Ninja Shodown can easily be described as a multiplayer version of Ninja Gaiden, but that wouldn’t really do it credit. Yes, you play as 8-bit renditions of different colored ninjas, they look almost spot on to Ryu Hayabusa in appearance, but this isn’t a side scrolling adventure game. Ninja Shodown is lots of games, or at least game modes, but most importantly, it’s a couch co-op masterpiece.
A small team developer, Bitmap Bureau (88 Heroes), has managed to take a basic gameplay that anyone who grew up with a NES knows well: as a ninja, run back and forth, jump, double jump, climb walls, and attack with your sword or other special weapons. Now, speed it up and add tight controls along with directional attacks, like a jumping downward stab. What you get in Ninja Shodown is a familiar gameplay but for a new generation of gamers. These ninja would destroy slow old Ryu.
Instead of the standard adventure game of fighting while headed in one direction toward a boss, Ninja Shodown uses a rogue-like mechanic arcade mode where players (solo or with up to three friends locally) fight various enemies who appear randomly from doors, all on one screen or stage; the round is over when all are defeated. This continues in 48 levels of increasing difficulty. Get hit once and you die, and if you lose all your lives, it’s back to the beginning. Brutal. Thankfully, this mode, while fun at first, and having its own merits as a solo game or feeding challenge seekers, is not what makes Ninja Shodown so damn good. Grab some friends and a few controllers, and prepare for a ninja war!
Ninja Shodown offers up a Vs. mode with so many variables it will take some time trying them all out to find ones that suit your group. Some are better in a 1v1 scenario and others shine in all out four player war. Vs. can be played in four main modes: Last Ninja, where players have a set amount of lives and the last one standing after killing everyone else wins. Battle, where each death is tallied and players “steal” those numbers back by killing the holder of those “death points.” When time is up, the highest score wins. Coin makes Ninja Shodown into a fight for coins that spawn randomly, and when a player is killed, the coins are dropped all over. It becomes like a violent version of Sonic The Hedgehog every time someone dies. Winner holds the most coins obviously.
Lastly is Crown, where a crown item will be on the board and whatever ninja is holding it, slowly gains points. After time runs out, the ninja who had the crown longest wins. By default, the wearer of the crown cannot attack, but this can be changed along with a plethora of settings like I mentioned, creating all sorts of various and downright fun modes. There are various weapons that will spawn from boxes randomly, like guns and bombs, to just refills for your shuriken. To make it interesting, we enjoyed a game of Last Ninja with 100 lives and a TON of bazookas and only bazookas. Boom! The perpetual blood stains made it look like a crime scene on Dexter.
With only five backgrounds or stages and basic 8-bit style graphics, Ninja Shodown isn’t necessarily a feast for the eyes and can get repetitive visually. The music is fantastic, however, with a good use of chip-based techno and cutting to silence when someone has just one life left, increasing the tension. For those masochist challenge hunters, there is even an infinite mode of the arcade version, so if 48 levels wasn’t enough, see how many you can go until your thumbs bleed.
Ninja Shodown is by far the most fun I have had in a local multiplayer game in recent memory. My friends and I were talking smack, screaming at the screen, and generally having a blast for hours. Anyone can pick it up and get the hang of it quickly. While the screen can get microscopic at times, making it hard to make out what ninja you are, this generally just increases the frantic nature of Ninja Shodown and took nothing away. If you are not a challenge seeker or do not have a good local group to play with, then Ninja Shodown may be a pass, as it just doesn’t offer much in a standard one player game, but seriously, for an MSRP of $14.99 in the PSN store, you can’t get a better party couch game for that money.
Ninja Shodown is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. This review is based on a PS4 copy provided for that purpose.