Save the Ninja Clan proves that pure platforming can be good even with the most meager of game assets, but strap yourself in. This game is no holds barred.
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Publisher: Sometimes You
Release date: 07 July, 2017
I’ll just get this out of the way. Save the Ninja Clan isn’t a Super Meat Boy clone. It’s short, with only three level sets, but what it does well is challenge players with razor-thin margins of error for platforming. It is, however, heavily inspired by Super Meat Boy with its challenging gameplay and absolutely grueling sub levels.
The controls will be where you will immediately feel the resemblance. Leaping, jumping with double jumps mid-air, and sliding on walls is fun and familiar to Super Meat Boy vets, with precisely placed saws, cannons, and lasers which transform you into a bloody pulp as soon as you get close. The game doesn’t hold back. The do or die difficulty happens within a few sublevels of the game. There are 30 of these sublevels in all and three boss fights, although the boss levels themselves are more or less the bosses rather than actual physical bosses. What Save the Ninja Clan’s spin here is that there are glitches to be found in every level in case you want to explore. In a very real way, there are two games to be played here. Frankly, I tried to explore these every time but, in general, I usually just stumbled upon these glitches by accident or saw a blinking area that flat out gave me a “Come, hither” with its obvious location. Once a glitch is activated, the gameplay slows to a halt and a command prompt window opens to the right as the developer begins to chat a bit, edging you to just try and beat the level within the glitch. From what I experienced, these glitches are easier to complete than the level, at least until you get closer to the end of the level set. You will typically have something removed from your gameplay, such as lighting, gravity, or game controls acting wonky, with later sublevel glitches being more tricky with extra platforming. Once you succeed, the level is completed even if you did not complete it the normal way. In reality, the game plays substantially better just by hunting down these glitches. The very first time you unlock one, you’ll likely smile in astonishment as it’s quite the opposite of what you were doing before. So, for me anyway, the best part of Save the Ninja Clan is not really saving the Clan at all, but rather fooling around with the environment until you unlock a glitch.
My Rage Runneth Over
Within the regular gameplay, the actual levels themselves get ragey pretty quick. I don’t advise this game if you are the type that gets angry after five attempts. There is even an achievement for dying multiple times, which I think is 100, and yours truly definitely unlocked that one. You have to possess a modicum of zen patience to get through the game, and having prior experience with Super Meat Boy helps tremendously, although in my case I haven’t played that game in a number of years and my reflexes are shot to hell. At least the sublevels are short, so there is no real need for save points. Expect to die repeatedly and within seconds, each sublevel is simply out to nail you hard. Later in the game, you have multiple pass levels where you must activate one or more switches, then traverse the entire course again in the hopes that you make it to the end alive. There are cheap shots, moving lasers, multitudes of saws moving in several directions, murderous cannons, and very little in the way of making the level easy. The second boss level, in particular, was one of the most frustrating things I have done in quite some time with a piloted mech which destroys walls that you must pass but only by exploding the walls with multiple bazooka shots which you have to dodge at an insanely fast pace. Not. easy. at. all.
Some variation moving forward
Towards the last world, you get a change in scenery with some snow and desert as well as new assets with some portals, tornadoes, and sword-wielding bad guys. The portals can be absolutely mind-melting with your character popping out of a portal leading to instant death, it really tried my patience quite a bit. It gets more frantic here, with an emphasis on a dodge em up more than platforming, but it’s not easy and definitely a change of pace.
There are also power-ups you can unlock during the levels such as the ability to insta-dodge or make green light-streaks when you move, which is useful only in dark areas. Some achievement collectables are also there and a nice feather to add to your cap.
Is it casual?
The description emphasizes casual gameplay, but that has to be a relative term here. Reading the description made me think it’s rather easy to complete. I usually hand these so-called “casual” titles over to my 9-year old, who is playing Breath of the Wild on her own and doing quite well to my surprise, for a reality check. If she does okay right off the bat, then it is casual, and on this instance she outright called it when she told me, “Leave the Ninja Clan, this game is impossible”. So, for those thinking it is casual, think again. It’s ragey and the pinpoint accuracy required to play is something that has to already exist in your repertoire.
Regarding the graphics, the game is bare bones. I can tell, right off the bat, that this was aiming entirely at fans of platformers and nothing else. Granted, it’s got more going on than say, N++, but just barely. With the moderate variety of saws, manglers, cannons, grenade launchers, and such it doesn’t exactly scream it’s beautiful. The pixelated bad guys toting various sundry items from the Gun and Ammo Warehouse Club are perhaps the most interesting part of the graphics with their attire and weapons. They are also one of the most difficult parts of the gameplay, since they move frequently, are quick, and shoot on sight. While it is easy to kill them with ninja blades, dodging the platforms and keeping an eye out for the baddies is less so.
In summary, if you love platformers and like something challenging, this will do the trick for the price point. For those looking for a truly casual experience with eye candy, you may want to try Rayman or the Shantae games. For the price of a cup of coffee, this game is priced well and gives you something to grind away at when you have the urge for some platforming punishment or wish to explore all the glitches hidden throughout.
I do wish the Dpad worked in the control scheme, but that was really the only complaint. You can change the difficulty with a speed slider for a slower or faster experience, which is helpful when you’ve died 50 times in a row and just need a breather of some kind. Yet, even at the slowest setting the game will still probably make you throw your controller across the room in frustration. But, that’s just natural frustration, the game is well done even if it’s hard as hell.
It’s very well thought out, with the emphasis on precision platforming involving a labyrinth of fast-paced decisions. Every level is a puzzle to unlock, but only in the sense of figuring out the best approach to get to the end. It’s good, the survival of the fittest, and it’s lean. The overall added bonus, and honestly the best part of the game, is the inclusion of glitches which in and of themselves are more fun to unlock and finish than the main game. It’s not for those with minimum skills, so I recommend this only for experienced platform gamers. With the minimum amount of assets the game consists of, it uses every single pixel to knock you square on your butt. Well designed for the masochistic gamer in all of us.