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RELEASE DATE (NA): April 1993 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Little ditty... 'bout Jack and Ryu-u-u...

In Japan, Super Ninja Boy is part of a series called "Super Chinese", and it has spanned the arcade, NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance. Super Ninja Boy (also known as "Super Chinese World") is actually the sixth game in the series, although it is the fifth that North American gamers could have reasonably experienced. The story behind this game is so strange, I wonder if it was actually well-translated. The game's opening tells us about Rub-A-Doc, who arrives in Chinaland (yes, Chinaland) as a peacekeeper. After signing a treaty with Emperor Chin, the emperor of China, he quickly increases in popularity over the following months before completely disappearing. Soon after, the main city of Yokan suffers a great loss as its entire workforce is kidnapped by robbers. Enter Jack and Ryu, two two kung-fu enthusiasts (Ryu is only playable in two-player mode). They are entrusted by the emperor to find out who has caused all this trouble and to seek out a solution. (I'm taking a wild guess that Rub-A-Doc was involved. Anyone with a name like "Rub-A-Doc" should automatically be a prime suspect!)

Super Ninja Boy tries to be several games in one. Sometimes it's an RPG. Other times, it'll become a beat-'em-up. Occasionally, it will be a side-scrolling platformer. On rare occasions, it will pretend to be an Alex Kidd game (forcing you to play a game of Janken, also known as rock-paper-scissors), which should appeal to no one. According to the game box, it's a "1or2PLAYER COMICAL NINJA ACTION RPG." That certainly sums it up.

On the surface, Super Ninja Boy looks like an RPG. As Jack (or Jack and Ryu, depending), you get to travel from town to town, talking to every NPC whether they have something relevant to say or not, as well as shopping to your heart's content for dragon eggs and rejuvenating sweet buns. You wander across a vast world map covered by endless forests, mountain ranges, and wavering desert sands. You travel from cavernous dungeon to still cavernous dungeon, just as you would in many RPGs of its time. You fight nasty enemies and earn money and experience points to improve your skills and statistics. At first glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary and is ultimately rather generic.

Play a little longer, and you discover there's more than meets the eye. As soon as you encounter that first enemy on the field, you'd immediately expect a turn-based battle to ensue. And you'd be...WRONG! Instead, the game shows you a picture of what enemies will be featured in the oncoming attack and it gives you the option of whether to "BOUT" (fight) or "RUN". Running usually works, although occasionally the enemy will gain the upper hand and prevent you from escaping, forcing you into the bout. As soon as the round begins, the game switches to a 2D beat-'em-up where you must physically pulverize a certain number of enemies before you can be declared the winner and given those juicy experience points and earnings (in Sen, the currency of Chinaland). It's fairly unique for a game to do this, and makes for a pleasantly unexpected game mechanic. Sadly, this part of the game is actually a bit choppy, which shouldn't be on the SNES. Why can't the animation be fluid? It actually takes away from the fighting, which is most unfortunate.

The weight of the world is your shoulders, so get out there and punch those dog things!

At first, I was able to punch and flying kick my way through the initial waves of ugly brutes. Yet without the manual to guide me, Super Ninja Boy seemed to get overly difficult after a short while. Flying enemies were troubling me to no end, and I felt overpowered within about ten minutes of play. Only after some research did I discover that you can access more abilities, well-hidden within the game's charming pause menu. Your character always starts bare-fisted, but if you have a sword, you can equip that to swing around. I wish he'd always start that way! Also, for a cost of three "M points", you can use the Mighty Ball or Ninja Cyclone, both of which make you temporarily invincible, causing enemies to bounce off you like flies on Jell-O. Once I discovered all of these new funky moves, I was able to truly survive. M points are strange things, though. To gain M points, you have to punch little blue boxes that you find in battle; a white "?" bubble will float out, and you must punch it again to reap its rewards. It could be an M point, extra money (with a dollar sign), or a skull symbol that subtracts an M point! Sometimes it feels like more trouble than it's worth to rack them up, but being able to pull off special moves later on can definitely save your hide.

