It’s not very often that a company will take a chance on a game as far out as this. The only way I can describe it is just so very….Japanese. From the setting, the enemies, the locations, everything is 100% raw Japanese. And pure awesome.
Legend of the Mystical Ninja was released for the SNES around summer 1992. The first game in the series to come to America, prior installments on the NES were never localized, more than likely because of the reasons mentioned above. You control Kid Yang (Goemon) & Dr. Yang (Ebisumaru) as they journey to rescue Princess Yuki from the Otafu Army in 2-player co-op. The trip spans 9 levels (referred to as Warlock Zones) as you gather clues and bash bad guys from one end of Japan to the other.
Each level is split into 2 parts. Town exploration almost plays out like an RPG. You have free reign to wander around and enter people’s houses to speak to them, buy food or items, etc. There are enemies that roam back and forth, although for the most part they don’t seem particularly interested in you. Defeated enemies drop gold or scrolls, and every eighth enemy drops a kitten that will upgrade your standard weapon, up to 2 times. You also have the ability to toss your gold and bombs once bought.
The platforming sections of the game are exactly what you would expect as you work your way to the end and defeat bosses to complete a stage. Both of these sections of the game are timed, but the timer is a non factor. You are given a judicious amount of time to wander around and do whatever you like, and this is where the true meat of the game lies.
Mini-games aplenty. Do they serve a purpose? No. They’re just there to be awesome.
The amount of side content is staggering. You can do everything from play mini-games, having your fortune told, explore a first person maze for treasure, hell even play games to make money! The mini-games in particular stand out. You can play an Arkanoid clone, air hockey, the lottery, participate in a game show and famously enough, a recreation of the first level of Gradius. Level 3, the Amusement Park is solely devoted to every mini-game. Most of these are diversions created just for fun, but some can earn you money that you will start to need later on in the game. Training with a judo instructor will net you an additional technique that can only be used in that zone; from an animal companion you ride on to the ability to fly. Additionally, the items you buy better prepare you for the platforming sections that cap each zone.
The platformer parts of the game draw enemies from Japanese folklore for you to fight and at times get downright weird. One moment you’ll be facing geisha girls carrying drinking trays then the next you’ll face 2 sumo warriors and a giant face. This off the wall approach is what gives the game its character. The levels run the gamut from a haunted forest to a trap infested castle. The platforming never becomes too complicated and as a whole the game is balanced very well.
2-player cooperative livens the levels as 2 partners work to complete them without getting in each other’s way. A neat feature is the ability to piggyback on each other, with one player controlling movement and the other attacking. This also solves the problem of missing jumps and holding each other back. The boss fights share in the strangeness; a ghost meiko? A Kabuki Samurai who hides inside the box strapped to his back? A clockwork ninja you fight on a giant kite? They just don’t make them like this anymore. It revels in its oddity.
It’s such a shame that the SNES sequels were never released in the US. Legend of the Mystical Ninja does so many things right that its a crime we wouldn’t see more of the franchise until the N64. Bottom line: buy this game.