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The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (SNES) artwork

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (SNES) review

"A quick search of GameFAQs for ''Goemon'' will yield an astounding number of games on systems ranging from the NES to the PlayStation 2, yet closer inspection will reveal that only three have been released in the United States. The first of the Western releases, titled Legend of the Mystical Ninja, was released in 1991 with little commercial success. Nor did either of its successors do all that well (perhaps because they were released on the failing N64), so it's not surprising that Konam..."

A quick search of GameFAQs for ''Goemon'' will yield an astounding number of games on systems ranging from the NES to the PlayStation 2, yet closer inspection will reveal that only three have been released in the United States. The first of the Western releases, titled Legend of the Mystical Ninja, was released in 1991 with little commercial success. Nor did either of its successors do all that well (perhaps because they were released on the failing N64), so it's not surprising that Konami is reluctant to release the recent installments outside of Japan.

Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a fusion the 2-D platformer with the overhead action-RPG - now, ''genre-spanning'' games have traditionally never been successful, so if you're a smart gamer, you should by now logically conclude that Mystical Ninja's platforming bits will be uninspired, generic tripe and the overhead portions a spectacular failure at recreating Zelda.

But it isn't. Mystical Ninja is actually an immensely enjoyable brew of ingredients from various gaming genres. Playing as Goemon (whose name is unfortunately translated into ''Kid Yin'' for some reason), you will travel across feudal Japan, saving the world and a beautiful princess to boot. Along the way, such unfortunate events as being blasted to the middle of nowhere thanks to a ''new transportation device'' are all something our hero must take on stride.

Goemon's quest takes him through nine levels (or ''Warlock Zones'' as the game calls them) across Japan. But he is not without allies; each Warlock Zone begins in a town-like setting that may as well have been taken straight out of any RPG. Friendly townspeople reside in houses, always ready for a chat. But the streets are dangerous, bustling with people seemingly going about their daily affairs, but none of them happy to see Goemon. Some mind their own business, posing a threat only when you run into them; others actively attack you, launching bombs, throwing coins, and brandishing katanas. Goemon, armed with only a short pipe, must kill or be killed.

Just like in an RPG, merciless and random killing will only strengthen you. Every eighth enemy you kill will drop the coveted golden kitten, giving a much-needed upgrade to your weapon. It becomes a longer staff, and then a spiked yo-yo. Other enemies drop golden coins, allowing you to buy various equipment in shops. You can buy food to replenish your health instantly, or order take-outs so they heal you when you're low in health. Metal armor absorbs several hits for you before vanishing. Sandals increase your speed. You can even purchase 1-Ups for your characters, if at astronomical prices.

All this is immensely enjoyable, if not terribly deep. Sure, enemies have pathetically perdictable attack patterns and most are killed in just one hit, but their sheer number makes up for that. There is not a single moment you will spend in a town that doesn't have at least three or four drones on the screen, practically begging to be killed. Dispatching these poor people never gets old: you will be amassing criminal amounts of money in no time at all, enough to deck your character with several suits of armor and five or six pizzas. It's not just a pleasant walk through town, though; you have action scenes to complete

Yes, the action scenes. This is where the brutal massacres of poor townspeople will pay off. The view turns to sidescrolling, and the difficulty gets serious; Every item bought in town, every extra bit of health, every bit of experience you have with combat counts. Enemies still appear at alarming quantities, and this time they are truly out to kill you. Ninjas appear, throwing shuriken, raining skulls, jumping up and drilling down with their katanas like enormous wasps. Birds flaunt their aerial prowess, always just a hair out of the range of your weapon. Fish play merrily in the waterfalls, exhibiting their gravity defying stunts and always flopping onto you when you're trying to focus on scaling the cascade. There is no margin for error; those who just walked through town without buying anything will find their mere three lives quickly drained away.

The action fan will doubtlessly be scandalized. What sort of adventure will this be? A contest to see who can kill the most drones without getting bored out of his wits? What's to stop those crazy RPG players will just buy armor and food in bulk, then march through the game without losing a single life? Of course, That's true in a way: as long as you have lots of patience, you can in theory purposely let every enemy hit you and still have enough health to dispatch the boss. To stop that, a time limit has been imposed: you have 1000 seconds to finish your shopping, complete the action scene, and beat the boss.

