Master the art of ninjing.
Megadev’s popular flash game Super House of Dead Ninjas, is now available via Steam. The Crimson Ninja has taken on a hopelessly futile quest. She will enter the Ziggurat of Infinum, and discover its darkest secrets. Why is she attempting such a horrid task? She’s going to die…hundreds of times. All the same, it’s up to you the player, to lead her to the bottom of the tower. With a new area to challenge, new equipment to wield, and even a level-builder, this edition has the value necessary to justify its cost.
When it comes to videogames, value is one of those aspects that get brought up a lot. We purchase a game with the expectation, that we’ll get our money’s worth. We expect the game to not only work properly, but to also last a long time. It’s like buying a microwave, or a bookshelf. You’re not going to have much fun with either of these items, unless you’re really sick-minded, or suffer from OCD. The point is, we buy videogames because they’re compelling. Some occupy our time better than others, by offering the perfect amount of feedback, for the accomplishments we make. Super House of Dead Ninjas is in fact, a very compelling game. Not only do I think it’s worth the money, but I also I think it’s worth spending a lot of time on.
The design philosophy of this game: jumps between multiple time-periods. Aesthetically, it resembles early platformers such as Ultimate Wizard for the Commodore 64. Thanks to its sparse graphics, the map designer has the freedom to fill every room, with all manner of enemies and obstacles. The controls and abilities are a mix between the 8 and 16 bit eras. The Crimson Ninja has the moves of Shinobi combined with the speed of Ninja Gaiden. This is a necessity, for the numerous pixel-perfect jumps, that you’ll be required to perform. The progression-system is definitely a common attribute of today’s videogames. By completing certain goals, you unlock new equipment, upgrades, and power-ups.
Normally I frown on progression-systems, as they’re typically only there to extend the playtime. This game sets itself apart, by awarding items that will make your next experience more enjoyable. Since most enemies die in a single hit, there’s no use for weapons like a “sword +1″ or a “fiery sword of blizzard slashing”. Instead you’ll be awarded all sorts of different weapons, projectiles, and bombs. These allow for changes in your play-style, and new approaches for dealing with the tower. This is the right way to design a progression-based game. Also, while the game offers a little story and a final boss, most of the challenge is in beating high-scores.
During the main game, letters can be found that spell out “WHERE AM I?” Collecting them all awards a golden ticket. This ticket leads to a brand-new area, with new bosses, stage layouts, and it only ends with your inevitable death. This area loops after three bosses are defeated. The next loop contains more danger than the last. This can be beneficial. As in the flash game, after killing enough creatures in a short span of time, the Crimson Ninja becomes enraged. The only way to hold onto this rage is by killing, and the later loops are not lacking in fiends to destroy. After a few loops, it might take some luck with either the power-up drops or enemy combinations, in order to continue. It’s possible, that you’ll develop a dependency on rage. When the game is boiled down to little more than rushing through everything, it loses a lot of its depth. On the other hand, those rare moments where the Crimson Ninja isn’t raging, are even more challenging. Working out of terrible situations to get that rage back, is genuinely thrilling. Overall, this mode is a welcome addition, because it offers more of what makes this game so well done.
The level-builder offers innumerable ways for clever map-designers, to keep this game interesting. Whether it’s through exploring the game’s mechanics, offering up a multitude of dangers to test those ninja-reflexes, or merely creating something goofy to play around in, the level-builder has enough functionality for all. Still, modes such as these; live and die by the player’s contributions. Thankfully, user-created maps are being made at a fairly steady rate. The only minor caveat; is that maps must be subscribed to in the “Game Hub” section of Steam.
There are a couple other problems with this game. While the keyboard is supported, I can’t recommend using it. I’ll just say that since I started using a controller, I’ve improved on my hi-score by about a million points. To add to this, a single key-tap in a direction could send the Crimson Ninja flying off a tiny platform and into a pit of spikes. Yes, even the Xbox 360 pad is an improvement over the keyboard controls. Megadev has stated they are working on a dedicated controller patch. Until then, download a program called joy2key. It’s a bit tricky to setup, but guides can be found. Just check around this game’s community section on Steam. There have also been instances, where the game stops working right after a death. The clearest example; was when I ran out of lives at the same time I killed a boss. After continuing, the boss just stood there in a frozen state, and I was forced to restart. Keep in mind, that this was one of two instances, over the course of eight hours of play-time. Still, a different kind of rage can occur, if this happens while trying to get the hi-score achievements.
All in all, Super House of Dead Ninjas is a great arcade-platformer. It offers enough extra content, and other improvements such as fullscreen, to justify its price. More importantly, it captures all of the important attributes that make up a good game. It is compelling no matter how the player approaches it, and offers challenges that scale appropriately to the player’s ability. It’s easy enough so that everyone can defeat the final boss and even see the true ending. It’s also balanced enough, so veterans can attempt no-death runs, or going without certain equipment. I highly recommend buying this game. It’s one of the most enjoyable and rewarding platformers I’ve played in a long time.