Sometimes I feel like we have too many indie games coming out at any one time. As problems go, it’s a good one to have, especially as I find myself fatigued with big budget blockbusters lately, but it also means that a lot of gems get lost in the crowd, especially as I try to balance what I’m playing for work here at PSX Extreme and my own personal gaming time.
It’s fortuitous that Save the Ninja Clan crossed my virtual desk when it did, because while it’s definitely one of those games that got lost in the shuffle, it’s also a game that deserved more attention than it initially received, and a surprisingly fun diversion for the budget-minded crowd.
Step Into the Dojo
Save the Ninja Clan takes some obvious inspiration from the cult hit Super Meat Boy. A platforming game broken up into dozens of levels, each short, sweet and absolutely brutal, Save the Ninja Clan requires split-second timing, cat-like reflexes and the patience of a million saints.
The overall goal of Save the Ninja Clan is simple – retrieve your clan’s stolen scrolls, save your friends, save the world. Each level is even simpler in its proposition – get to the end without dying. You're equipped only with a knife, which can be used to take out enemy ninjas, or create makeshift ledges which you can use to hop over obstacles. There are a few catches, though. You can’t swim, you can’t take any damage, most platforms you land on crumble in less than a second, and there are hundreds of enemy ninjas, flying saws, exploding boxes, homing missiles and targeting lasers in your way.
As such, you’re expected to die. Violently and frequently. Make no mistake, Save the Ninja Clan requires perfection to beat every level, and anything less than your best will result in an instant death that usually ends with your body exploding into a cloud of blood. Thankfully the game has a sense of humor about it all, with varied achievements for all the many ways you can discover death as you proceed.
Much like Super Meat Boy, upon reaching the end of a level, you’re given the option to watch a replay of all your prior, unsuccessful attempts simultaneously, watching as all your ghosts are picked off, one by one, until only your latest, greatest effort crosses the finish line. It’s a great mechanic, even if it is lifted wholesale from another game, as it offers a great sense of accomplishment and perseverance.
Little Ninja in the Big City
As you progress through each level, you will unlock boss stages that are much longer and require even more precision to complete. Eventually you will unlock entirely new worlds, including factories and inner cities, each with their own special ability for your ninja that corresponds to the color of their outfit, such as double jumping or super speed. You’ll often be required to use all these skills in one level, even changing back and forth between them based on need, adding a little more complexity to the otherwise straightforward proceedings.
The visual presentation in Save the Ninja Clan is as straightforward as the gameplay. In fact, it’s downright simple, even by indie standards, looking similar to a flip book illustrated in Microsoft Paint. There’s a striking resemblance to the early Scribblenauts games, not just in terms of complexity but the overall sunny disposition. It works, though. It’s quaint and charming and the visual aesthetic matches well with both the gameplay and the sound design to create a light-hearted romp out of constant death and failure.
There’s not much to Save the Ninja Clan, but there doesn’t really need to be. It’s simple, fast, brutal and great fun in short bursts, without any of the baggage that comes from other games in the genre. Anyone with $3 in their pocket looking for a challenging platform game in the vein of Super Meat Boy would be remiss in not checking this out.