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