XBLIG Spotlight: Ninja War – Stolen Scrolls

We like to regularly shine the spotlight on an exceptional XBLIG, and the developers behind them, in what we like to call the XBLIG Spotlight.  This week, we take a look at Ninja War – Stolen Scrolls, a Castle Crashers inspired brawler. Check out the trailer below and as always, my perspective and an interview with the developers behind the game (Author’s Note: I never read the response to the interview questions before writing my review to ensure that it remains unbiased). Add Ninja War Stolen Scrolls to your download queue! First, check out the game’s trailer:

Editors note: Vento Aureo speaks very little English but still took the time to answer our questions as best as he could. His responses have been edited to the best of our ability in order to make it easier for our readers.

First, tell the readers a bit about yourself: what is your history as a game developer, previous efforts, why you decided to start getting involved in making games?

My first game was made in ​​Flash 2.0 and it was called “Ruler of Sword.”  It is a “play at work” type of game and can be found online here.

If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?

“Castle Crashers” and “Kuniokuno DaiUndoukai,” check out this YouTube clip if you are unfamiliar: Click Here

Have you in the past, or do you currently have plans to work in any other platform?  What made you decide to develop for XBLIG?

Ninja War was my first XBLIG, and I am currently developing several games for Android.  I wanted to develop a game using the controller so XBLIG was a great way to do it.

How long did you spend on development?  Can you explain, roughly, how the development process worked for you? What tools and programs did you work with?

Ninja War’s development period was 18 months. I primarily used XNA to create development tools.

A game’s soundtrack can make or break a game, tell us how you selected yours. Did you produce in house, team up with a music producer or simply purchase royalty free music?

All of the game’s sounds were provide free of charge by  “Syouta Murazato.” Moraimashita provided them free of charge on in return for being credited in the game. http://murasato.at-ninja.jp/

If you had to pick one thing that you would improve or simply do differently in regards the game’s development what would it be? 

The game is a little monotonous, and I think I should have improved the character leveling experience.

How did you go about deciding on the name for your game and why did you end up with the title you have?  Were there any rejected titles that didn’t make the cut?

It was an easy decision, didn’t have any rejects.

Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?

It takes effort and lots of practice.

What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?

I think this will be my only game on XBLIG for the foreseeable future, now I’m concentrating on the production of games for Android. (Editor’s note: this sentence was particularly hard to understand, and this may be incorrect.)
Anything else you would like to say?

I can’t wait to play Diablo 3!

If you’ve got three friends and a dollar to spend you may want to pay attention.  Let’s face it, your options are pretty limited; you COULD buy a McDouble that the four of you could split, or you could all throw your socks into a dryer and watch them go around for about forty minutes… or you could check out Ninja War – Stolen Scrolls.  Ninja War is a side scrolling adventure brawler where you must beat on some enemy forces in a quest to defeat your nemesis and return the ninja scrolls to their proper owner (you).  Up to four players can take part in the quest at the same time in this Castle Crashers inspired adventure.

Yes, this game obviously borrows a lot from the Xbox Live mega-hit, Castle Crashers (and as such it is hard to review it without comparing).  In addition to the games visual style, which is an impressive competition to Behemoth’s own, the gameplay and even the level selection also mimics the hit game.  At the end of the day though, it is hard to fault a game for being similar to one of the best games available on Xbox Live.  That said, there are some notable differences between Castle Crashers and Ninja War, the least of which being the price. Clocking in at the low cost of only $1, compared to Castle Crashers’ $15, Ninja War offers a different but similar experience for a fraction of the price.  There is definitely room for both games on Xbox Live.

