“Super” in just about every way
Adult Swim Games is responsible for a wide collection of memorable games on the web, including Robot Unicorn Attack, Hemp Tycoon, and House of Dead Ninjas. I wouldn’t call any of these games masterpieces, but they’re each quirky and addictive in their own special way. However, with Adult Swim’s new sequel to the latter title, Super House of Dead Ninjas, I’ve had to seriously consider what a web game from Adult Swim is capable of delivering.
The game’s well-illustrated comic sets the scene: you control Nintai Ryoko, a weathered female ninja master in search of the legendary demon Abarghus. You crash into an enormous tower, and your sole goal is to scale downward through hoards of grotesque zombie ninjas and demons and see what lies at the base.
As expected for an Adult Swim game, the visuals and audio are an absolute gem. The step up from normal House of Dead Ninjas to its “Super” counterpart is exactly what you’d expect from an old Nintendo series – a huge step up in visual and audio quality. Characters and animations are colorful and fluid, complete with dozens of gory death animations as you slice your way through the disgusting minions. Sound effects are crisp and effective, and the Mortal Kombat-like “announcer” adds the perfect epic dynamic to an already vibrant game.
In many ways, SHODN feels a lot like the indie game masterpiece, Spelunky. Both games are all about brutal difficulty, dispatching enemies while avoiding traps, and a grueling trip to travel as far downward as you possibly can. However, instead of carrying a careful exploration down a cave, you’ll be flying through obstacles with the recklessness of an agile assassin.
There are a plethora of moves at your disposal to make you feel like a real ninja. The standard mix of duck, double jump, and wall jump all make an appearance, but the game’s combat options are what really make it stand out. Nintai can slash with her primary weapon, throw one of several projectiles for a ranged attack, slide an explosive to get rid of traps, or employ a rare screen-filling super attack to clear through larger obstacles. The additional methods of assassination: thrusting upward with a super jump or spinning downward with a flurry of ninja claws, are equally satisfying modes of punishment.
As a newcomer, you’ll barely make your way down the tower at first. A single hit spells death for our heroine, and you’ll only start with five lives and three continues to traverse the entire tower. These fifteen chances will evaporate faster than you can throw a shuriken, but repeated play will consistently increase your odds.
Aside from the fact that you’ll simply grow as a player by increasing your knowledge of enemy attacks, an in-game shop will constantly award you with new gear and better upgrades as you progress. Every unlockable is achievement-based, and the prerequisite for obtaining everything is spelled out for you right from the get go. Even if you find yourself struggling, the game offers its most useful powerup – more lives per continue – as a “reward” for repeated deaths. The more you struggle, the more the game grants you a little leeway.
One of the most brilliant aspects of SHODN is its design. There are dozens of unique traps that will kill you in a single touch – but every single one of them can be avoided, planned for, or countered through careful observation and planning. For instance – there is a white dragon that seemingly spouts out of the ground at a moment’s notice before shooting a fireball at you. Yet, if you observe the ground carefully, you’ll see a small white patch where he’s about to spring, and you can duck past his fireball and slay him as long as you remain perceptive.
Yet, at the same time, the game has multiple rewards for plowing through stages quickly. For one, you’ll lose a life to the Grim Reaper if you remain alive for longer than 30 seconds without uncovering a time reset power-up. And if you’re able to kill a large handful of baddies in quick succession, you’ll enter the all-powerful rage mode, leaving you invincible as long as you continue to kill. Like Yin and Yang, the powers of speed and caution must be combined into one delicate balance in order to succeed.
I can’t really nitpick SHODN for anything: it’s crisp, it’s fun to listen to, it’s a blast to play, and it’s extremely addictive. The design rewards players for learning, while also helping out those who struggle with the difficulty early in. And perhaps best of all – it’s completely free on AdultSwim.com. The only thing you’ll be paying them to play is your time – and lots of it. Travelling to the ground level and besting four bosses is a grueling feat in itself, but besting all the other ninjas out there with your highest score is the challenge that will keep you hooked.