Ninjas. Just like John Cena you can’t see them, but they are always there. Hidden, in your pop culture, in your anime, in your video games, lurking over your shoulder reading this review right now. The '80s and '90s, a time when Ninjas were at the height of their western popularity may be last century old, but can Q-Cumber Factory Ninja Striker! Turn back time and instill the discipline needed to become a successful ninjutsu master? Proceed reading silently and strike true.
Profoundly rooted in ancient 8-bit ninja platforming discipline, the game controls could not be simpler. The D-pad moves your character around the screen. ‘B’ jumps and pressing it again will, of course, perform a double-jump. The ‘Y’ will unleash a homing attack in your target of choice, followed by devastating melee strikes. Last but not least, ‘A’ will allow you to perform your character of choice's individual ‘shinobi action’. However, in a brilliant showcase of the ancient art of misdirection, the game insists you disregard to play it as a straightforward, classic platformer that, at first contact, it appears to be.
Once you select one of the four ninjas available at the start of your quest, you are dropped in the dojo stage. Here, you will learn how the true ninja tackles stages: not setting a single foot on the ground from start to finish. This can be achieved by using and abusing your ‘Y’ dash attack to string along as big a combo as possible, moving swiftly between enemies all the way to the stage exit balloon.
Picking up coins along the way will add to your combo counter, but getting hit will not only take one heart from your energy bar but will also understandably reset your combo counter back to zero. Due to enemy positioning and stage design, you will soon forget that you could indeed play this as a classic platformer and will be doing your absolute best to keep dashing from one enemy to the next and put your combo number into the hundreds. Better yet: it's truly rewarding when you do manage to pull it off with perfect combination of skill and button timing execution.
Besides the dojo, the main quest is divided into six distinct worlds, each of them made up of three regular stages and one world boss waiting for you on level four. New enemies are introduced at a nice pace along your journey and you will need to learn how to deal with their own individual attacks, number of hits it takes to put them down and best position to attack them from. It keeps the experience fresh and prepares you to take on the world bosses.
These boss fights can sometimes be conquered by brute force (i.e. spamming ‘shinobi action’ at them) but true ninja masters will use them to show off their skills by properly attacking and evading to achieve perfect victories. Every single stage will rank you from none to three starts, with factors like time to completion, number of hits suffered and combo scores taking weight when determining your outcome. Your journey can be completed under one hour, but getting those perfect three stars on every level will probably set you back a few delightful months.
The playable ninja roster effectively gives you four different ways to play the game, with each character using their own ninja quirks to affect gameplay. The Ninja is a balanced character, with no real weakness nor exceeding strong points. His shinobi action is a spin attack that you can use for both attack and moving through the air in the direction of your next victim. The Kunoichi is one agile lady and while her attacks do slightly less damage, she more than makes up for it with her flurry of kunai shinobi action for long range combat. On the subject of reach, no ninja can do it better than the wielder of the Chain Sickle.
This ninja uses his weapon to quickly get within reach of anything an entire single screen’s length away. Last and for the occasions when you really need to dish out a pounding, the Mega Man robo master reject Ninja Robot will deliver mighty hammer strikes to foes and is even able to hover by double-jumping. But since his power comes at the cost of speed, you'll need to often use its shinobi action that turns him into a rocket. These four distinct characters offer excellent gameplay incentive to master the game four times instead of just giving it a single playthrough.
Both the aesthetics and sound departments are a straight homage to the Master System. If you ever played or owned Sega’s humble 8-bit console, you will be immediately taken back to those simpler days of big pixel, bright primary colours and cheerful chiptunes coming out from your television. But make no mistake, any Master System would possibly melt with the amount of on-screen action going on at most of the time you’re comboing your way to the end of a level. While ninjas may be strong, never underestimate the power of nostalgia. Q-Cumber Factory nailed this to perfection.
The path of the ninja is a solitary affair so you will find no multiplayer here of any sort. It is always a shame to see games on Switch that lack this options, leaving only yourself as your own worst enemy when trying to achieve those perfect three star ranks.
Ninja Striker! is the Sega Master System game of your dreams you never knew you needed on your Nintendo Switch. Easy to pick up, nearly impossible to master flawlessly and thus like a true ninja it will take some dedication and discipline while you keep coming back to its charming mains quest. In either docked or portable mode, for five minutes or two hours this is a pure combo/score chaser that will keep you hooked to the screen for generations of ninjas to come.