Backlog Review: “Night Slashers” (Switch/Arcade, Festival of Dread Special)
Welcome back to The Splintering‘s Festival of Dread, our month-long celebration of all things hideous and horrid!
Today, we’re going to review a lesser-remembered arcade beat-em-up now available on the Nintendo Switch, Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Night Slashers.
Originally released in 1993 by Data East, Night Slashers is an arcade brawler for up to 3 players. While the early 90s was crowded with similar games featuring swords, aliens, superheroes, and of course, mutant turtles, Night Slashers’ stand-out feature was that players were pitted against a swarm of zombies. Well, not just zombies. There’s also werewolves, bats, vampires, ghouls, executioners, tubby troll-like guys, and even rolling body bags (which was pretty cool).
“It’s Zombie Time!”
You have the choice of three playable characters: Jake White, Christopher Smith, and Zhao Hong Hua. Jake is the slower, but more powerful fighter with long blonde hair, a pair of Jax-like metal arms and bright, pro-wrestler style garb. Christopher – the “balanced” fighter – is a well-dressed vampire hunter armed with magical charms designed to fight against the undead. Hong Hua is the quickest but weakest fighter; she’s a nimble martial artist in pink ninja-esque garb. Of the three characters, I found myself gravitating to Christopher the most. Not necessarily because he’s balanced, but because the looks of other two characters don’t seem to match the horror aspects of the game, especially the cybernetic Jake.
Your characters have a satisfyingly broad set of attacks at their disposal, including dashes, an elemental-powered super move, and a jump attack that cartoonishly drives enemies into the ground (yes, even bosses), after which you can kick them in the head. There are some weapons to pick up along the way, but not very many, and usually all you can do with them is throw them at enemies, anyway. Overall, your animations look a bit stiff when compared to, say, TMNT: Turtles in Time, but the controls are adequately responsive.
But what about the baddies? Led by a Count Dracula stand-in, the enemies’ plan is to open a mystical portal that will allow the dead to conquer the world. The other bosses include a golem, Frankenstein’s monster, Death, and an Egyptian mummy (who was my personal favorite design).
You oddly defeat big bad Dracula in stage three, after which your task for the remainder of the game is to disrupt the villains’ plan by closing a set of portals around the world. There are seven stages total, but the last stage is basically the final boss fight. You’ll also have to fight all of the bosses over again late in the game, which always annoys me.
Perhaps the oddest boss fight is Death, not so much because of his character design or his attacks, but because the fight takes place on an industrial elevator. Not a temple, or a castle, or a cemetery, but an industrial elevator. Sure, every beat-em-up needs a good elevator sequence, but some of the stages in Night Slashers are so mismatched that they feel like they were dropped in from other games. Everything starts off well enough with a hospital, a graveyard, and a castle, but when you start fighting demons and ghouls in a against the backdrops of a factory or on an airplane, it just feels out of place.
There’s also a couple of bonus stages tossed in, such as a bowling-esque mini-game where you toss an enemy into a set of pins, and a whack-a-mole game where zombie heads pop up from the ground and you have to stomp them before they slink back down into the dirt. That latter was definitely pretty fun.
The Color of Death
Even during its time, Night Slashers wasn’t necessarily among the best-looking arcade brawlers. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of its contemporaries developed by Capcom or Konami (i.e. Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom or X-Men). As mentioned above, your character animations are a bit stiff, and some of the character designs are a bit more colorful than you might expect for a horror game. Not only that but the bright colors calls attention to the large number of repeated enemies that you will encounter. If a werewolf was just a grayish-brown monster, it wouldn’t necessarily stand out. But a pack of blonde-haired werewolves all wearing the same bright blue jeans and red jackets? It’s much more obvious.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some high notes in Night Thrasher‘s presentation. There are some cool mist effects in the foreground of some levels, and the enemies death animations are unbelievably cool. They don’t just die, they melt in a glorious pile of goo complete with a disconcerting *splich!* sound effect. The music is also a high point for the game, as some of the “rock organ” tunes are a perfect match for an action-packed horror game.
Return of the Living Dead?
Overall, Night Thrashers is a fun retro romp, though it falls fairly short of the the best of the era. Despite a few odd aesthetic choices, the horror theme does help the game stand out as being unique from its contemporaries. Old school brawler fans will almost certainly dig it, and I myself will likely play it again. Fortunately, each of the three characters has their own ending, so there’s a bit of a reward for playing through multiple times… well three times, at least. Considering how many quarters it would have cost back in the Ferg to play through the game those three times, Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Night Slashers is definitely worth the $7.99 asking price on the Nintendo Switch eShop if you’re at all inclined. (Pssst! It also goes on sale for $2 – $3 fairly regularly)
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