A skeleton holds onto itself, announcing the ye olde videogame segment

Revisiting Saboteur for the first time in a very long time, all thanks to a slightly messy but the game is perfectly intact recent-ish port.

I was pleasantly surprised how much I still enjoy the game!

I can’t quite put my finger entirely on how it works as well as it does for me but a part of it is how irrevocably tied to a certain strand of VHS film it is. Look, I can’t explain why or how (I’m not entirely convinced anyone knows why), just know that the eighties had the most amazing preoccupation with ninjas and Saboteur gets that.

A screenshot from the PS4 port of Clive Townsend's Saboteur. A ninja rushes into a green tunnel to be confronted by a guard dog and armed security guard. There's a bunch of ladders leading up and down out of the room because it's an eighties videogame and they loved ladders.

Rather than just kick or punch things for points, you’re tasked with sneaking into a waterside warehouse to pilfer a floppy disk and, of course, getting out alive. Naturally the warehouse is crawling with guards, security cameras and guard dogs (which is only a Tadashi Yamashita short of everything you need to make this work) and you’ll have to make short order of them to escape in one piece. I find throwing bricks helps.

What I find most impressive about Saboteur is that it feels like a segment from one of these low budget VHS tat films. You ride in by dinghy, you creep through the warehouse kicking security guards in the face as you go, you fiddle with computer terminals and shunt through underground tunnels in train carriages. It’s probably a whole five or ten minutes of a film made game yet somehow it completely nails the vibe.

It is incredibly eighties action film in a way a lot of other ninja-y games just aren’t. Partly it’s the animations which though super limited, I just love the sneaky ninja walk cycle. Nobody ever ran like this outside of VHS ninja films, except in Saboteur! Partly it’s the vehicles – a dinghy and a helicopter? In the same videogame? Well now!

If you want a tenuous Rob comparison, Saboteur is the American Ninja to the Datasoft Bruce Lee’s Shaw Brothers film. I’d go out on a limb and say Bruce Lee has the better ninja, solely because they’ve got a big stick and don’t need to rummage around in rubble for something to hit somebody with BUT there’s always room for a bit of variety.

It is worth mentioning that Saboteur is very 1985 and from 8 bit home computers so don’t go expecting wonderfully fluid graceful movement here. It totally is clunky!

You don’t chain moves or combo or anything, you stand still to punch someone in the nose, you jump kick them in precisely one (1) frame. The port does very little to remove that old clunk and friction, adds a bit of its own if I’m being truthful, and I don’t think sticking with that hurts the game especially either.

I’ve rarely cared about clunky and that’s the case for Saboteur too. It works enough, you know? Perhaps it may not work enough outside of the hazy VHS moment it’s forever trapped in for me, I’m not sure. To be brutally honest. I don’t really care if it doesn’t – not while it’s still got that magic for me.

Saboteur, a port of its sequel and a new entry into the series (which I really must check out when I have some spare cash) are all available across the usual videogame formats. As usual, I’ve been playing on the PS4.