100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #6 Ninja Combat

Ninja_Combat_Neo_Geo_cover

Today we will look at Ninja Combat, ADK’s second release on the Neo Geo and its first beat ’em up/brawler. It was released on the MVS within the small period of time when beat ’em ups were dominating arcades and have not yet been dethroned by Street Fighter II and its ilk.

Why can't I ride that roller coaster :(

Why can’t I ride that roller coaster :(

The story (set in the rather eventful year of 199X according to Wikipedia. So much bad stuff happened in 199X) is about two twin ninjas with very ninja-ish names, Joe (in fire red), and Hayabusa (in lightning blue). They plan to destroy a massive “Ninja Tower” erected in the middle of New York City, which Hayabusa sarcastically describes as a “small hut”. I guess Hayabusa is the “cool, but crude” one. This tower is the doing of Genyousai, demon sorcerer and final boss.

Strechy Gunstar Heroes Arms.That is today's catchphrase.

Stretchy Gunstar Heroes Arms.That is today’s catchphrase.

Although I don’t think Ninja Combat is necessarily as good as Capcom’s Final Fight or Konami’s TMNT games or Technos’s River City Ransom, it does have a few novel ideas of its own that attempt to differentiate it from your standard brawler.

Musashi is alright I guess.

More weird bosses.

For one, there are no characters to choose from initially. Player 1 is forced to play as Joe. And player 2 has to play with Hayabusa. Both characters are palette swaps that play identically, apart from their life-draining room-clearing supers which only look different but are functionally the same. You do unlock more characters as you progress through the game.

Here you fight Gembu as a mid-boss. He even sucks at that too.

Here you fight Gembu as a mid-boss. He’s even awful at that too.

In addition, you don’t punch or kick or grab people in Ninja Combat (aside from final character unlock and professional Haggar clone, Gembu, who is pretty awful anyway). Instead, you shoot projectiles (shurikens with the ninja twins) as your main attack with the A button.  And they are quite ranged so you don’t need to get close to enemies in order to deal damage. But as a counter-balance, hit stuns are very short so you need to throw multiple attacks very quickly to combo on someone. You can pick up weapons like swords, axes, spears, and clubs, though only Joe and Hayabusa can do that. There are speed and power pick-ups that increase your movement speed and damage of your attacks. And of course you have food items that restore your health, even if they came out of a burning trash can.

Weirder bosses.

Weirder bosses.

You can do a screen-clearing super by holding the A button. It’s effective if you’re surrounded by many, but don’t use it when fighting bosses on their own as the supers don’t particularly deal massive damage to singular targets. There’s a jump button [B] but it’s not too terribly useful, aside from platformer-y parts to jump over hazards and such. You can also shoot while jumping if you would like to. Then there’s the C button, which makes you roll. On its own, it’s not too important and doesn’t really go far. But pressing A during it makes you do this impressive flying attack that quickly sends you across the screen, hitting anything on the way. It’s very useful when you want to quickly back away or rush into targets. And it’s also does great mutli-hit damage.

There's a chain-fence climbing section. Reminds me of Super Mario World. Gembu sucks at climbing too.

There’s a chain-fence climbing section in stage 4. Reminds me of Super Mario World. Gembu sucks at climbing too.

As I mentioned before, more characters will join your cause to fight Genyousai. These additional characters first appear as mid-bosses in a stage, wherein after clearing that stage they will join your party. There’s Mushashi, a dual-sword wielding dude who looks like he’s wearing a beret in the fully-voiced-and-badly-acted cutscenes, wherein he explains that he was fighting you due to being cursed by Genyousai. He joins you after beating the first stage. He is about as equally effective as the ninja twins, though his main attack have a shorter range. Then there’s Kagerow, a swordswoman who joins up after the second stage with the reason that she was only “testing your power” when you fought her. Now that’s not nice at all. Kagerow has a great moveset. Her mini-tornado main attack has long range and her spinning air attack [C then A] is very effective. She is easily the best character of them all. And last but not least, Gembu, who was stupid enough to merely get tricked by Genyousai into fighting you. He is the worst. His punches are laughably short-ranged. He’s slow. He’s big. And yet he can’t do much damage. Ignore him at all costs.

