This article is sponsored by CFK.

It’s amazing what a solo dev can do, isn’t it? We usually see solo developers working on cosy life simulators, perfecting the music and the harvest town vibes over the course of a few years, teasing you into their laid-back world full of bucolic splendour with ease, letting you take a breath and smell the proverbial (and literal) flowers. But that isn’t the case with Ninja Issen. No, far from it.

In Ninja Issen, solo developer Asteroid-J has been hard at work on an action-platfformer that harckens back to the early days of video games – when the pixel reigned supreme and all you needed to quicken a heartbeat and sweaten a palm was a 2D, side-on view of a screen full of laser and precarious ledges.

It’s like being back in the 90s.

Ninja Issen is a throwback to those days, but one that has learned all the lessons of the decades inbetween. It’s fast, it’s furious, and it’s fun; gone are the egregious loading times, banished the quality-of-life woes forced upon games by tight memory squeezes. Here, in 2023, Ninja Issen proves that the pixel platfromer can live up to the lofty heights of its forebears – and may just be a game you’ll end up mentioning in the same breath as Shinobi or Ninja Gaiden. High praise, indeed.

Ninja Issen – which launched to Nintendo Switch and PC at the tail-end of November – settles you into the water with a lengthy (and fairly verbose!) tutorial section, handing you the reigns to your cyberpunk ninja protagonist and letting you run wild. It feels quite sardonic; aware of all the tropes that make the genre as irreverent and relevant as it is today, but all done with a knowing level of tongue-in-cheek charm.

Lasers! | Image credit: CFK

The game is pretty hard, but in a fun way (not a ‘let’s send you packing to the beginning of the game to start it all again’ way). Plenty of checkpoints and continues are available for players with slightly less dexterous fingers than they’d like, and a compelling story about revenge, cyborg body enhancements, and teaming up against something bigger than it first seems will drive you on, even through the trickier segments of the game.

Because we’ve all been emancipated from the right logical constraints of the Mega Drive/Genesis era (despite what the aesthetic has to say about that), the game offers you a suite of cool tools to do your wetwork with; you can jump, blink, summon fireballs, double-jump, dodge, cloak, and hail shuriken to your heart’s content. And you’ll need to do all of the above if you want to progress, thanks to a rogue’s gallery of varied and interesting foes that wish to see your ninja journey cut short.

If you’ve got a hankering for the sort of game that wants you to ninja run up the side of a building, dispatch a warehouse full of heavily-armed baddies, and then ride an elevator up to an imposing behemoth of a boss, you couldn’t ask for a better game than Ninja Issen – and you can even try the first few levels for free on Steam, via a demo, right now.=“sponsored”>

Ninja Issen screenshot featuring the protagonist outside a shot called 'Hanzo's Hot Sushi'
Fishing for something? | Image credit: CFK

Even the soundtrack seems to take the lead from the likes of Yuzo Koshiro and his impeccable Streets of Rage-era music. This is a proper love-letter to retro gaming, and you’re going to feel like you’re holding onto an old Sega pad and battling your way through its neon-drenched streets whilst staring at a CRT TV at 3am more than a few times as you pluck your way to the end of this nostalgic experience. Recommendations don’t come much more solid than that.

Ninja Issen is out now on PC via Steam and Nintendo Switch.