Review – American Ninja Warrior: Challenge
There are some game releases that really make you wonder, “what exactly where they thinking and who green lit this idea?” American Ninja Warrior: Challenge is exactly one of these games. It sits somewhere between a bad movie tie-in and an asset flip Steam game you can find for $.49. Now, I’m not saying the idea for an American Ninja Warrior is a bad one, more so that the implementation of just about every aspect of this game fails. Clicking into this article already proves you have what it takes to tackle the challenges presented here.
American Ninja Warrior is the American version of the massively successful sports entertainment game show in Japan, called Sasuke, which has been on since 1997. It became so big in Japan that an edited version was broadcasted in America with subtitles under the name Ninja Warrior. The popularity of Sasuke/Ninja Warrior spawned a ton of spin offs and copycats, but the American Ninja Warrior has become one of the most popular ones. The concept is simple, hundreds of competitors attempt to complete a series of obstacle courses of increasing difficulty in various cities across the United States, in hopes of advancing to the national finals on the Las Vegas Strip and becoming the next American Ninja Warrior.
The show itself is actually very exciting with watching various people attempting these crazy challenges. Seeing how they train for the obstacles or the different techniques they use is part of the fun. This is all lost within the game. It matters not what weight, build, or body structure your character is, and you of course can’t try different techniques or shortcuts. For instance, the jump boards that have you jumping from left platform to the right one in order to cross the water trap can only be done in one way. But in the show, some athletes are able to quickly run across only the left side, or they need to grab onto each platform before jumping to the next if they don’t have the dexterity to quick hop between them.
There is no nuance to the gameplay other than upgrading some stats to get you through the course easier, have enough stamina for the longer obstacles, and remembering what QTE prompts the obstacles have. When you create a character, that you can’t even name after yourself by the way, you can pick a couple preset body types that will give you some boosts in various stats. But the fallacy here is regardless of what you pick, you won’t be able to even reach the finals until around your third season in the game. If you fail one of the qualifiers, your season is over. Also, did I mention that one character can only go through four seasons? Once your fourth season is over you must create a character and begin all over again, but honestly you won’t care to start another character.
In between the qualifiers, main events, and the finals there will be training days and smaller events you can participate in to earn money. For training days, you can either spend money to upgrade specific skills or practice obstacle courses to improve skills. You can customize the obstacle courses to improve certain stats you want, but you won’t improve any skills unless you finish the course all the way through. Smaller events earn you money for completing them, typically these are super easy and only feature one or two obstacles. As I said before, money can be spent on upgrading or you can buy new clothes, hair styles, and various amounts of customizations. So if you ever wanted to compete in American Ninja Warrior as a clown, well, here is your chance.
Your first two seasons will be mostly trying to remember the QTE prompts for each obstacle and boosting your stats. The most important stat that I noticed was the upgrade for your stamina meter. If you don’t upgrade your stamina, the game is impossible since some of the obstacles in the finals eat away your stamina bar quickly. Luckily, the stamina system is so simple that it requires no forethought other than using an emote between obstacles to refill your stamina before continuing. If you time a QTE prompt perfectly, you’ll lose less stamina, but this never seemed too important since there isn’t much of a balance. Before season three you won’t have enough stamina regardless if you get perfect presses. If you miss a button prompt you will get a slow motion chance to recover, but the recover move takes a chunk of stamina. If you fail and fall, you get a couple of chances to retry.
Difficulty really only comes down to understanding and remembering the QTE prompts. But the hardest thing is getting use to the absolutely terrible physics. Well, to be honest, there isn’t even any physics. For example, the obstacles where you need to swing yourself, jump, and grab the next swing is difficult to judge because the jump in between is so terrible looking and unrealistic that if you go by the animations alone, you’ll never get passed it. What I ended up doing is just looking at the QTE prompt bar and timing the presses when it tells me to and not when the actual character comes into contact with the thing I’m supposed to be grabbing. Needless to say, staring at a QTE prompt bar isn’t exactly riveting.
Outside of the terrible character creation season mode, there is a quick play mode that features up to four players and an online mode which couldn’t have been anymore embarrassingly barebones. The four player mode takes four of your friends and pits them against each other. Whoever gets further or completes the obstacle course fastest wins, nothing. You just take turns, one at a time. The online mode is somehow even worse. You don’t matchmake into a lobby with other players so you can talk trash; there are no brackets or any sort of elimination mode. You go to the online mode, pick one of three course difficulties, run the course, and your time is put onto a leaderboard next to the other players. That’s it. Competition at its finest.
The visuals look like something taken from the Xbox 360 Kinect games like Kinect Adventures! or Kinect Sports. The character models are ugly and lack any sort of detail and that goes for all of the customization options as well. Somehow it gets worse when you take a look at the audience on the side of the obstacles. The character models are so bad that even the hosts of the show, Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila, look like bad caricatures. Hell, the sideline host, Zuri Hall, isn’t even in the damn game! The obstacles themselves look okay since they’re just basic metal pole architecture, but everything else is an eyesore.
Sound design is just about as low quality as you can get besides the main theme of the show. There isn’t much of a soundtrack besides some basic menu tunes and the main theme music. The crowd chatter and cheering is a very low quality soundbite that has no variety. The announcers Matt and Akbar have very few lines of dialogue which repeat often and frequently trigger too late after you already completed the action you just did. The various sound effects from the obstacles themselves aren’t anything impressive as well.
American Ninja Warrior: Challenge is a poor attempt at trying to adapt the successful television show in game form. It lacks features, polish, and any sort of gameplay depth. If they based it on actual physics and give individual limbs stamina so you had to properly balance your bodies stamina as well as use your limbs freely instead of relying only on QTE’s then maybe it would have had something to try and master. The lack of effort is glaring and you should absolutely steer clear from this title.
The visuals are reminiscent of an Xbox 360 Kinect game. Characters are ugly, the crowd is even worse, and even the two hosts from the show itself barely look like them.
Remember all the cool obstacles that the show features? Well, they’re all here but you get to breeze through them with QTE prompts, a silly stamina meter, and horrible physics (or lack there of).
Besides the main theme of the show itself, there isn’t much of a soundtrack and the voice work of the hosts is shallow and repetitive.
Fun Factor: 1.0
There isn’t any fun to be had here. Character creation is poor, gameplay is uninspired and lacks any depth, and has absolutely no replay value.
Final Verdict: 2.0
American Ninja Warrior: Challenge is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of American Ninja Warrior: Challenge was provided by the publisher.