Ninja Battle Heroes Review (3DS eShop)

It’s no secret that the 3DS is swimming in software nowadays between Smash Bros. and Pokémon and Animal Crossing and Zelda and Mario Kart and Fire Emblem and–well, you get the idea, but for every one of these juggernauts, there’s about a dozen digital titles vying for some of that sweet, sweet 3DS crowd. Naturally, developers look to the eShop as relatively inexpensive means of publishing their games, and the results–from a consumer’s perspective, at least–are often times pretty middling. Yeah, every once in a while there’s something great like Shovel Knight that fans can unanimously get behind, but more often than not it’s just shovelware–shoddy, chintzy-looking junk that desperately pleads, “hey look, I’m on the eShop! Just like Mario! You should buy me! Please?! Please buy me?!?!”

Take one quick gander at Ninja Battle Heroes and it’ll almost assuredly rub you this way. Just another breezy ninja-themed 2D platformer–pssh, like that’s ever been done before. But, y’know what? First impressions aren’t everything, and if you take a good hard look at NBH, you’re going to find some genuine signs of competency underneath that unsightly veneer of low-budget production values.

And here’s the kicker: the game’s more than decent, it’s legitimately fun. Good, simple, old-school fun.

Players control Saizo, a swift ninja-tiger-guy fighting against an evil regime of other cutesy animals amongst a feudal Japan-era backdrop. Nothing too much to say about the narrative other than it’s loaded with weird tsundere-types, but I can’t imagine many folks will be picking NBH for its plot or compelling characters. Or its Adobe Flash visuals. Or its horribly repetitive and generic musical loops. Or its monotonous stage layouts. Nope, what really takes precedent here is anything and everything pertaining to the core game itself.

There are just so many niceties to talk about with this game beginning with its solid and fairly novel mechanics. Saizo’s double-jump functions first and foremost as means of platforming, but properly executing a jump right before an enemy attack enacts an evasive dodge, which feels a lot like engaging Witch Time from Bayonetta only without the time-freezing aspect–you’re still narrowly and stylishly outmaneuvering the opposition, though. This feels particularly great when performed against NBH‘s Robot Master-style boss fights because, if you aren’t careful, these guys will have no problem beating you to a pulp. As such, the timed dodge is a tremendously valuable asset and also contributes a refreshing layer of gameplay depth that I just wouldn’t expect from most budget platformers.

Another thing NBH nails is its 3D implementation, which it actually manages to pull off a lot better than most first-party 3DS titles. The Y button is Saizo’s standard shuriken attack that hits enemies in front of him, but the X button lobs shurikens at encroaching bad guys flocking to the middleground where the main character resides. Effectively, players are fighting a battle on two fronts and what’s great about this X button attack is that it breathes purpose back to the 3DS’ central gimmick. With the 3D off, it’s difficult to distinguish how close background enemies actually are, but with it on, players will have no trouble tackling these two types of incoming forces.

Equally impressive is the achievement system which has been cleverly integrated into skill acquisition. While summon abilities are acquired automatically as one progresses, most skills are tied to conquering each stage’s three achievements. To get a speed upgrade, for example, a player might have to beat a certain stage within a designated time limit, or to get a power upgrade you might have to defeat X-amount of enemies. I’m sure NBH isn’t the first game to do something like this, but man, what a great idea! If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to knock out achievements just for the inherent sense of accomplishment it provides, but throwing in desirable skills and abilities on top of that? Sold. This also provides a worthy incentive to revisit stages and snag a best time or nab a high combo streak because you’re basically killing two birds with one stone by doing so.

And just when you think the highlight reel ends, NBH just keeps on trucking with pleasant little things like how continues work. Much like Shovel Knight, lives are completely eliminated in favor of dipping into the player’s deep pockets. Currency in NBH manifests itself as the souls of your fallen foes and it’s typically reserved for enhancing skills, but in the event of a untimely death, you can spend the cheap sum of 500 souls and continue right where you left off. Souls are basically handed out like free candy too, so running out of funds never seems to be an issue unless you’re constantly leveling up every single skill, which isn’t entirely necessary if you play with a bit of skill.

Not many eShop titles maximize their value as well as Ninja Battle Heroes, and for a measly $2.99 you’d be crazy not to download this diamond in the rough. Sure, it’s a terribly uninspired looking game, but you can’t always judge a book by its cover, especially when that book proposes a bunch of genuinely thoughtful ideas and then actually delivers. In a lot of ways, Ninja Battle Heroes plays like Gunman Clive‘s contemporary, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. Both titles are fitting bite-sized homages to the action-platformers of yesteryear while still feeling like they belong in today’s market, and that’s because they totally do. In other words, yes, Ninja Battle Heroes is worth its asking price, just do yourself a favor ignore the mediocre presentation because the game itself is anything but lame.

Ninja Battle Heroes Review (3DS eShop)
Gameplay8.5
Presentation6
Replay Value7.5
Bear Tag Teams10
Pros
  • Mechanically solid, even clever
  • Achievement system
  • Mega Manesque boss fights
Cons
  • Bland visuals
  • Repetitive musical loops
  • Level design could be better
8Overall Score
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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.