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Ninja Jajamaru-kun

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by Kurt Kalata with additions by Sam Derboo - originally posted February 6th, 2008; updated February 25, 2013

Few are aware of it, but Ninja Jajamaru-kun was one of Jaleco's most prolific franchises back in the Famicom days. The stubby little bug-eyed ninja, hero of his own 1985 Famicom title, eventually went on to star in several other games, going through significant design overhauls in the process. Similar to Sega's Alex Kidd series, Jaleco plastered him in so many different games that there's barely any consistency among them. Most of them are side-scrolling action platformers, but there are a few RPGs mixed in, too. The quality also wildly varies from game to game - some are pretty good, although one would be hard pressed to call them classics. After a number of 8-bit titles, the series went pretty quiet, outside of some attempted reimagenings for the 32-bit and portable consoles.

The series actually began as an arcade title called Ninja-kun, released in 1984 by a company called UPL (known for Atomic Robokid and a few other low-profile titles.) Jaleco was responsible for porting the title to the Famicom, but they ended up reusing the character in their own home release, redubbing their new game Ninja Jajamaru-kun. UPL continued with their own Ninja-kun lines while Jaleco practically turned him into their mascot, even though they were essentially the same character. Many installments were actually scheduled to be released in America, but were canned for unknown reasons. The only games that did make it were the original arcade games - bearing the title Ninja Kid - and two of the Game Boy titles, retitled Ninja Taro and Maru's Mission. It wasn't until the release of the original Famicom game on the Wii Virtual Console that Jajamaru-kun made his official debut to Westerners.


[Inspiration?] Ninja-kun (忍者くん) - PC-88, MSX (1983)

PC-88 Cover

The first game to bear the title Ninja-kun was actually developed neither by UPL nor Jaleco. Instead Micro Cabin published the game for PC-8801 and MSX computers. The gameplay is very barebones - the ninja hero just has to run back and forth horizontally, to get up to the next floor once he reaches the opposite end. All the while he has to avoid the attacks of hostile ninjas. There are a lot of different items to pick up on the way, but they all amount just to different amounts of score bonuses.

There is no proof of any official connection between this and the later games, but the name, the font with the two shuriken in the first Kanji character, and the red cloak are all too uncanny similarities to believe in coincidence.

Ninja-kun (MSX)

Quick Info:

Developer:

Micro Cabin

Publisher:

Micro Cabin

Designer:

M. Tsunekawa

Genre:

Action: Single Screen

Themes:

Ninjas!
Older than the NES


Ninja-kun (PC-88)

Ninja-kun (PC-88)


Ninja-kun: Majō no Bōken (忍者くん 魔城の冒険) / Ninja Kid - Arcade, PC-88, FM-7, X1, MSX, Famicom, Mobile, Wii (1984)

Famicom Flyer

PC-88 Cover

Ninja-kun EX Artwork

Like most retro arcade games, the goal in Ninja-kun is simply to kill all of the enemies in each stage. Each level scrolls directly upward for a few screens, which are comprised of several cliffs. Ninja-kun attacks with shuriken, which can also be used to block enemy projectiles. Running into foes only temporarily stuns the hero, but getting hit by enemy fire kills him. However, it's also possible to stun enemies by jumping on top of their heads. There are only three stages, which repeat over and over, adding new and more difficult enemies as you progress.

Every once in a while, floating balls fall from the top of the screen. If you collect three, you are taken to a bonus stage where you need to collect all of the orbs in a stage in a certain amount of time.

For a game made in 1984, Ninja-kun actually looks pretty good. The sprites are small and squashed, but they're colorful and detailed. The hero's most notable characteristic is his eyes, which bug out in a panic whenever he's stunned or killed. The only real major problem is posed by the odd jumping controls. You can only jump if you're running left or right and hit the jump button. If you're standing still while pressing the button, you leap down to the cliff below instead, which is quite confusing.

Ninja-kun was also ported to the Famicom by Jaleco, but the controls are pretty awful and the game feels pretty buggy. The various computer versions are no better and suffer even worse from some technical constraints. Between 2004 and 2005, a company called CatalyStar put out a whole bunch of Ninja-kun mobile games, among them a port of the original called Ninja-kun EX. The NES verson is also available on Nintendo's Virtual Console, but only in Japan.

It should be noted that this has nothing to do with the NES game Ninja Kid, which is actually an adapted version of the Famicom game Gegege no Kitarou, or the Taito arcade game The Ninja Kids, a humorous side scrolling beat-'em-up.

