Approximate Release Month: April 1993
Developer: Culture Brain
Publisher: Culture Brain
It shouldn’t be a surprise that neither the brawler or RPG aspects of Super Ninja Boy are very good.
In my Outlander review, I mentioned that a downside of games that combine multiple genres is they often suffer because none of the parts are as good as games that are singularly focused on one idea. This can work when the developer takes time to shear off the bad, frustrating, or incompatible staples of each type of game to make the experience seem cohesive. Having pieces mesh together is really important.
This is a long-winded way of saying Culture Brain failed to do any of that with Super Ninja Boy.
The game starts with a very long and poorly translated cutscene that talks about how an alien called Rub-A-Doc came to Chinaland to hold a peace summit. He’s gone now, but weird things are happening in the nearby town of Yokan. The super ninja boys, Jack and Ryu, go investigate.
It seems the two boys were just hanging out in front of the town gates, because Super Ninja Boy lets you start playing in the overworld right outside of the city you need to go to. Everything about how the game is presented is very much like any random generic Japanese RPG from this era. You talk to townspeople, visit the inn, buy stat-boosting equipment or restorative items at the shop, and so on. If you were to just glance at someone playing this part of Super Ninja Boy, it would look largely indistinguishable from Final Fantasy II or a late-NES Dragon Warrior.
Once you leave the town and head out on your journey, random battles start popping up. I’m not a fan of random battles as a rule; at best they can be merely tolerable if the frequency and battle length aren’t ridiculous. So I was pretty disappointed when the game cut away to fight some dudes a few steps out of town. When the next battle took place literally three steps away, I knew my patience wasn’t going to last. But to Super Ninja Boy‘s credit, the encounter rate was pretty variable and these kinds of double-dips were uncommon.
I really dislike the battles, though, which makes the fights feel longer than they probably are. These play like a simple beat-’em-up where you can punch, jump, or use skill points to unleash a special attack. Bad guys come at you from the left and right, and you have to kill a certain number of them before the stage ends and you get your experience and money. There aren’t weapons to pick up to add some variety to the fight. You just punch bad guys until they poof out. The combat arenas aren’t varied, either, so you’ll memorize where the encounters quickly. It’s not really bad or anything, just stiff and unrewarding. This is made worse by the fights in Super Ninja Boy taking so long to finish compared to a standard RPG battle.
Also, after playing for a while and coming back to these first fights, I didn’t feel much stronger. Feeling more powerful over time is important in RPGs, and it is missing in these early moments.
There are also action stages in Super Ninja Boy for some reason. The first two are in the second town you come across, and they are completely awful. Culture Brain was clearly trying to ape Ninja Gaiden‘s side-scrolling platforming with very bad results. The stiff controls that were annoying in battles are infuriating here, with long and precise jumps being necessary to proceed. Adding wall climbing to a ninja game makes sense but there needs to be some way to get off of the wall onto solid ground other than jumping back and then forward.
I didn’t play much of Super Ninja Boy because the best parts never achieved more than being uninteresting. It’s a bummer that it’s not a better game because the Super Nintendo could use a more modern River City Ransom! Everyone digs that game! Instead we got a bad brawler and a mediocre RPG smooshed together in the worst way.
Next week: For some reason, The Terminator is the first of three Terminator games for the Super Nintendo in 1993 alone. He’ll be back twice.