Legend of the Mystical Ninja is one of those games that
is extremely lucky that it made it to the United States.
It's actually one of the many in the Ganbare Goemon series (there
were two Famicom games plus a few RPG side-stories, several Super Famicom
games, a Playstation one and most recently, a Gameboy and Nintendo 64
version.) In addition to the elements of Japanese
culture (which, for some reason, seems to be a big no-no in
American games), the game itself is funny, wacky, and beyond bizarre.
But, as we all know, there's absolutely nothing wrong that that.
There's an extremely goofy intro that does what intros normally do:
tell us the story and introduce the characters. In this particular case,
it's Kid Ying (Japanese name: Goemon) and Dr. Yang (Ebisimaru). The ghost
woman of Hiro Temple is doing all sorts of nasty things, and it's up for
you two to stop it (the game's two player simultaneous, so it's great with
a friend. Unless he/she's slow while you burst ahead, getting hit. But that's
your own problem). Well, if that's all that you had to do, the game would
be pretty damn simple...but it's not. When you beat the ghost woman,
a little cat pops out, seemingly under some sort of trance. He informs
you about his cat boss Koban and tells you to find him. Eventually when you
proceed to stage 2 and find him, you'll learn about a kidnapped princess
and a band of evil counterfeiters. It's nice to see a game that gives little
plot points throughout the game rather than just giving the player a goal
and running with it (even though the story really isn't the main focus
of the game.)
Mystical Ninja has two views: a 2D depth movement level (similar to Double
Dragon and its ilk) and the standard 2D side-scrolling levels. Most of
the time, it starts off in the depth movement area of level. It's not
entirely linear...in fact, some of the levels can be small mazes. Many
times there's little paths that lead off to houses or shops that really
aren't necessary to go to, but you can travel there anyway. There are,
of course, many enemies wandering around, of which you beat up in order
to earn money (of course, there are some innocent civilians running around...
make sure to save them instead of killing them.) With money, you can
buy stuff like Pizza (refills your life when it's down), Armor and Helmets
(protect against hits), Sandals (jump higher and run faster), Bombs,
and stuff like that. In this sense, it's almost structured similarly to
the NES classic, River City Ransom, although the game still
is level structured (you can't revisit places you've already beaten.)
It does almost have that RPG feel, with power building and people in houses
that give semi-useful information. Enemies also drop a few different
power-ups, some that affect your overall power meter, and others that
upgrade your weapon (Kid Yang starts with that little pipe thing of his,
but with one power-up it grows longer, then turns into a yo-yo. Dr. Yang
also has a set of weapons.) In an
interesting twist, you can even throw gold coins at the enemies. Alas,
one hit will not only degrade your weapon, but will also take away
any sandals that you have too (unless you bought many pairs, or have
some armor.) Also, you can't take too many hits...unless you find
a hidden power-up in each level, four hits from most bad guys will kill you
(stock up on those Pizzas!)
Sometimes there's a goal in these areas (like gaining a certain amount of
money to buy a pass), more often than not, you simply have to find
the exit. It's a good idea to power-up before you do though. In most levels
then, the game will switch to the side-scroller for a segment (some are
longer than others) and eventually the boss battle. These are your
standard sort of screens that you see in a Konami game, except death will
result in sending you back to a checkpoint (as opposed to starting where
you left off, as in the 2D depth screens.)
Now, onto the negatives, which isn't much...in typical Konami tradition,
the game is difficult and can be frustrating, but this could've been fixed.
Powering up in the levels is often a necessity, especially later in the game.
But when you reach a boss, you really only have one shot to beat him...if
you lose, then you lose all of your Pizza, Armor, Sandals, etc. making
the fight very futile from that point on. And once you lose all of your
lives, you're sent way back to the beginning of the level, forcing you
to power-up all over again. There is a password that saves what you've
obtained, but these are rather long and confusing, and would need to be
re-entered every time you continue if you want to keep your items.
But on a whole, there's not much else wrong with this game. Most of
the fun simply comes from running around town and hitting people with
your sticks. The game's goofy Japanese influence is obvious...enemy's
eyes bulge out when you hit them, and some of the baddies are just plain
wacky (I love the circus levels, where you trot around and beat up clowns
for no real reason, and watch as their fake heads fall off. It's a riot!)
Also rather neat are the cutscenes, which despite their serious overtone,
usually end up being rather funny (like when an old wizard uses his Miraculous
Transportation Device, which is really a cannon, to send Kid Ying and Dr. Yang
to the complete WRONG place.)
One of the reason why this game is so popular otherwise is the astounding
amount of mini-games. There are silly little things, like gambling simulations,
carnival-like throwing games, and stuff like that. But there's also more.
You can find first-person bonus mazes to wander around and find power-ups.
There's even arcades where you can play Air Hockey, a Breakout variant,
and even the first level of Gradius!
One level, the amusement park, is almost entirely filled with stuff like
this. These bonuses really make it look like the designers wanted to
put tons of fun stuff to make the game great!
Legend of the Mystical Ninja has an interesting graphical look. It
heavily resembles ancient Japan, but all of the enemies (and their deaths)
are rather funny. One of my favorite is a tiny little ninja carrying tea,
who runs, trips and spills it all over the place (of course, the broken
glass shards will hurt you.) As a result, there's a clash...seriousness vs. goofiness.
I personally love it and gives the game a very unique charm. The sound
is pretty similar...it has the Japanese feel to it, and I think all of
the tunes are excellent. The sound effects are pretty funny too.
The controls respond pretty well, although some enemies really attack
to aggressively and it's too difficult to dodge them.
Konami made a true classic (and a wise decision) when they ported this
gem to the United States. It's gained cult appeal not only for its quirkiness,
but also the mini-games and just plain fun gameplay. You don't see many
games like this anymore...definitely a wise investment!