Extreme takes the super extreme approach and uses a password. Mercifully it’s only four digits rather than the sprawling multi-case alphanumeric odysseys found in too many NES games, but it’s still a needless inconvenience. I assume a password system was chosen to remain in keeping with the retro aesthetic, but it’s just annoying. When I got frustrated with one level and went to reheat some pasta, I had to pause to get the password, then go and find a piece of paper and a pen. It’s not a huge ordeal, but inflicting this on the player in the name of authentic 8-bit console styling is a step too far. Don’t sacrifice playability for image, kids.
These complaints are all pretty minor, though. If the game was a protracted 200-level trudge like Super Meat Boy, all the password-scribbling would begin to grate. As it is, the whole thing can be finished in one sitting, and it’s unlikely to take more than two or three unless you’re new to platforming mechanics. In some games, brevity is a curse; here it’s a blessing. The frustration never mounts too high, the password system doesn’t intrude too much, and the whole thing is over before it starts to feel repetitive. For 80 Microsoft points, I have no hesitation in recommending Super Ninja Warrior Extreme, even to those with an allergy to punishment platformers. In this case, the super extreme fun outweighs the pain.
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