Review – Shinobi Non Grata

Every now and then, I do like to play an indie game that’s nothing but a love letter to a retro title, trying to emulate everything that worked from it, all while removing all the crap that used to compromise its quality of life. This is why I love playing games like the Shovel Knight series, for instance; they are nothing more than the pinnacle of 8-bit quality. This time around, I’m tackling this small platformer hailing from Japan, Shinobi Non Grata, from Flyhigh Works, which is exactly that: non-innovative, but high-quality retro-inspired fun.

Shinobi Non Grata Story

I’m not going to say Shinobi Non Grata features an interesting plot, but damn if that intro doesn’t feel cool as hell.

Anyone who has ever spent some time playing 8-bit and 16-bit arcade platformers will understand the core appeal of Shinobi Non Grata after just a few minutes, maybe seconds. It’s not exactly its pretty decent 8-bit visuals or soundtrack, which aren’t exactly the most spectacular showcases of color usage and retro appeal I have ever seen/heard, but still get the job done with honors. It’s the gameplay that takes the cake, taking two high-regarded, but massively flawed games from back in the day, combining them, and removing some of the quality of life hindrances that used to plague them. Those games being Ninja Gaiden and Strider.

For as much as I am grateful for the existence of the old-school Ninja Gaiden games (it’s because of it that The Messenger, one of my favorite indies of all time, even exists in the first place), and for as much as I appreciate that game’s control scheme, its gameplay was full of massively annoying issues, namely an unresponsive jumping mechanic and that annoying knockback effect whenever you got touched by anything other than a health item. It’s not fun to play it, no matter how rose-tinted my nostalgia goggles are at any given day. Shinobi Non Grata, on the other hand, is.

Shinobi Non Grata Combat

Looks like Ninja Gaiden, plays like Strider, has none of the issues seen in those games.

So, think about the following: combine the gameplay from Ninja Gaiden, but add in the fast-paced slashing/deflecting from Strider, as well as its double jumping and a ton of side weapons, and you become less of a ninja made out of glass and paper, and more of an actual powerhouse of a shinobi who’s able to mercilessly obliterate every single small mob enemy in front of you, with the the bulk of the challenge mostly being relegated to some truly difficult boss battles. Even though the checkpoint system isn’t very generous (you have to restart a level in its entirety), you are so overpowered that getting to the boss once again can be done without a sweat.

These boss battles are tough, challenging as all hell. They are also the highlight of the game as a whole, and the main reason I kept playing it for so long. At first, I’d always get demolished like a scrub by the boss, but in no moment I felt like I was facing an unfair gauntlet. That’s what makes Shinobi Non Grata fun to play. It’s not particularly fair in its difficulty (you do have a very small health bar, whereas bosses have mile-long ones), but infinite lives, a ton of powerful attacks (you can even throw shuriken diagonally), and great movement controls give you just enough to make you feel like you HAVE a chance to overcome these enemies. It takes a while before being able to succeed (the first boss alone took me six tries), but the feeling of beating them was downright delightful.

Shinobi Non Grata bosses

Shinobi Non Grata is all about its awesome (and challenging) boss battles.

There is little else that needs to be said. Shinobi Non Grata is a very straightforward retro platformer that isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or offer much more than a retro-infused action-platforming experience that might look, sound, and feel like an old-school Ninja Gaiden/Strider hybrid with a handful of quality of life improvements. But that’s not a bad thing. If anything, the fact it’s so down to the point in its premise, being focused on being challenging but fair, is what made me like it so much. It’s no The Messenger, but it wasn’t trying to compete with that game’s level of ambition. It’s just fast-paced, challenging, and above anything else, fun.


Graphics: 7.5

That’s some pretty good pixel art. It also runs well. It’s no The Messenger levels of awesome, but it gets the job done with honors.

Gameplay: 9.0

Responsive controls, precise platforming, and an overall control scheme that feels like a mixture between old-school Ninja Gaiden and Strider, but without the quality of life issues that was present in these games.

Sound: 7.5

Not the best chiptune soundtrack I have ever heard, but still quite good. The sound effects are also legit.

Fun Factor: 8.0

It’s stupidly hard, but never outright infuriating. Infinite lives, powerful attacks, and great controls result in you always wanting to try another attempt. Shinobi Non Grata is not exactly 100% fair, but I kept on playing it. Can’t say that’s a bad thing.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Shinobi Non Grata is available now on PC.

Reviewed on Intel i7-12700H, 16GB RAM, RTX 3060 6GB.

A copy of Shinobi Non Grata was provided by the publisher.