Quick Info:

Developer:

UPL

Publisher:

Taito (Arcade)
Jaleco (Famicom)

Designer:

Ryuichi Nishizawa
Tsutomu Fuzisawa

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling

Themes:

Ninjas!
Older than the NES


Ninja-kun: Majō no Bōken (Arcade)

Ninja-kun: Majō no Bōken (Arcade)

Ninja-kun: Majō no Bōken (Arcade)

Ninja-kun: Majō no Bōken (Arcade)

Ninja-kun: Majō no Bōken (Arcade)


Comparison Screenshots


Ninja-kun: Ashura no Shō (忍者くん 阿修羅の章) / Ninja Kid II - Arcade, MSX2, Famicom, Mobile, Wii (1987)

Famicom Flyer

MSX2 Cover

Ninja Kid Mobile Artwork

The arcade sequel takes the gameplay of Ninja-kun and greatly expands on it. Although there are still many stages where you simply need to clear the screen of bad guys, there are also a number of side scrolling areas where the goal is to get to the end. There are far more levels overall, which are generally bigger than the screens from the original game. You even get to choose between different paths at the beginning of the game, and the route depends on a card selected at the start. The game keeps introducing new enemies throughout its 31 stages (in one path), and even some large boss style monsters. Some of the later enemies require advanced strategies, like tiny samurai armors that only become vulnerable for a second after jumping on their heads. In addition to some swimming stages where Ninja-kun uses a katana, there are also very brief "puzzle" stages - if you can get to the end, you get a bonus weapon for the next stage. The task but you can also choose to dishonor yourself and simply skip it.

The additional weapons include a boomerang, which is slightly stronger than the shuriken, the extremely strong bombs and a fire wheel with limited usage. Most importantly, the controls have been fixed, so pressing down now makes Ninja-kun drop to the lower floor (or crouch if there is none), while pressing up cycles through the available weapons. Ninja-kun now is as agile as they come: He can hold onto walls and slowly climb up by mashing the jump button, or scale walls even faster with a tricky wall jump. When he falls too high, Ninja-kun is incapacitated for a few seconds upon impact, but this can be prevented with a saving roll.

The character sprites look about the same as the original game, but the background graphics have improved a bit. It's not exactly a classic, but it's still pretty fun. It was ported to the Famicom in 1990 by UPL itself, and is a significantly better port than the Famicom version of Ninja-kun - other than the downgraded graphics, the game plays pretty much the same. It was meant to be released in America by American Sammy under the name Ninja Taro, but that never came to fruition. It also reached the MSX2, courtesy of HAL. It looks better than the Famicom version, but the scrolling is choppy, and the multiple routes at the beginning have been removed. Like the original, Ashura no Shō got Japan only releases for mobile phones and the Virtual Console. There was yet another mobile version in 2007, although this one was called Ninja Kid (no numeral), and only available Korea. It was developed by Ubiquitous Software and published by Fujitsu Korea. Aside from a prettier interface, it seemingly adds life bars for the stronger enemies. Unfortunately, all that's known of it are some tiny thumbnail screenshots.

Quick Info:

Developer:

UPL

Publisher:

Taito (Arcade)
UPL (Famicom)
HAL (MSX)

Designer:

Tsutomu Fuzisawa

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling

Themes:

Ninjas!


Ninja-kun: Ashura no Shō (Arcade)

Ninja-kun: Ashura no Shō (Arcade)


Comparison Screenshots


Additional Screenshots


Ninja Taro / Ninja-kun (忍者くん) - Game Boy (1991)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

While the NES version of Ninja Taro was cancelled, American Sammy did bring out the Game Boy version. It is a totally different game that borrows a lot from the Legend of Zelda series, and is actually pretty similar to American Sammy's own Rolan's Curse. It's an overhead action-RPG where you need to explore the overworld, run quests for townspeople, find treasure chests to increase your strength, and hunt through caves to destroy boss monsters. It's more straightforward than the Zelda games, because there's no puzzle solving and no currency. Also, most weapons - which include swords, shurikens, fire blasts, bombs and such - are obtained by killing enemies. It's a bit slow moving, and Ninja-kun can barely take any damage before dying, but it's actually kinda fun for a Game Boy game, even if it can't compete with Link's Awakening.

Quick Info:

Developer:

NMK

Publisher:

UPL (Japan)
American Sammy (US)

Genre:

Action-RPG

Themes:

Ninjas!


Ninja Taro (Game Boy)


Additional Screenshots

Super Ninja-kun (す~ぱ~ 忍者くん) - Super Famicom (1994)

Cover

An update of the original arcade games, Super Ninja-kun features improved 16-bit graphics, a much larger variety of stages, boss battles, dashing abilities, and a two-player mode. Ninja-kun can now take several hits before he dies, and can even expand his life meter by grabbing heart containers found throughout the stages. The hero once again begins with the standard shuriken, but after beating a level, he is rewarded with new weapons, including bombs, lightning bolts, and more. When collecting spirits from fallen enemies, it charges a power gauge, allowing to unleash a variety of magic spells.

Overall, it's a decent update, but the original games were hardly enthralling to begin with, so this just comes off as a run-of-the-mill side-scroller. Curiously, this was published by Jaleco rather than UPL - considering how much they had whored out the Jajamaru name during the Famicom era, it's strange that they went back to the original name for this installment, even if it is closer to the original Ninja-kun than the Jajamaru-kun games. This is not to be confused with the American SNES game Super Ninja Boy, which is actually part of Culture Brain's Chinese World series.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Jaleco

Publisher:

Jaleco

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling

Themes:

Ninjas!


Super Ninja Kun (Super Famicom)

Super Ninja Kun (Super Famicom)



View all "Ninja-Kun" items on eBay


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Jajamaru 4-5

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Jajamaru Portable

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