Moreover, nothing but large helpings of platforming skill will get you by the nasty jumping bits. We're not talking about boring old moving platforms, either; we're talking giant, swinging pendulums that move about in hypnotic fashion, requiring you to jump on them and swing along with this parbolaic path. We're talking tall, constantly spinning columns with platforms sticking out - your task is to climb up the column while the platforms spin in and out of your horizontal plane. No one shall disturb you during your attempts; the rage of seeing your character fall from just before the end to his immediate doom is something no one wants to contend with.

Luckily, these challenging bits are sprinkled between pleasant interludes of more humorous action. Letting down your guard is always a mistake, but there's still time to laugh at the young girls carrying scalding tea, attempting to ''accidentally'' spill it on you. Or to witness high-jumping ninjas smashing into the ceiling, the drifting down to earth like a falling leaf. Then there are the bosses: while things begin normal enough, with an evil witch waiting at the end of level one, you will soon learn to accept overweight sumo wrestlers and ninjas strapped to giant kites as facts of life.

Entertainment is always present in the towns. The amazing spectrum of mini-games sometimes even threatens to overshadow the main adventure. Play whack-a-mole or the first level of Gradius. Visit the horsetrack and bet on the horse you like. Explore an underground dungeon in the first person. Be assured that you are not wasting your time being sidetracked - most of these games will reward you with hard cash or supplies.

Mystical Ninja is not without its problems, though. The passwords, usually consisting of thirty-one characters of complete gibberish, are frustrating to copy and even more frustrating to enter. At least five minutes of your typical play session will be devoted to recording or entering one of these monstrosities. Then you have the functional but unpolished multiplayer. While it's certainly fun to have two-player cooperative play, this can become a major problem in the sidescrolling areas: if one character scrolls the screen too far up while the other doesn't follow, it spells instant doom for the latter. What's worse, you have split inventories, which means the less competent player will have very little help from the better one. Exploring the towns with two players is a joy, but it won't be a difficult decision to switch to one player in the action scenes.

These minor flaws don't drag down the game's fun, though, and the enjoyment is only upped a notch by Mystical Ninja's wonderful atmosphere. Ancient Japan is portrayed humorously if somewhat inaccurately. Besides the aforementioned appearences of ninjas and tea-serving girls and katanas, you have wooden houses with paper doors and people sitting cross-legged on tatami. Western food such as pizzas and hamburgers appear, but you also have Japanese snacks for sale. Traditional Japanese saunas restore your health. Kanji characters are everywhere, and thankfully they have not been translated. Everything is bright and easy on the eyes, and - best of all - not a single hint of slowdown can be detected. The music is so stereotypically Japanese that sometimes I wonder if it's meant to be cheesy, but they fit well with the graphics.

A certain offbeat tone is also present in Mystical Ninja's world. The translation is perfectly understandable, but its style still feels suitably exotic. When defeated, enemies show exaggerated expressions that should be recognized by anyone who has seen Japanese manga or anime. The scriptwriters are not above irony: ''So you're going to be in a video game next? Good luck!'' remarks an old lady to Goemon. Strange things are juxtaposed humorously: people pushing baby carriages that shoot bombs, video game arcade cabinets found in rock caves, whacking away at poor defenseless ladies carrying fans with the Japanese flag painted on them. All pleasantly ridiculous.

Mystical Ninja runs somewhat short (none of its nine levels are terribly long), but it has a perfect combination of time-wasting mini-games and instantly familiar gameplay that will keep you coming back. Although an action game veteran will have trouble getting stuck, it still presents a sizable challenge that will discourage anyone from not paying attention. While Mystical Ninja is buried by the sands of time, it is well worth the challenge of unearthing it. It has never been deemed worthy of the mainstream - their loss.

lurkeratlarge's avatar
Community review by lurkeratlarge (January 12, 2004)

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