Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Super House Of Dead Ninjas

Super House Of Dead Ninjas is a fast and furious game, kids. No cutscenes, no interrupting tutorials and best of all, no bullshit. It gives you a quick run down of the controls, which you can reconfigure in the main menu anyway (especially helpful if you use a controller, which is recommended for better control... I mean, unless you've only ever played retro games on a keyboard and can't legally buy alcohol in Australia), and then you'll need to use what you learned in five seconds to cut up enemies on your way down the 350 floor tower. There is a story found in the comic book that can be accessed in the main menu... something about a legendary one armed ninja that descended down THE TOWER and found treasure beyond ones' wildest dreams, only to fall victim to the darkness within. That darkness is known as the demon Abarghus, and with whispers around it circulating around the village, the kunoichi Nintai Ryoko goes through the tower in search of answers. The comic itself also details the default control scheme and it looks pretty cool, making it worth a glance over, but the real meat is in the game itself.

Seriously, I haven't had this much fun with a retraux game in quite some time... well, okay, there was Cave Story+ that I played fairly recently, but other than that, these kinds of games tend to come off as lazy, boring and just really fucking lame. It's like “why play these hollow imitations when you can play the originals” - for every Mega Man 9 and Cave Story, there are lots of mediocre wannabe retro games that may bring you back to the past without actually providing any good fun gameplay. Super House Of Dead Ninjas, which came out in February of 2013, is a damn fun game that'll kick your ass until shit comes out of your ears, and like the stubborn mule you are, you'll keep coming back. Well actually, what'll keep you coming back are the various upgrades and different weapons that you'll acquire by doing various things like killing bosses or killing a boss with just the katana you start with, among plenty of other things. You'll either unlock more melee weapons, ranged weapons, explosives, spells, collectibles (x-ray specs to reveal the contents of boxes and enemies, smart bombs to destroy everything on screen, infinite ammo and a bunch of other helpful things) and stats (health, time, projectiles, explosives and spells) depending on what you do during each run through the tower.

The game itself revolves around you going through each floor, making sure to stay alive. You can either slice their heads off (and for good measure, keep slicing at the head) up close or from afar, blow them up using various explosives or use a variety of spells to make things easier on yourself if your other weapons can't do much. One cool thing you can do is, when you hold down while in the air, either perform a downward stab or a spinning slash to kill enemies easier. These attacks do double the damage but are risky because it's possible to undershoot your attack and get raped. In fact, getting raped is what will happen to you when you first play this. The first hundred floors won't seem too bad – enemies just bumbling about or running like they have propellers up their asses are what you have to contend with, maybe with some ranged attackers to keep you on your toes.

That much probably sounds easier than the middle school slut, but then you get to floor 250 and have to contend with your first boss. Now, the boss you fight depends on how much health you have. Having more than half of your health will have you fight a boss while having less will give you a different boss. Either way, getting a hold on these bosses can be a tad tricky as one will run across the floor, climb up a wall and either jump from wall to wall or just lunge onto the ground; or it'll jump around and occasionally fire a bomb at you that'll explode and damage you. This is also where you may want to make sure you have a grip on the controls as while Nintai can move fast, her jumping and even double jumping is fairly low and sometimes, the super jump won't even charge, which is a real bitch when you fight a certain boss that outright fucking requires it (oh, unless dying is what you enjoy doing). Oh, things get more interesting as you descend down the tower as there'll be more relentless enemies, some of which can only be destroyed via spells and explosives. The level design itself throws more spikes at you and bomb headed enemies, as well as enemies that throw small white bombs at you are a bit more common, meaning you'll probably get blown up...

...and then you fight the one armed ninja and find yourself in a handicap match against Vin Diesel and Brock Samson. What makes the fight hard isn't necessarily his attacking patterns, but when you can hit him. Hint – you can only hit him when he flashes orange, which is before he attacks and lasts about 2 seconds. Expect to die a number of times trying to get the timing down. Oh, and he has two phases. This one has a million hit points and a seemingly unavoidable attack until you learn how to make it avoidable and then learn how to hit him. You finally beat the boss and then get told “lol play on the hard difficulty to get the true ending”, because if you play this on normal, that's the end of the ride. Normal mode is essentially training wheels mode. Now, while I'd be quick to say that you're a pussy for playing on the easy mode, hard mode gets rid of continues so if you lose all of your health, that's an automatic game over – at least on normal, you're given 3 continues, but then you can't actually finish the game. The thing is however, you need to get the feel for it before you can be confident enough to get through the hard mode. From there, it dawns onto you that in order to truly beat the game, you need to unlock a combination of weapons that you can fuck about with and see what you get the best feel for. Maybe you'll be fine with the default weapons, maybe you need different weapons; either way, you need to play around with the different combinations that you have at your disposal, sometimes go out of your way to do some things to unlock other weapons (and on the select screen before you play the game, it'll tell you how to unlock extra stuff).

