NOTE: The Ninja Smasher! segment in the above video begins at 1:03:27!
First Impression articles are based entirely upon the first roughly 30 minutes of gameplay and may not necessarily be indicative of the game as a whole. This includes the score at the end.
Even though simplicity is often a good thing, Ninja Smasher! feels a bit too simplistic for its own good. An otherwise satisfying combat system quickly wears thin in the face of bland level design and painfully low difficulty.
Conceptually, Ninja Smasher! is rather strong. You start off with a good number of skills at your disposal. Like any proper ninja, the silent protagonist moves quickly and can double jump. If you’re in the air, you can perform a downward stab which doesn’t deal much damage to enemies, it’s outright likely to cost you health if the enemy doesn’t die from it, but it can be used to activate switches. Your second skill is a spinning dash attack which can be aimed in eight directions. Like the downward stab, the spin attack is weak, but it pierces through enemies, gives you invincibility frames, and can be used twice in a row for increased mobility and/or height. Arrow tiles also exist, which send you flying across the screen in a deadly spin. However, the strongest, and best, ability at your disposal is your normal attack.
Few normal attacks are as satisfying as the one found here. your sword slash quickly extends in a 270° arc from above your head to below your feet. Though it’s still only as strong as your other attacks, you can spam this one for massive damage and it stunlocks enemies. More importantly, landing hits on enemies with it while in the air gives you an upward boost and refreshes your double jump. In other words, your normal attack allows you to fly high into the skyor travel from one side of the room to the other without touching the ground by slashing and then jumping from one enemy to the next. The small upward boost you get from each slash also means that you can relentlessly attack any enemy regardless of if it’s on the ground or in the air. This perfect combination of offense and extreme mobility is far and away the best part of Ninja Smasher! and I wish the rest of the game reached this same level of quality.
Ninja Smasher! really does try to keep things from feeling stale. It’s a bit of a Metroidvania with an interconnected world to explore, though for the most part you’re going down one path or another to reach and clear dungeons in a set order. Upgrades for your health and magic can be purchased from a merchant or found scattered around the world and even the dungeons themselves had a few areas I couldn’t reach with my abilities. Other than stat upgrades, the merchant also sold healing potions and consumable shurikens.
I completed two dungeons before writing this article and from them I gained fire magic and a wall jump, creating a nice balance between passive and active skills. The fire magic in particular is rather nice because aside from being an attack it can be used to light candles for puzzles. The second boss also incorporates fire magic into the fight as it is a giant ghost which vanishes unless you keep the candles in its room lit. All of this is fine, yet execution is where this game falls flat.
Fun combat systems can only go so far in the face of boring level design. A significant portion of the overworld is made up of long, rather flat rooms. Sure, there are a few bumps in the path and the enemies on the ground may vary, but neither of those things matter because most rooms inevitably have ghosts. Ghosts are slow flying enemies which die in one hit and often drop health, making them ideal targets for chaining jumps. The problem is that many of the rooms turn into little more than a waste of time when all you need to do is slash a ghost, jump, slash another ghost, jump, and repeat until you’ve reached the other side. There’s barely any variation and if you happen to miss a ghost along the way you can simply jump up and slash one to continue along. Sometimes you run out of ghosts and need to fight enemies on the ground, but the ones I’ve seen outside of dungeons are only marginally more challenging.
Dungeons aren’t much better than the overworld. Each dungeon has one or two rooms which serve as hubs and a few branching paths from each hub. There’s a key at the end of each path and a few locked doors to open in a hallway which will either take you to the next hub room or a boss. Like with the overworld, many of the dungeon rooms amount to little more than long horizontal or vertical rectangles with some enemies sprinkled about on platforms. Dungeons are extremely bland aesthetically to the point that I became lost in the second dungeon despite its fairly small size; many of the rooms are so similar that I sometimes couldn’t tell if a room was new or not. To be fair, the pause menu has a map tab which I didn’t think to make use of at the time, but the rooms are in desperate need of some aesthetic and structural variety if I can barely tell most of them apart without a map in the first place.
The monotony is mixed up a bit with a few special rooms, such as one where you have to kill all the enemies and a few where you go flying between chains of arrow tiles. There is also a fair bit of enemy variety as the second dungeon in particular introduces several new, stronger foes. Unfortunately, a few interesting rooms isn’t enough to counteract the overall blandness. Similarly, the introduction of new enemies is undermined both by the fact that you can usually just ignore them and by the inevitably presence of ghosts which can be used to easily recover any damage you take unless you’re incredibly unlucky.
Aside from the overly bland appearances of dungeons, dull level design is the only significant flaw Ninja Smasher! seems to have. Unfortunately, this flaw is severe enough that I was already bored with the game after only a little over 30 minutes with it. My save file says I’m currently sitting at 27% completion so there’s always the chance that the game picks up at some point during the remaining 73%. I certainly hope it does since the mechanics here are fantastic and games like Below Kryll have put similar combat mechanics to great use for engaging platforming and puzzle solving. From what I’ve seen though, Ninja Smasher! is only a great idea which isn’t used to anywhere near its full potential.
First Impression Verdict: Weak 2/5