Ninja War is much more of a classic brawler than Castle Crashers’ simplified RPG format.  While your character does level up in Ninja War, experience points are automatically applied rather than dolled out by choice.  Additionally, the weapon system is much simpler, as in there really isn’t one.  Enemies do occasionally drop swords that you can in turn use for a time (much like the classic brawlers), but you won’t be collecting weapons and using them based on their various stats.  Much like Castle Crashers, the four characters have various elemental magic abilities, such as wind and fire.  The abilities scan be used in one of three ways, depending on the angle of your analog stick when activating it.  Magic does not automatically restore, but there are plenty of power-up drops that will boost it and at any time you can charge it by holding RB.  The magic abilities play a big part of the game and will be used a lot (especially if playing solo).  Combat is pretty simple; you can punch or jump and punch.  There isn’t a light or heavy attack (or a bow/bomb/etc.) to speak of, and the damage dealt is directly related to your character level.  Health is gained by power-ups dropped by enemies, although it is dropped far too rarely in some cases (more on that later).  Basically, Ninja War takes Castle Crasher’s already pretty simple combat system and makes it even simpler.

The game offers a fair amount of levels, although in some cases quantity doesn’t equal quality with Ninja War.  While there is a descent level of variation between the various level types, the individual levels that make up each series of levels is desperately lacking.  It does feel like you are playing the same level for the first five or seven levels of the game.  The three boss levels are also incredibly similar to each other, and are extremely long, perhaps too long as you will likely find yourself struggling to beat it till you are eventually a high enough level that it becomes rather easy; and of course making it all the way to the boss only to die and have to start over is always a little frustrating. For the most part though, Ninja War follows a solid and proven method; as you progress through the levels, the last level’s difficult enemy because the next level’s easy enemy and so on. Keeping the difficulty nicely in line with your level.

As mentioned before, the game looks great.  In many ways based solely on appearance this could be DLC for Castle Crashers.  It isn’t identical, but the inspiration is obvious, as is the skill behind it.  The game’s soundtrack primarily consist of one song, but it is a very well produced song so that makes it tolerable, and the other game’s sounds are better than average.  Overall, Ninja War is a pleasing experience aesthetically.

Ninja War does suffer from a few low points though.  In addition to a lack of level variety, there isn’t as much character variety as there probably should be (especially in the first set of levels).  The game may also have simplified a little too much; the lack of character customization as you level up is unfortunate and the exceptionally simple combat really limits your options even as the enemies change.  The two most notable issues though are a little more tedious:  health can be exceptionally rare in longer levels.  Considering that dropped health is the only means of restoring HP, this fact can really add up to a big pain in the hind-armor, and it forces you to play the game in a more conservative (and less fun) way.  This is especially problematic considering the other issue, namely that it is rather easy for you to get stuck in a corner or on a trap and have crazy amounts of health disappear in a matter of seconds (if you don’t just die).  It was somewhat common to accidentally hit a trap, fly up in the air, and then land on the trap again, and then fly up in the air, and then land on the trap again, etc.  Also common was getting trapped in a corner by a boss and some various enemies and not being able to move because their attacks knock you down and then knock you down again, and then knock you down again, and again, and… well you get the point.  These aren’t deal breakers, but when a game is so similar to another hit title, moments like these work to highlight the difference in polish between the two.

Ninja War – Stolen Scrolls won’t serve as a replacement to Castle Crashers, but if you are looking for a budget way to experience a similar type of game, looking to just experience more of a similar type of game or just in the hunt for a fun XBLIG for your money; Ninja War satisfies.  Providing a couple of hours worth of entertainment at a fraction of the cost is probably Ninja War’s best selling point, but the fact is that if the game hadn’t been so similar it would probably fair a bit better.  Being compared to a fantastic, and wildly popular game, makes for some big shoes to fill.  Ninja War does manage to stand fairly well on its own though, and much like Castle Crashers, the vibrant and colorful visual style is likely to play a big part in winning you over with this simple but fun brawler.  For the low price of $1, Ninja War – Stolen Scrolls is really a no brainer and is the kind of game likely to appeal to fans of indie games and those who couldn’t name an indie developer if they tried alike.

Final Rating: 8.8/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On
: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Time to completion: N/A
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Belcro (Vento Aureo)
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Not getting any lower, cause it can’t!
Why you should buy it: You loved Castle Crashers but need something new.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You have a fear of ninjas or cheap games.
Add Ninja War Stolen Scrolls to your download queue!


About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.