Having gone back to playing the Mega Man X games, I have discovered that I crave speed and excellent control in my games. I want to whip around faster than Sonic while doing complex jumps and precisely destroying my enemies. Once I finished the X series, I wasn’t quite sure what to play again, and that’s when I remembered my copy of Super House of Dead Ninjas. I got right back into it, hurtling through the tower at blinding speed and finding myself tripping, stumbling, and dying at the hands of the beasts that wander the halls of the game. It’s hard, it’s fast, and is something even the busiest gamer can squeeze into their schedule. It’s easily the slickest action game I played in 2013.
You must crave speed if you’re going to play it. Your whole job in the game is to get to the bottom of a demonic tower, killing or dodging anything in your path until you hit the bottom. You’re given a short time limit per life to keep you moving if you feel like playing slowly and deliberately, and when that’s up, expect to be chased by something that WILL get you motivated and running. Beyond that, your character moves really fast, attacking and jumping at a pace that feels so right it borders on compulsion. The game takes steps to make you desire more speed, but just playing the game itself makes it hard not to want to be whipping through it.
Movement abilities make it easy to like the game’s pace, too. You’re given a double jump and wall clinging abilities to keep you moving around, as well as attacks like the downward stab and a jumping attack that turns you into a rolling ball of death. On top of them, there’s also a rage meter that builds with every kill, eventually turning you invincible when it’s full. The trick is that the meter steadily drains, so you have to keep moving and killing things in order to build up enough rage to trigger it. Once triggered, you can’t be hurt by anything until the meter is drained, but you can still fill it by killing enemies while in a rage. This means the game gives you the tools to move fast, the incentive to move fast and attack to build the rage meter, and then encourages you to go nuts once you’re raging so that the rage doesn’t end. With all these perks to moving quick, it is really, really hard not to.
The folks at Megadev aren’t just going to make this easy for you, though. You move and attack fast, but the quicker you’re moving, the more likely you are to run into the dozens of traps and sneaky enemies in the game. Even in dealing with basic enemies, you can attack so fast that your swings will miss or you’ll bulldoze right into an enemy you didn’t hit enough times to kill. In other areas you’ll fall so quick you won’t see the hazards below in time, or run across floors carelessly without noticing the spikes on them. As you progress you might not take the time to learn the attacks and patterns of new enemies, losing your head for failing to take in your surroundings. While you move fast and enemies can be dispatched even faster, you still always need to aware of what’s going on around you to make sure it’s safe.
On paper, this sounds like it creates a game that’s at odds with itself. You are given all these tools to be fast, but the game is full of traps that should require you to move slow. This is where the beauty of the tower comes in. It seemed like a small, pointless design decision to descend the tower instead of ascend or just play as a sidescroller, but going down means you get to see several floors below you at once. While you’re blazing along, you have several precious seconds to see what’s coming and plan for it without breaking your stride. It gives the player a brief window to build a strategy, and is likely the only reason why this mingling of speed and care works.
With the descending mechanic, it turns the player into an enemy. For me, I always wanted to be moving as fast as I could, and had to work against myself to move at a more appropriate and effective pace. I would be playing well, but then get so excited at how quick I was going that I would stop being careful and start wasting lives like crazy. The game was hard, for sure, but the almost-addictive speed makes it very easy to slip into bad play habits because you’re having so much fun moving quickly. It’s such a weird issue to enjoy a game’s movement so much that you play badly because of it, but it’s one that was at the core of Super House of Dead Ninjas‘ gameplay, and something that just makes it even more enjoyable to play.
I love picking up Super House of Dead Ninjas when I only have a few minutes to play something. Its combat and gameplay are beyond easy, something anyone could pick up and figure out within seconds. Even so, it’s a complex, challenging game that will take players a while to beat, especially if they want the true endings. For a game that typically ends within only a few minutes, there is so much depth to its randomized dungeons, neat unlocks, and high challenge that you’ll get hours and hours of gameplay out of it. For a pure, no nonsense action game, you could not do better in 2013 than Super House of Dead Ninjas.
Super House of Dead Ninjas is available for $6.99 on Steam.