Tom Create, known for its contributions to the DSiWare GO Series, as well as games dating back to the Super Famicom era, has created a little gem in Ninja Battle Heroes, an action brawler bursting with adorable personality and surprisingly deep gameplay. Despite a generic title that describes little about the experience other than that it involves ninjas, battles, and heroes, this colourful, lively title will delight players from the first stage and keep them entertained throughout.
Ninja Battle Heroes stars Saizo Kirigakure, an anthropomorphic ninja who is part of the heroic Beast Brigade. When members of the Beast Brigade suddenly go missing, Saizo heads out to find his missing friends and learn the sinister truth behind their disappearance. The story, presented mainly by dialogue boxes during gameplay, is taken very seriously by the cute, chibi-styled characters, lending an anime charm to the game. With big, enthusiastic introduction screens for each Beast Brigade member and the excellent animations of each on-stage character, players will have no trouble getting to know the world and characters.
Gameplay in Ninja Battle Heroes is split into larger areas that are divided into a variety stages; each side-scrolling stage contains three optional objectives such as achieving a specific combo count or finishing within a time limit. Completing optional objectives gives the player rewards such as a new skill, a new skill slot (which, after a few stages, proves to be invaluable) or more spirit to spend on buying more skills. Saizo's default moves consist of throwing stars and a katana that activates itself when he gets close enough to an enemy.
Killing enemies releases spirit, which is collected by pressing the circle pad downward. Collecting enough spirit lets Saizo use his skills, which range from calling a Beast Brigade member you've rescued to perform a special power (such as healing or helping clear the screen of enemies) to stronger weapons and attacks; collecting this spirit is particularly important as some skills can also be upgraded this way. The light RPG skill elements, coupled with the multiple objectives, make for a surprisingly meaty experience that'll take several hours to play through.
Unlocking skill slots is important as you gain more skills — you can choose which skills to equip between stages, and while we found ourselves mostly equipping Beast Brigade companions, there are several categories from which to choose as you advance through the game. The optional objectives also do a good job getting the player used to completing each stage more effectively; getting high combo counts is absolutely pivotal, and the stages become intense quickly. Enemies appear from all directions, including the background; for this reason the 3D effect is used quite nicely, helping the player focus on the right areas at the right times. Each stage is fairly straightforward, but the enemy count is high and things never get dull.
Ninja Battle Heroes uses a combination of cartoon-inspired characters and 3D-styled stages. Character design, from the heroes to the enemies, are top-notch and nicely animated. Stages tend to use a more limited colour palette, but it seems this is intentional to showcase the fun characters. The music is feudal Japan-inspired, which isn't as unique or fun as the characters, but by no means painful. The presentation is largely solid, but we wish more attention would have been paid to telling the story, rather than mid-stage text boxes.
Don't let the generic title fool you — Ninja Battle Heroes is a nice surprise on the already-robust 3DS eShop. With an inexpensive asking price, this is a full-featured action game with plenty of replay value. While the limited storytelling is a letdown when compared with the rest of the experience, it shouldn't hold gamers back from going on this adventure with Saizo and his friends.