But if you come across a major boss, the game reverts back to its RPG side and forces a turn-based battle on you. Why have two separate battle systems? Is that really necessary? I suppose one could argue that it just adds to the variety, but when the turn-based system is used so infrequently, there's really no point.

Perhaps the most glaring issue in Super Ninja Boy, aside from its translation (if I can call it that), is the outrageously high and often unbalanced encounter rate. When on the field, the number of random encounters can vary significantly. Sometimes you can walk long distances and encounter nothing at all. In other cases, you exit a battle, walk one step, and a new battle ensues. There's no rhyme or reason other than some sadistic programmer's algorithm stoned on Red Bull. But here's the worst part: it is possible to come out of a battle and start another without even moving. That's right: you don't even have to walk to start another battle. That's downright infuriating, especially when you're just trying to walk somewhere. I would hate to die in the field. You lose half of your accumulated Sen, and you are dumped at the last convenience store you visited. (Yes, Culture Brain decided a 7-11 would be an excellent respawning point.) At least I have the option to run from those treacherous brawls; without it, I'd probably have abandoned the game many hours earlier.

But the encounter rate did make for a bit of a sluggish experience. If it wasn't for the game's fatuous dialogue, I would probably have perished from brain rot. And I was indeed prepared to succumb to that ailment, had it not been for one particular scene that perked me up and gave me the willpower to continue. After defeating a gang of thieves at Mount Sanpin, your next duty, as given to you by the great Emperor Chin, is to seek out the real leader of this gang near Edo City. When you arrive, you discover that all the menfolk have become "idle". I don't know how that happened, but it does seem to bother most individuals (with the exception of one man who says, "I love being idle. Why don't you join me?"). Anyhow, when you visit King Toro and his daughter, Princess Tamago, you get the heads-up on the situation. And King Toro says, "They kidnapped all the peppy young people and made them apathetic." I sat there, stunned, reading that line over and over, trying to make sense of how they managed to do this. Wouldn't being rescued and returning to their hometown lift their spirits? How did the thieves make them so psychologically detached from society? Of course, Tamago has to chime in with "Oh I miss those gallant, manly young people." Keep it together, Princess. You have a job to do. It was this dialogue alone that lifted me up and actually made me smile at a video game for the first time in what seems like ages. I had to save the world, if only for Tamago's sake! She must have her manly young people back!

The Ninja Boys are even forced to take their quest underwater, where they move like molasses.

I subsequently saved the Edo people from their overbearing idleness. The same citizen I spoke to earlier had something new to say: "I'm glad that the people are now as normal as before. But I still like being idle." It's like looking in a mirror.

Unfortunately, the presentation in Super Ninja Boy also leaves much to be desired. For starters, aside from the fight sequences, this game looks like an NES title with small field sprites. If you've played games like Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger on the SNES, this experience could be quite jarring. It's actually closer in detail to Final Fantasy II. Super Ninja Boy is just one of those earlier titles that did not get as much out of the console as future games did. What's even more jarring is how they make conversational text appear. I expected a text box to appear. Instead, half the screen just cuts off to black and NES-font text is thrown my way. It's rather unpolished. At least the little introduction is cute, with a giant flying fist and a kicking foot flying straight toward you with its Mode-7 goodness. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, the action parts are not as smooth as they should be. There's one area that takes place underwater and it's downright embarrassing how slow everything moves. Yes, it's underwater, but every other underwater level in any other game at least has fluid movement!

The music is also rather tinny at times and suffers from a strange reverb that really shouldn't be there. And why is that every time I move to a new screen in a dungeon (like going up or down stairs, for example), the music simply restarts? Oh, how I love hearing the opening to the off-key dungeon theme over and over again.

And what's with these extra-long passwords? You would think, in 1993, they could at least have implemented a save system, not the ghoulishly lengthy password that could outdo NES games' passwords in length and complexity. Just look at my little notebook, full of passwords for Super Ninja Boy:

When it comes down to it, Super Ninja Boy is an average game at best. While it does some things right such as offering a unique battle system different to other RPGs at the time, it also suffers from a poor translation, an impressively high encounter rate, and graphics that, in 1993, were less than impressive. Super Ninja Boy is certainly playable, but only the more brazen RPG afficionados will tolerate this curiosity of a video game.

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