Ninja Crusaders
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • NMK
  • Publisher:
    • Sammy
  • Released:
    • JP US 12/14/1990
Score: 65%

This review was published on 04/25/2018.

Ninja Crusaders, known in Japan as Ninja Crusaders Ryuga, is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by NMK and published by Sammy Corporation for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in Japan and North America on December 14, 1990. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the release of countless ninja related content, and video games were frequently among them. Everyone wanted to cash in on the ninja craze that had swept the world, especially in North America. That's basically what Ninja Crusaders is; an attempt to cash in on a once lucrative trend. This title is like a mixture of the 8-bit Ninja Gaiden games by Tecmo and the original Shinobi by Sega, except it's nowhere near as good as any of those. It's best to look at Ninja Crusaders as a discount Ninja Gaiden. Trying to view it any other way will just lead to disappointment.

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In the near future, a force of alien invaders is wrecking havoc on Earth from the furthest reaches of outer space. This new menace was stronger than Earth's most powerful defenses, making it virtually unstoppable. The invading aliens showed no mercy as countless cities were crushed. In Japan, daring ninja warriors rose from the shadows to battle the intergalactic invaders, but were eventually driven out as the menace took control of their homeland. Some of these ninja warriors escaped Japan and scattered to remote lands around the world. However, their passion to reclaim their land and crush the enemy remained. A daring plan was devised by the Ancient Ones to send out two special ninja warriors to annihilate the alien threat once and for all! Going by the names of Talon and Blade, these two highly skilled ninja masters began their journey to not only save their homeland, but also the world.

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The controls are basic: you move left or right by pushing those directions on the d-pad, duck by pressing down, jump by pressing the A button, and attack by pressing the B button. To "swim" in water, you simply press the jump button multiple times, though it looks more like jumping than swimming. Other than the awkward swimming, this game has a similar feel to Ninja Gaiden, as you move at a brisk pace and jump quite high. Everything is just as responsive, too. However, you don't have a health bar like you do in Ninja Gaiden. Instead, you die in a single hit like you would in the first Shinobi game. As you'd expect, this makes the game rather difficult, especially since there are many cheap deaths awaiting you. On the bright side, you're allowed to continue an unlimited number of times, and 1ups are pretty easy to come by.

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While the core mechanics are like Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi, the weapon system is closer to Ghosts 'n Goblins. You're only able to use one weapon at a time, but you can switch to different ones by touching a weapon power-up, the likes of which is scattered throughout the game. There are only four weapons available in the game; the shurikens that you're able to throw from a distance, a medium ranged chained sickle known as a kusarigama, a short ranged staff, and an even shorter ranged sword. The main difference between these weapons is their range and the amount of damage they do. Longer ranged weapons like the shuriken do less damage, whereas shorter ranged weapons like the sword are significantly more powerful. Like Ghosts 'n Goblins, weapons stay with you even if you die, so you can stick with the one you like for nearly the whole game. Additionally, collecting two of the same weapon gives you a 1up. It's a decent system, but there's more to it.

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Something that won't be immediately apparent is that this game contains transformations. If you hold the B button for a few seconds, you'll transform into an animal or creature. The form you change into depends on the weapon you're currently wielding: the shuriken transforms you into a speedy tiger that jumps real high, the kusarigama turns you into a sea scorpion that swims real fast but moves slow on land, the staff changes you into a falcon that can fly but can't attack, and the sword makes you into an invincible dragon that can both fly and attack with its deadly fire breath. While the dragon form is definitely the best, it wears off after a while, and you lose the sword once it does. It's a little weird, but the transformation system is the coolest thing about the game. This brings a whole new meaning to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

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There are only five stages, but each one is broken up into two halves. Environments include a ruined city, a canyon, a lake, a forest, a castle, a boat, and other areas that are somewhat reminiscent ones from the Ninja Gaiden series, particularly Ninja Gaiden II. The stage design isn't too shabby, but it's not nearly as tight as anything from Ninja Gaiden or as meticulous as anything from Shinobi. Aside from the different environmental themes, the stages don't feel very distinct in design, being that they feature similar enemies and lack unique elements. The only real unique element is water. For some odd reason, water is prevalent all throughout the game, and it's not particularly fun to deal with. It's mostly because the swim controls are so awkward, though the sea scorpion transformation makes it bearable. As for bosses, they look cool, but have simplistic patterns and die quickly. However, that's not such a bad thing when you consider how quickly you die yourself.

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Outside of the transformation mechanic, there's not much of note in Ninja Crusaders. It's just one of many mediocre Ninja Gaiden clones with a little Shinobi sprinkled on top. The game does have support for cooperative play between two players, though, which most of the Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi games lacked. Players can even ride on top of each other when in animal form. Still, if you're looking for a better Ninja Gaiden clone that also has co-op, consider checking out Shadow of the Ninja for the NES.

Word Count: 1,041

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