In other words, this game can be tricky dicky. Getting the timing down for the downward slash can be hard and the cost for failure is the loss of a bit of health. Enemies tend to be placed in ways that can dick you over if you rush your way through the tower and given that you generally kill enemies with one or two hits plus the short floors, you'll be quick to rush through. The time limit can also aid in you rushing through as you have at least half a minute before you need to find the nearest clock collectible, lest you lose health by getting hit by the reaper. But if you can take a couple of seconds to look at the next floor, you can plan and execute, or just use the downward slash and pray for the best as it, way more often than not, kills whatever enemy it touches. In other circumstances, the downward slash would be a game breaking kill fuck everything move, but given that only one or maybe two regular attacks are all that's necessary to kill an enemy, the downward slash requires you to cover a bit of distance and the ranged attacks and explosives have their own means of being balanced (ranged attacks are either slow or weak while explosives can take time to explode and require a lot of prediction), the downward slash is far from it. Oh and against bosses, unless it ensures a kill, it's basically suicide because you'll more than likely get hit either after it deals damage or before you even touch it. Another seemingly game breaking mechanic is the rage mode – you have a meter that'll fill up a bit after you kill an enemy, but it empties out unless you kill more enemies. If you kill a bunch of enemies in a small amount of time, you'll enter rage mode, which will make you invincible and stronger until the meter empties. Hey, that's another thing that makes this game fast paced! The reasons it doesn't break the game are that enemies die in so few hits anyway that the invincibility is the only real bonus you get, and you won't be using it against the bosses.

Speaking of bosses, while they have simplistic movements, they're good enough to give you hell if you don't beat them quickly enough or figure out how to beat them. Oh, you think the first boss is easy on paper? Cool – now let's talk about in execution. As I've already mentioned, you have a slash, a downward slash, a ranged weapon, an explosive and a magic attack at your disposal. You've been taught how to execute them in the first couple of floors. Now's definitely the time to put that to good use as-- oh you just got killed by the bomb toting jitterbug demon. Not so easy now, huh? Kind of. As per retro game design rules, experimentation is a necessity in figuring out the best way to kill a boss, but on the whole, most of the bosses aren't all that exciting and after a while, they generally come across as a distraction or a mild annoyance rather than a genuinely threatening guardian of the tower, unless the super jump doesn't fucking work (I make a point of mentioning this as often as I can because this can dick you over when you need it at times). Doubly so if you use the upgraded boomerang as it can travel a great distance and it comes back to you. Generally speaking, this game doesn't bullshit the player and that's what I love about it – I love the fast paced action, I love the different combinations of equipment and spells can either make things harder or easier, and I especially love how deceptively well designed everything is. Hell, despite my bitching, the bosses aren't terrible; it's just that the idea is to play this over and over again to unlock everything and the rest of the tower is semi-randomized, so fighting the bosses again and again gets pretty boring. Except the one armed ninja. He's quite the hardass.

It's funny that when the game loads up, it shows off a Super Nintendo box because if anything, it looks and sounds more like a Sega Genesis game. In terms of audio quality, it's not like it's a bad thing or anything, but with graphics, well, let's just say that somewhat washed out colors aren't everybody's thing. While Nintai and the bosses are brighter than the sun and some bosses coming out looking like a gay pride banner, everything else has a bit of dullness in their schemes. It at least helps Nintai and the bosses stand out, and really, besides the fluid animations, there actually isn't that much to the graphics. The explosions are a basic orange cloud looking thing, the enemies are either ninjas, guys wearing big bronze armor, guy in cloaks wearing crow masks or some sort of monster – the designs are good and like I said, the animations are fluid, but not much really stands out as great or anything. The graphics are good, no doubt about it, but that's about it.

When it comes to sound design, it's technically good, but it's not quite there. The music sounds suited more towards an espionage mission rather than a mission where heads must be rolled or reduced to ash. There are some beats in there, but overall, it's a bit too subdued for what it's trying to be. Besides, it gets drown out by the purposefully low quality sound effects anyway. The main menu theme inspires more heart pumping action than the stage themes anyway as it has a harsh drum beat, is moderately paced and doesn't sit comfortably in the background. The boss theme is fucking good – it, too, is moderately paced, but what sells the song is that it's got the feeling of tension in its composition. It's at a lower register and the rhythm has the same few chords playing again and again to motivate you to kick some ass and take some names.

Games like this don't come to us every day, folks. Super House Of Dead Ninjas might appear to be your typical retraux shitfest, like some hairy libertarians wanting to “pay tribute” to Slayer/Exodus/Kreator by trying way too hard to be them. But underneath the surface lies a game that's more fun than popping bubble wrap. It's not perfect by any means – not with those fucking bosses – but for the most part, it does everything it can to remain fresh with each and every playthrough via unlockables you can experiment with and a semi-randomized tower design. Whether you have a quick run before bed/going out or you go through multiple times because you're too stubborn to accept defeat, this game manages to accommodate towards your lifestyle as long as you have something resembling reflexes. So this is probably not for arthritic grandmas and slow witted people.

9/10 (Fucking Awesome)

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