Weirdest boss.

Weirdest boss…and Gembu sucks.

Since you will be travelling from the midst of New York to the Ninja Tower, the first few stages look like you typical metropolitan beat ’em up levels. You start at an amusement park, then go through the New York Bay area, and then to an underground subway ride on the 3rd stage (or 3STAGE as it’s called). At this stage, you would have recruited all of the characters and are about to enter the Ninja Tower. From here onward, the stages take an odd turn to a more traditional Japanese architecture, reflecting that you are indeed inside the Ninja Tower.

Avoid the spikes. Thankfully, you can just shoot these goons from here.

Avoid the spikes. Thankfully, you can just shoot these goons from here.

Another odd aspect is the enemy design, specifically for the bosses. They are not your everyday thugs and criminals and are just more weirder than that. The first boss seems to have been assembled out of several smaller enemies. He looks like he came out of Road Warrior but now sporting what I like to call “Stretchy Gunstar Heroes Arms”. The next boss is a woman wearing a feathered bird suit as if she came out of a theatrical play. There’s the third boss, who is this fire-breathing, face-within-a-face monster that can do a sonic spin balls. Then there’s the two-faced-stacked-on-top-of-each-other boss that holds and shoots missiles with its bare hands. Though, the weirdness factor drops off afterwards, with the fifth boss being just an old dude with magical powers, and the boss after that being a Kabuki guy who also has “Stretchy Gunstar Heroes Arms” and shoots magic.

Yeah, I'd call mister 2 head missle guy weird too. For once Gembu, you're not worthless.

Yeah, I’d call mister 2 heads-missile guy weird too. For once Gembu, you’re not worthless.

When you finally meet Genyousai, you will fight him in a multiform battle. In his first form, he just floats around shooting stuff. If you beat him, his body explodes and his head enters SUPER-SCALER mode, slowly growing to attach to that peculiarly placed giant Godzilla-sized statue standing in the background. This final form is pretty impressive looking, with huge sprites for the head and hands. You can gruesomely destroy his hands. And even though they regenerate, it gives you ample space to focus on the head part. Once you beat him, then congratulations you beat Ninja Combat. Enjoy the rather disappointing ending, which just recycles art used throughout the game and does not have any cool animation or funny Engrish, not even a “THANK YOU FOR PLAYING!”.

OH MY GOD HE'S HUGE! YOU CAN CUT BUILDINGS WITH THOSE NAILS.

OH MY GOD IT’S HUGE! YOU CAN CUT BUILDINGS WITH THOSE NAILS.

Now, what do I think of Ninja Combat as a whole? I think it’s a commendable second attempt by ADK. But it’s not as good as Magician Lord or other more popular brawlers at the time. I’m not even sure if it’s one of the best brawlers in the Neo Geo library. It is a bit different than other beat ’em ups with its focus on projectile attacks, the fact that you recruit mid-bosses, and its weird enemy design. But it disappoints from a technical aspect as it looks about as impressive as your standard SNES brawler. Not even the music is anything exciting or memorable. Very disappointing considering it’s by the same composers of Magician Lord.

Ugh would you just go already.

Thanks Gembu, even though you really weren’t much of help.

ADK never made a Ninja Combat sequel but they continued to make more games with ninjas in them (starring ninjas with very “ninja-ish” names like Hanzou or Sasuke). In fact, they made two more games with “Ninja” in the title. Ninja Commando is (suitably) a Commando-style top down shooter. Then afterward, they made Ninja Masters, a 2D fighter. Ninja Commando in particular has a Ninja named Joe though he wears blue instead of red and seems to have blonde hair. And I’m not sure if they share any other traits. So it’s probably not a continuation in anyway.

Ninja Combat Commando

Both Joes are astute observers of fortresses. Coincidence?

