Review – Ninja or Die: Shadow of the Sun

A roguelike where you take control of a wall-hopping ninja fighting against yokai. For as much as the genre is saturated beyond belief at this point, especially in the indie realm, such a premise was enough to pique my interest. Ninja or Die: Shadow of the Sun, by Japanese indie studio Nao Games, also had another interesting thing going for it. What if I told you the entire game can be played only with your mouse?

Ninja or Die jump

“An emissary from hell… Supaidaman!”

This was way too bizarre for me to ignore. Ninja or Die is, by and large, a 2D platformer with roguelike elements, but you don’t control it like your standard side-scroller. Instead, you just use your mouse to aim at a wall, floor, or enemy, and then hold down the left button to decide how far you’re going. It reminded me of that Brazilian indie called Dandara, released a few years ago. Whether you’re just trying to traverse through a level, or wanting to fight an enemy, just click away. Aiming at an enemy and throwing yourself towards them is basically 75% of Ninja or Die‘s combat. You can collect and equip some throwables, which can then be used by clicking the right button as well.

In theory, fantastic premise. Ninja or Die‘s gameplay scheme, combined with its simplistic but effective audiovisual presentation, allows for players to feel like complete badasses whilst hopping around through a level like some sort of katana-wielding Spider-Man knockoff. Not needing to press an attack button in order to mow down yokai was neat as well. Ninja or Die is tough, but its control scheme almost gave it a cozy feel. Or so I thought at first. It didn’t take long for some design flaws and glitches to hamper my experience.

Ninja or Die

Holding down the left mouse button lets you charge your jump. It also makes you sparkle like Goku in a really cool manner.

First of all, even though I did like the visuals, I did not like Ninja or Die‘s user interface. It absolutely infests the screen with menus, subscreens, and a ton of other icons whilst venturing through a level, making the quite feel quite ugly at times. It removes the subtlety you’d expect from something starring a ninja. The size of icons is also way too big.

What really stops Ninja or Die from being an actually excellent roguelike is the very same thing that makes it stand out in the first place. Its controls are glitchy. The mouse sensitivity never feels completely precise, and given how you need twitch-like reflexes and responsiveness in order to wall-hop and perform acrobatics, the gameplay becomes tiresome after a while.

Weirdly enough, I wasn’t able to play the game with a controller, despite the publisher and the game itself mentioning it’s supported. I feel like the game would have been a better fit as a twin-stick platformer of sorts, with the entire gameplay loop revolving around analog sticks and triggers. For as much as I like the idea of being able to do almost everything in Ninja or Die with just a mouse, I didn’t like having to venture through confusing menus every now and then with the handful of keyboard commands required to access them. You can use the mouse’s wheel as well, but it just made things even more confusing to deal with.

Ninja or Die UI

Ninja or Die’s UI and icon sizes are very ugly.

I liked the concept behind Ninja or Die, and even though I just ended up feeling lukewarm towards it, some of its biggest issues can be mitigated with some patches and some extra content. As of now, dealing with glitchy controls and unfair level design makes this game a hard sell, but there is potential in this idea. It’s a really innovative roguelike, one that looks decent and makes you feel really cool once everything clicks.

Graphics: 7.0

The pixel art visuals themselves are great, but the UI interface and menus pollute the screen with unnecessary walls of text.

Gameplay: 6.5

Being able to control almost every single movement of your ninja with just a mouse is innovative as heck, but the level design and some annoying glitches hampered the experience.

Sound: 7.5

Retro-infused, but also fast-paced and intense. It wasn’t amazing, but it got the job done at the end of the day.

Fun Factor: 6.5

It’s a fun game, but also hampered by the unfair nature of randomly generated levels, some glitches, and the occasional confusing controls.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Ninja or Die: Shadow of the Sun is available now on PC.

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

A copy of Ninja or Die: Shadow of the Sun was provided by the publisher.