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CONSOLE: Neo Geo DEVELOPER: ADK PUBLISHER: SNK
RELEASE DATE (NA): July 1, 1991 GENRE: Action
// review by SoyBomb

Hackneyed-and-slash.

Ninja Combat, Ninja Combat... what can I say about Ninja Combat? It's a game about ninjas... and there's combat in it... and... and... and... Oh, sweet Heavens of Marmalade, does this game ever fail to leave a lasting impression! I couldn't create a more generic game if I worked for Generic Game Corp. and it was literally in my job description to design and produce the most banal of digital experiences. Was there a nitrous oxide leak during that design meeting? Seems like there was a distinct lack of creativity and consciousness during that timeframe.

At a time when beat-em-ups, arcade or otherwise, were all the craze thanks to series such as Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, and Final Fight, others hopped on the bandwagon to put in their two cents, including ADK, who plopped out Ninja Combat into the market. Unfortunately, compared to its more popular genre brethren, it just fell flat. You start out playing as Joe and Hayabusa, two ninjas with conspicuously similar names to two other popular ninja characters at the time (Joe Musashi from the Shinobi series and Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden), who vow to defeat the Kage Ichizoku clan. This clan's fortress has suddenly emerged from the depths of the ocean into the middle of New York City, causing havoc in the area. (Yes, New York City is apparently in the middle of an ocean. Know your geography, people!) Joe and Hayabusa head to the newly-erected tower to destroy the Kage Ichizoku and its leader, Genyousai.

Joe and Hayabusa both play exactly as you'd expect. They're ninjas. They throw shuriken, as is the way of the ninja, and generally, this will serve you well — one cannot deny the pleasure and convenience of ranged attacks in a beat-em-up. Other weapons can be found along the way, usually by breaking an obstacle; these can include maces, clubs, swords, and axes. As well, both ninjas have a special attack used by holding down the attack button, which tends to do decent damage to everyone on screen... including you. Use this move with caution, unless you're playing the arcade version and have raided the family swear jar to earn a ton of quarters with which to drop in the slot and spam the hell out of the enemy with deadly moves. Lastly, they have a backflip evasion move, but you're not even invincible while you do it, so you're basically evading nothing.


I would rather play Ninja Wombat. Or Ninja Comcast. Or Sleep: The Gathering.

The first three bosses — Musashi (so now we have a Joe AND a Musashi... Sega, you may want to borrow the instant lawsuit button from EA for this), Kagerow, and Gembu — actually end up joining your quest against the Kage Ichizoku. Why? Who knows. Maybe they owe Genyousai some yen from betting on the horses. Musashi's a pretty decent character with a speedy attack. As for Kagerow and Gembu, I tried them out for a short period each and made the immediate yet conscientious decision to never play as them again. Gembu's just a relatively weak fist-brawler, and after playing as a shuriken-tosser, there's no turning back. Kagerow shoots tornadoes out of a sword, but was rather poor and pathetic when it came at close-quarters combat. But I wouldn't shed any tears if the storyline had involved them getting stuck in a well — and then staying there until victory had been achieved.

So what exactly are the positives here? I will admit that Ninja Combat is competently developed. There's nothing inherently wrong with the game. The graphics look decent and polished, save for a few goofy-looking cinematic sequence images, featuring the finest in 1990 mullet technology. There's some good scaling work done when objects or characters are coming toward or running from the camera, and while initially laughable, the effect is admittedly "cool". Do people still say that? The music isn't terrible, but it's just... there. It sets the mood, but you don't really "hear" it as much as subconsciously accept that it's there.

And the negatives? Ninja Combat fails to stand out or do anything impressively, thus relegating it to a lifetime of relative obscurity amongst the genre's heavy-hitters. Perhaps the worst part of Ninja Combat is its voice acting. It's nice to see that ADK visited only the finest of local bus terminals in search of potential voice actors/drifters/winos. Aside from being a bit fuzzy to hear, they selected a few of the least powerful voices to be the narrator and the ninjas. Is this a bloody downtown brawl or a tanning salon?

If you love 2D beat-em-ups and need yet another one, maybe Ninja Combat is right for you. There are so many games that drop this formula just as well, if not better, but if you just want a brief burst of satisfaction, this one will probably quench your thirst for a little while.


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