3 Ninjas Kick Back (Genesis) review
"There are at least twenty-six people out there over the bloody moon that I'm stuck reviewing this game and they're not!"
The Children's Labour law is a strange one. When first drafted, it was to ensure that companies didn't send toddlers to sweatshops to produce third-rate t-shirts and trainers, or to stop those damn Welsh sending preteen kids into the coal mines. Over the years though, the law has, like most US based commandments, been altered to custom fit certain applications that benefit some of the more lucrative commodities. At the time of this review, said law no longer applies to acting, agriculture, some aspects of the journalistic and sporting avenues and, should this game be taken as a reference, ninjas.
Taking full advantage of this is a yet-to-be-named crusty old Mr Miagi clone who has cunningly employed this loophole to its fullest effect. Sprouting some rubbish about a mystical dagger that needs winning from some upcoming tournament, the silly old coot strong-arms his grandchildren into service. All three of them, in fact.
With all the talk of martial arts tournaments, it would be understandable to expect something vaguely resembling a Street Fighter-esque one-on-one fighter -- something that allows you to progress round-by-round through a competition, sparring aggressively with numerous rivals and foes until you reach the final fight where you vie for what looks all the world like an overly shiny steak knife. If that was the assumption you've gleamed, you would be mistaken. 3 Ninjas is one of those games; the most feared and despised software this side of Mario Party 256 - The Gimmick Won't Die. It's a lacking movie tie-in based on a pretty crap film to begin with.
There are at least twenty-six people out there over the bloody moon that I'm stuck reviewing this game and they're not!
Big screen converts have strict laws they must abide to. The most well-respected of these is that the game versions must have sub-par and ultimately drab platforming elements attached and here 3 Ninjas merrily obliges. Our underage protagonists must employ not only their watered-down form of audience-friendly ninjaing to progress throughout, but must traverse through numerous spike-filled pits, employ randomly placed swinging vines and outrun mammoth boulders. Oh my!
Your cast's incompetence at achieving these goals won't change depending on who you choose to play through the game, completely nullifying the point of being able to select one of the three infant assassins, seeing as the only differences you will notice between the siblings are purely cosmetic. Colt is the older brother and carries about a katana blade, showing complete disregard of state laws pertaining to such weapons and minors; his brother, Rocky, wields a Bo staff and is clearly Latino in contrast to his Caucasian brother and Asian grandfather - a busy family indeed! But my favoured ninja is the youngest. He is called Tum-Tum, uses sai blades and resembles a deflated beach-ball with limbs. He's probably the owner of a forth ethnic heritage to ensure that all the bases are covered in a disgustingly modern and politically correct fashion, but there's really no way to tell what the deformed and squat blob actually is!
Your selection here is made all the more pointless because regardless of choice, you will perish shortly come the start of the game. Dubbed as a training stage for the young 'uns to hone their skills in, your unfortunate preteen will find himself standing atop a blocky-looking platform while balanced above him precariously is a boulder that will loosen from its perch the second you dare move but an inch. You won't know this the first time, and you'll die, not because this game presents any form of a challenge, but because the boulder has no problems squishing you while you try to get acquainted to the controls. Knowing what must be done after your first untimely death, you then do what no self-respecting ninja would ever dare to do -- run for your very life!
And whilst you give it legs, the cave-like roof will gleefully drop loose stalagtites on your head that fall in perfect time with your attempted escape. The only way to avoid them is to stop and wait as they crash harmlessly into the ground before returning to to your hurried run once the danger is passed. Having to stop constantly while being chased by a rolling boulder is ludicrous in so many ways, but the biggest of which is that you can do so without any real risk whatsoever. Remember fondly with me as Indiana Jones ran through a maze of traps whilst in a similar predicament. Now imagine how all the tension of that segment would disappear if he had time to linger around at points while the ponderous lump of rock failed to pick up momentum, plodding onwards at a pace that would shame drifting continents.
So it is with time to spare that you reach the next obstacle: a huge pit of spikes separated with a gap in the middle containing a treasure chest -- because movie tie-ins also demand a slew of pointless items to collect. What I assume are vines (or possibly a row of green eggs super-glued together) swing freely from the limbs of conveniently placed trees -- but rather than bring about a rather cool, albeit overused, bit of background interaction, all this does is highlight the next major complaint I have with the game: the shoddy control system.
To grab said vine, you must time you jump to coincide with its swing. Nothing new here as this is commonly employed. What doesn't quite work is that to grab the vine, you have to hit up on your d-pad. Nine times out of ten, you'll find yourself sailing past the vine and taking hold of the tree's branch that the vine hangs from instead. Utilising the trees as a way to launch yourself higher into the air to pick up some of the more cunningly hidden collectibles is actually a pretty cool and well-executed idea, but not when the system clashes so badly with what should be a simple manoeuvre. The overlapping of vine-swinging and branch hanging makes the former action an exercise in futility and frustration. All I want to bloody do it progress past this damn spike pit! I'm only a minute or so into the game, and I'm already sick of the flawed and sloppy programming that make every step I take a struggle.
The rest of the area is a blur of unremarkable drabness. The collectable power-ups that litter the stage allow you to briefly use secondary weapons, whether they be a rainbow of well-flung kunia blades or limply-lobbed bombs of some description. These weapons help you defeat such fearsome foes as explosive acorn spitting tree-trunks, training dummies that have are literally hung from the neck with nooses for you to strike down. Even your own grandfather joins in, gleefully appearing in a random puff of smoke, clad in a purple jump-suit and hurling an armful of shuriken at you. The same feeble grandfather who proclaimed himself to be too old for such shenanigans, I might add, is frequently seen performing effortless double back-flips to avoid your rather limited onslaught. With these actions in mind, you'd be mad not to label him a lazy, manipulating layabout who is more than happy to rain pointy death down upon his family members. And if he thinks this is a healthy activity to undertake with his young kin, I shudder to think what else he deems okay.
"Come, Tum-Tum. We spend weekend camping in woods alone. We share one sleeping bag, bottle of rum and tin of axle grease! We make man of you!"
And that's basically how the game will progress till the end, only it manages to collect more oddities as it rolls on. For every good idea it implements, a dozen flaws pop up to take its place. For instance, the levels themselves can be considered quite well done and explorable with power-ups hidden cunningly in hard-to-reach areas, but you have little time to catapult yourself up a string of awkwardly-placed tree branches when each level has a time limit that seems to move too fast. The upgradable weapons are quite handy, but run out only after a few flings and as they completely overwrite your standard attack, you can't help but use them up all to quickly. The fact that you can interact with the environment and pull off stunts like hitting objects at enemies or stepping inside indents and caves set into the background to avoid enemy volleys make an appreciated appearance in the early levels only to be discarded later, and the end-of-level bosses impressive facade (such as the angry nurse you must take on at the end of stage 3) may look the part, but go down quicker and easier than France in a World War.
What it all cumulates to is a game that managed to outbid my expectations, but not by much. Twenty-six people are still smug that I was stuck reviewing this game, but I can happily increase that number. Should you be reading this review should be glad that I suffered 3 Ninjas and you didn't. Not because it was awful, not because the thin veneer of promise was marred by flaws that a little bit of thought could have demolished, and not because of the strange and disturbing cry of "YEAH!" that each mini-ninja yells every damn time he is injured. Good reasons all, perhaps, but none of them are as relevant as the moralistic taboo I had to put aside. I had to place innocent minors in direct danger in as unamusing and flaccid way as can be imagined.
And I did it all so you don't have to.
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