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Pixel Shinobi : Nine Demons of Mamoru PC Review

Like an actual Ninja, this game snuck up behind me, grabbed me unawares and demanded its presence be known, but only after sitting in the proverbial shadows at AAG a while. It bide its time before it struck, but when it did, boy oh boy did it leave its mark on me and then some. Pixel Shinobi: Nine Demons of Mamoru, comes to us from developer Ametist studio, a group I’d never honestly heard of before but I can assure you, a group I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on now.

You might be guessing that this review is going to be taking a positive slant right now, you’d be right if so. I have nothing bad to say about Pixel Shinobi. It’s a goddamn delight, so let’s get that out of the way. While playing the game, from the very beginning when I decapitated my first victim in a geyser of pix-elated blood after crawling through the grass, waiting a moment and then unbeknownst to them, slashing out of nowhere in a split second, I grinned like a goddamn Cheshire cat at the manga inspired silliness, happy at the result. The over-dramatic sounds, the beautifully animated sprites and the utterly gorgeous colour palette all combined to provide one of the simplest, yet most delightful gaming experiences I’ve had in a while. Thanks, Ametist Studio, if you set out to make a highly enjoyable Ninja game that stokes all the right retro buttons, you bloody nailed it.

Controls:

You can, as is par for the course with most 2d scrollers, choose gamepad or keyboard. I really, really recommend the gamepad here. The keyboard does work, but it’s a bit clunky. This is about the worst thing you’ll hear me say about this game, that the keyboard controls are clunky. Once you switch over to your gamepad of choice, the controls absolutely soar. You’ll be leaping about, downwards striking, crawling through the long grass, stabbing at the enemy, throwing shuriken, slicing and dicing all those demons and enemies who come your way in no time.

The reaction time is sublime. There’s no delay in keyboard or button presses, everything feels instantaneous as it should when you’re a damn Ninja. Leaping from platform to platform becomes an art style when you realise the near pixel perfect jumps needed in some case require such reaction timing, and can be performed as such. You won’t find yourself screaming at the game out of frustration, you’ll be blaming yourself for letting your little Ninja down!

The ability to fight, block attacks, use special weapons, run up walls, leap off walls, upgrade your attacks through a skill tree and more, add to the games controls, yet it never gets over the top difficult, remaining purposely simple in its execution. This is a game that knows what it wants to be and wisely never steps outside those boundaries, making you feel like an agile, quick, lethal Ninja, trimming all the fat and delivering itself in the leanest way possible, especially in the controls.

Gameplay:

I just love how this game plays. If you screw up? Kill yourself, literally. Pause, select SEPPUKU and die. It’s the only honourable way, really. I mean, you’re trying to be the ultimate Ninja here! Were you seen? KILL YOURSELF! Did you fail to assassinate every target? KILL YOURSELF. Did you not meet all requirements? KILL YOURSELF. Pixel Shinobi really manages to capture that supposed ideal of being a Ninja that not many Ninja based games ever do. All enemies, bar the bosses, are able to be ‘assassinated’ with one hit while unaware of your presence. Once aware however, you have to fight, and fight you will. Bosses are different, resulting in a battle you can’t simply progress past with one simple sneak attack, and these battles can be quite challenging. To help you though, there’s a decent skill tree progression system, where with the completion of each level, you get given ‘points’ to spend.

This can aid you in gaining moves such as sneak attacks, shuriken, more HP and a whole variety of moves, all of which can improve your effectiveness. By the time you max out that progression tree (well, more of a wheel really), you’ll be a hell of a Shinobi, capable of world destroying feats (well ok, maybe no world destroying but STILL pretty good!). Given this game is in alpha at the moment, not all bosses are added to the game, with more and more added at later stages of development. However, with what is there, and an asking price of only $10.99 US, Pixel Shinobi is a bargain by anyone’s standards. I really recommend picking this up, you’re going to have a great time.

Graphics:

I often say Pixelart comes in two flavours, utterly terrible or truly fantastic. Thankfully, Pixel Shinobi plants itself firmly in the latter territory and refuses to budge. Clean, colourful, beautiful sprites with extremely fluid animation and a framerate to match, Pixel Shinobi just screams quality from start to finish. During moments of exposition, character portraits reminded me of the old 8-Bit NES days, especially of games such as the old NINJA GAIDEN series, with Ryu Hayabusa, which I’m positive these devs must’ve played through extensively during this games production.

The colour palette itself is gorgeous, filled with primary colours, allowing visuals to pop off the screen, catching the players eyes at every moment. Bright red blood streams from bodies, bright green bamboo forests little the outdoor areas and dull grey castles are populated with bright lights and furniture. Everything comes together in a beautiful, visually seamless package to create easily one of Steams best pixel-art based games.

Sound:

The sounds are fantastic. For a game that on Steam, installs at 21mb, then uncompressed to 38, you’re getting a lot of high quality sound here. From very decent background music, to stereotypical sword clanging and slash sounds, everything fits perfectly into this style of game. Nothing feels like it’s been done ‘on the cheap’, everything fits in with the theme of the game. While nothing is truly meant to be ‘authentic’, everything is meant to have a ‘Hollywood Ninja’ aesthetic, from the classic Hollywood take on Asian music, to the representation of the Ninja in the classic cinematic black costume, to the overly dramatic fighting, it’s all accompanied with sounds complimenting this aesthetic and all the richer for it.

Conclusion:

The tight, rapid pace of the platforming in Pixel Ninja leaves you feeling accomplished when you absolutely nail those jumps you’re trying to perform, the combat is excellent, letting you feel like a true warrior, while the stealth is effective, leaving you feeling like a true Master Ninja! All up, if you love this genre, you’re after a good platformer, this is the game for you. It’s got great content, a low pricing point and a great concept. What’s not to love? Pixel Ninja is well worth the purchase, go ahead, you won’t regret it.

Pro’s:

  • Great controls
  • Excellent audio
  • Excellent pixel graphics
  • Brilliant value for money

Cons:

  • Still in Alpha (but feels very polished)
  • Keyboard controls not so good

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