Review by Captain Steel

"Only the hardest of hardcore oldschool-platform-action gamers need apply."

Ninja Crusaders is a game that will never rival Ninja Gaiden. Ninja Crusaders is a game that will never rival Shadow of the Ninja. Ninja Crusaders is a game that will never rival Wrath of the Black Manta - wait, scratch that one. Okay it stomps Wrath of the Black Manta but that's not too hard.

This Ninja action game was released circa 1990 and received little attention. That is because the game is nothing that special. Notice I say not THAT special. Its a little bit special... just a little.

What at first seems to be a completely average platform action game has two features that save it from utter mediocrity. The first of which is that your Ninja can turn into one of 4 different animals any time you want! The second feature is that it is two player simultaneous. Of course their is also a flaw that, unfortunately, cancels any chance the game may have had for true greatness. But anyway, here are the good points.

Each of the Animals is very unique and doesn't require ''ninja magic points'' or anything of that nature. This is a good thing because turning into your animal form is crucial to success in many areas. In fact, there are certain parts of the game where only one particular animal transformation will allow you to succeed.

As I said, no ''ninja magic-points'' no ''Castlevania-style heart thingies'' no limits on your animal becoming abilities whatsoever. Just hold down the attack button for about 3 seconds and -POOF- you're a beastie! The animal you become depends on what weapon you have. The shuriken turns you into a tiger, the morning star turns you into a giant scorpion (which for some reason swims very well), the bo turns you into an eagle, and the katana turns you into a dragon. The different weapons are scattered throughout the levels in the form of classic icon power-ups.

The other feature that makes this game worthwhile is the fact that it has the option to be played with two players Ninjitsuing their way victory simultaneously. At first glance this game kinda seemed like a lame contra with Ninjas instead of commandos. But then the animal transformations kicked in and saved it.

The Story is simple: Earth is being overrun with evil biological/robot things led by a wasp king (queen) guy (chick?), and two Ninjas set out to save humanity.

GRAPHICS -5- With games like Ninja Gaiden 2 being released at around the same time, the graphics are a little sub par for even that day and age. If it had come out a couple years before, it would have been right on.

SOUND -6- On the bright side, there is a different track for every level and a couple of them are even a little bit catchy, particularly the Cursed Temple Theme. That's a good thing too, because you're probably going to be there for awhile. On the not-quite-so-bright-side, most of the music is pretty repetitive. Some of it even seems a little dissonant, that is, out of tune.

GAMEPLAY -7- While the play control is actually considerably tight, and even tighter if you are in tiger form (my favorite!)it will do you little good. Once you make it deep into the game, the enemies become so fast that you have to know when they are coming in order to defeat them. I will tackle this issue - the game's flaw - in the challenge section, next. The game layout it standard, 5 horizontally scrolling levels, each with two sections, with a boss at the end of the second section. That is, except in level 5, which has a boss at the end of both sections.

CHALLENGE -4- Here in lies the problem. The game has some very challenging spots, but for all the wrong reasons. Not that this game is particularly difficult - it can be beaten on the first or second try. The first couple of levels are very easy and you should breeze through them. Then, once you hit level 3-2, the game becomes a task of memorizing the position of enemies. Enemies come at you so fast and are so strategically positioned, that you will never be able to react to them in time. And because one hit kills you, you will be sent back to the beginning of the stages many times until you are able to remember where everything comes from. This isn't that bad until you reach the last few levels. Every move the ninja makes must be executed perfectly, and I mean within mere millimeters of perfection. Otherwise the enemies won't line up right, or they will come from the wrong angle, and you will be taken down without any chance for avoidance. There is no margin of error. I personally believe what makes an action game great is when it is a test of skill and coordination - not of grueling memorization. You simply must learn where every enemy is in order to come from the only direction that wont have you zapped the moment the enemy appears. Seriously, there are enemies so fast in this game that they can jump out from behind you across the screen and you won't even have time to turn around and face them, let alone counter with an attack.

One hit kills you and sends you back to the beginning of the stage.

And after all that work, the ending is just an epilogue against a black screen. Still, better than the endings to Captain Skyhawk and Renegade.

REPLAY VALUE -4- Well, you'll be replaying the same stages over and over again, and there is infinite continues so...

OVERALL -6- While this game is far from perfection, and the source of the games challenge is not a good one, the animal transformations and the two player simultaneous feature force me to reluctantly award this game a 6. Note that without the 2 player option, this game would've received a 5. But simply the fact that this game is a two-player simultaneous NINJA action game -perhaps the only NES game of exactly its kind- needs to be rewarded.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 11/17/01, Updated 11/17/01

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