Most TV to video game adaptations receive a pretty ho-hum response. This is due to the difficulty of emulating the source material while still making a compelling interactive experience. So, naturally, when I was invited to play American Ninja Warrior Challenge at a taping of the show in the heart of the legendary NBC Universal Studios Hollywood, I was a bit skeptical of what I would see. From the outside looking in, the game itself doesn’t look like much more than a rhythm-based platformer tied to an incredibly popular TV show. After playing for a bit and getting a breakdown on its mechanics, focus testing process, and RPG lite elements, I’m confident that American Ninja Warrior Challenge is much more than I assumed.
The gameplay in American Ninja Warrior Challenge looks simple at first glance but surprisingly deep once you hold the controller. At its core, this is a rhythm-based platformer with an emphasis on completion time and stamina use. The button prompts at the bottom of the screen are reminiscent of Parappa The Rapper and while it may seem easy at first, the timing is based on how perfectly you can complete an action and how in-time your rhythm between steps is.
I personally took a while to get used to timing my jumps with the button prompts on the bottom of the screen, but after a few attempts (and some advice from a kid fixated with the screen standing next to me) I was able to finish my first course ... only to plummet into the water right after. I would compare the gameplay of American Ninja Warrior Challenge to a mix between the QuickTime events from Shenmue, the rhythmic consistency of Parappa The Rapper, and the motivating replayability of a Trials game. The game is more difficult than it looks, but the difficulty itself was fair and just rewarding enough to make me want to keep playing after my 4th failed run.
There is also an option for pro controls, in which the controls change from a simple face button layout to a more robust configuration that utilizes all the triggers as well. The idea is that each trigger will control a limb while a face button controls an action. Quite frankly I found this set up to be much more intuitive and comfortable, which after talking to the on-site developer, I found out a significant number of users in their focus tests felt the same way
Most surprisingly to me was the amount of depth and decisions you face when building up your character in American Ninja Warrior Challenge. Each day you’re tasked with completing an objective—this can be a smaller event, training, or the main event itself. Each of these events will earn the player cash to spend on stat upgrades, cosmetics, costumes, and more. Stat upgrades split into four tiers: stamina, speed, strength, and focus. By simplifying the skill tree of sorts and using one currency in-game to purchase any upgrades, cosmetic or otherwise, American Ninja Warrior Challenge brings a slight depth to its career mode that most action sports/Television Show based games lack. It’s things like this that can help motivate players to come back and try different configurations skill wise.
Like most sports games that include a career mode, American Ninja Warrior Challenge also features a surprisingly robust character creation mode. Like I explained earlier, character skills and cosmetics can be bought with the same money based currency earned from completing events and working out. The cosmetic upgrades range from various hair and clothing styles to full costumes such as a clown, firefighter, and other practical American Ninja Warrior outfits. No word if the greatest costume of all time is available. I was told there is a custom course mode, but I didn’t get to see it in person so I don’t have too much to say on that.
American Ninja Warrior Challenge is a surprisingly deep and fun game and it's worth looking into. It's definitely not for everyone, if you’re not a fan of the show, rythum games, or more casual experiences in general this might not be for you. Still, American Ninja Warrior Challenge offers just enough gameplay, customization, and incentive to keep fans of the show, younger gamers, and people looking to play something in short bursts engaged for a long time. Now go climb that wall.
TechRaptor sampled American Ninja Warrior Challenge at a preview event. The game comes to the PS4, Xbox One, And Nintendo Switch on March 19th, 2019.
What do you think about American Ninja Warrior Challenge? Does it seem like something worth picking up? How far do you think you could get on an American Ninja Warrior course? Let us know in the comments below!