Expectations can be a funny thing sometimes. (And yes, I did just write that as a plural term and then described it as "a thing".) Call something a "Gauntlet clone", and you expect an overhead dungeon crawler where you pick up treasure and fight respawning enemies. Have a game with ninja in it, and you expect a game where you flip out and kill your enemies with kicks and shuriken. And being awesome.
Avenger actually manages to incorporate a lot of this into a nice and colorful game, where you are tasked with traversing labyrinthine areas and picking up various legendary items. But beware, traps and enemies are everywhere, and you also have to contend with having the keys required to open the doors you need to progress.
This is actually one of the few things where I feel Avenger is being a bit unfair. It's quite possible to become stuck in this game by way of not having the keys required to proceed, in which you have no other recourse than to quit the game and start over again. Granted, you can actually do that instead of having to intentionally kill your character, but that seems a bit of an odd thing to count as a compliment in the game's favor. ("Don't worry; you can quit the game when you screw yourself over. You don't have to go through the laborious process of watching an enemy chew on your head until you die.") And the reason why this is.... well, not good, is because unlike Gauntlet, Avenger isn't strictly speaking an arcade game -- you can't wait until all the walls turn into exits. To make matters even worse, various pits strewn across the levels will steal keys from your inventory, and many of them are placed right across its arbitrary screen flips, where you go from one area to the next. (And why does the game have those anyway? Solely for that?) I know the way of the ninja is supposed to be hard and all, but damn....
It's a shame too, because this is what holds back what would otherwise be quite a nice game. Avenger is colorful, with easily distinguishable characters and a nice setup. Your main ninja is a nimble little bugger clad in red, who darts around the area with considerable ease. The controls are a little odd in that you can make your character move diagonally, but shurikens are only throw straightly upwards, downwards or to either side, but this doesn't really hurt the game. I do wish the game would automatically go into punches/kicks when enemies are right on top of you, though, instead of using up whatever shurikens you have left. Thankfully, hand-to-hand attacks in Avenger are fairly effective and doesn't really feel unfair when it comes to dispatching enemies. Well, maybe the punches (which are attacks thrown upwards or downwards.)
Your energy is shown through two circular icons with small dots in a circle around them. They seem to function in tandem, where the purple one drains the fastest, but replenishes itself as the other drains slower. Once the green icon is drained completely, you die. To avoid that, you can call upon the favor of Wong (by pressing the '1' key on your keyboard), and he'll refill your life. Don't count on that for too long, though, because if you do that too often, he will get tired of your shit and kill you outright. (My testrun of the game had him doing so the fourth time I asked him -- presumably this is the standard, but I don't know that for sure.) This will make the game feel a bit less unfair, since even if you go beyond the annoyance of getting stuck with no remaining keys in your pockets, the game will still slowly drain you of life by the constant enemy attacks or the numerous spike traps in the rooms you'll spend most of your time inside.
These are the things I remember from long ago, when I played the game, and they still hold true today. Avenger really is a fun game that holds the old truthism of "everything is better with ninja" close to its heart. It's a shame that the infuriating issue with the keys -- or lack thereof -- can and most likely will take away from whatever enjoyment you can get out of this game. I hope you like the trial-and-error style of approach to games, because this game subscribes to it rather heavily. Bottom line: it's a decent game, really, but for my Gauntlet clone fun, I would probably choose the Druid games instead of Avenger.
|GRAPHICS - 8/10|
|The grapics in Avenger is simple, but really well defined. Sprites are easy to discern, and your little ninja is really fun to watch as he punches and kicks his way through the game. This extends to the enemies, whose easily discernable designs allows some measure of letting you judge how they'll act towards you. Both the characters and the backgrounds are colorful as all hell, and the game is just a joy to watch altogether.|
|SOUND - 6/10|
|The sound effects are numerous, but nothing to really write home about. On the other hand, Avenger's got an incredibly catchy little tune for a title theme, courtesy of Ben Daglish. It's entirely possible you can switch to it ingame, but given the nature of the game itself, you'll most likely need the "I'm being drained of my life force" sound effect that indicate that you need to either step off those spikes or kill the enemies a little faster. Are you not, after all, a ninja?|
|PLAYABILITY - 7/10|
|The controls are fast and responsive, and the game does not feel unfair in any way past the whole design choice regarding the keys. The whole "flip-screen" affair does detract a little, mostly because, I suspect, some of the flip seams are made to lead you into traps or just make it difficult for you to judge where you are. The doorways are also barely wide enough to get your ninja through, which can lead to some amusing situations where you have trouble making him pass through doors. But I guess that's the downside of having the agility and speed of a ninja; shoulder pain from overshooting and slamming into door frames. Let it never be said that the life of a ninja is without hilarious peril.|
|OVERALL - 5/10|
|I just can't get past the whole issues with the keys. And the reason why that is so bad is because it forces you to go through the same motions again and again, only getting a little further each time. Much like games that rely on leaps of faith for its difficulty, it just feels incredibly unrewarding to be forced to start over because of something like this. Say what you want about the Ninja Gaiden series and its notorious difficulty; at least its main character never had to say: "Damn it! My arch nemesis is just beyond this door. If only I had any KEYS left!"|