Alright, I think we had enough talk about ninjas for today.

Advertisements

100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #5 Top Player’s Golf

Top_Players_Golf_NEO2_A

The next sports game released on the Neo Geo is Top Player’s Golf, made by SNK. Golf games, as were baseball, were pretty popular and numerous in the 80’s (“Golf” for the famicom is the best selling sports game and is one of the best selling games on the console).  SNK previously made the oddly named Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf (or simply Fighting Golf in Japan) for arcades and the NES. So putting a golf game this early on the Neo Geo is pretty sensible.

3

These are the four players. There were no discernible differences from what I’ve played.

At the main menu, you can choose to play in 1 or 2 player mode. Then you can choose to play “Stroke play” on your own or play “Match play” or “Nassau Game” with the CPU or a second player. Then you pick from 4 different golf players (who are fictional and not based on real golf players) to play as. Then you choose between the Top Player’s Country Club or the SNK Championship Golf Course (the harder of the two). Finally, you choose whether to have a caddie assisting you throughout the game or not.  Though even if you decline, she will appear at the start of each course to lay down some advice while showing you an overview of the current course. I do like that in between each menu selection, you get to see some nice natural scenery. That and with the jazzy music gives the game a pleasant feel.

5

Blue skies, green fields, grey mountains. Such a nice view of nature.

When playing on the golf course, you can choose which golf club to use, though usually the game auto selects the most appropriate one. You can choose “COURSE” to pan over the course.You get an option “CADDIE” where your caddie can give you suggestions for your next play. She also tells you the current yard distance to the hole, which is annoyingly the only way to learn that information. Though if you chose not to get a caddie, that option is then replaced with your current distance to the hole. It might be a faster way to get that info, but you do miss out on having quaint humorous conversations with your caddie. When you’re ready, you choose “SHOT” to shoot the ball.

22

That tree on the left looks closer than it actually is. I managed to fly over it easily.

Rather than strictly adhering to the power/accuracy sliding bar introduced in “Golf” for the NES (and used in pretty much every golf game ever made), Top Player’s Golf uses a slightly modified sliding bar, one that is a bit simpler. Your typical golf meter requires 3 button presses: 1st to move the mark along the bar, 2nd to mark the strength of the shot, and 3rd to determine the accuracy of the shot (whether it’s a straight shot or a shot that veers to the left or right). In Top Player’s Golf, the bar is segmented into 4 sections. And you only need 2 button presses instead of 3. Accuracy is only a factor with strong shots. That means that for weak shots, you can expect them to always go straight. You can also add an after touch to the ball, a topspin to make it go fast and low, or a backspin for high and slow.

14

Just one example of the many crazy courses in the game.

It’s important to learn and master these mechanics as the course design tends to be quite unrealistic and hard. Expect plenty of water hazards and sand bunkers right around the green. And the CPU is no slouch either, usually getting no less than a par on each course. Once you do get on the green, putting is simple, as the green only breaks (i.e. tilts) in one direction uniformly. Though I noticed that chipping in from right outside the green seems much easier than putting. So maybe missing the green might not be too bad after all.

4

“Oh I’d love to.”

Overall, there’s nothing too out of the ordinary. But I noticed that there were a few elements here that were simplified from Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf. In SNK’s previous title, the Power meter is the same standard one introduced in “Golf”, and the green actually breaks in several directions on different locations. Also, there were discernible differences in how each of the four characters play, which doesn’t seem to be the case in Top Player’s Golf. But here, I do like that you can chat with your caddie, on topics about which club to use, what’s the best strategy to avoid OBs, general life lessons, or setting up a lunch date. It does add a bit of character to what would otherwise be “just another golf game”.

55

“Wait, come back. Where are you going? I don’t know which club to use.” Man, yesterday’s lunch did not go so smoothly.

Top Player’s Golf would remain the only golf game on the Neo Geo until Neo Turf Masters in 1996, the second and last golf game on the system, pretty minimal compared to the numerous soccer and baseball games on it.