Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a weird little game that I have been somewhat fascinated with for a long time. My cousin had the game, but I rarely had the chance to play. I saw it played, I spent twenty of thirty minutes with it, but I never really got to dig in and enjoy it. Still, its strange sense of humor was evident even from my brief encounters with it. I heard of N64 sequels and ones that were Japan only of the SNES, but again they kind of evaded me. The virtual console gave a method to finally play this game, even if I didn’t exercise it until recently.
Legend of the Mystical Ninja is not quite the game I thought it was. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I built it up in my mind as something akin to River City Ransom, which is among my favorite games of all time, but while it has some superficial similarities, it is not the same. The stages are kind of a free roaming brawler with enemies that drop coins when defeated. But River City Ransom has some strong RPG elements, where the money is used to build up the player character’s skills and abilities. The food you buy increases you stats and the books give permanent abilities. In Legend of the Mystical Ninja, power ups are temporary and food merely refills health. The free roaming parts of stages give way to straight platformer levels at the end. And there are actually stages. River City Ransom allows the player to travel freely around its rather small world, Legend of the Mystical Ninja is much larger but more restrictive, with hard breaks between levels.
While it isn’t exactly what I thought it would be, Legend of the Mystical Ninja is still a lot of fun. The action is straightforward, with tight controls and clear objectives. Each level starts with a goal and the player (or players) explore the level to find the location of the boss, then deal with it. There are a good variety of enemies and a decent array of attacks. There are some annoyances. Goemon (or Kid Ying) as three levels of weapon: a small pipe, a bigger pipe, and a yoyo looking weapon. Collecting small cats that some enemies drop level the weapon up, but each hit the player takes drops it a level. The same goes for sandals the player can buy. They speed the player up, but disappear with each hit. It makes enemies that have ranged attacks, particularly attacks with odd angles, especially annoying to deal with. The biggest struggle in the game (at least when you are abusing save states like me) comes from getting to the boss with a decent method of attack. Still, there is a money consuming sub-weapon. The player can toss coins at bad guys for an effective, if expensive, ranged attack. In all, it is a lot of fun.
Then there is the game’s off kilter sense of humor. It is a sense of humor that survives a hatchet job of a localization. Goemon is something of a Japanese Robin Hood, with his own cast of merry men. In bringing the game to America, Konami changed just about everything. Goemon became Kid Ying, his buddy Ebisumaru Dr. Yang. I guess it is in keeping with the games wacky tone, but they are no more American than Goemon. It is not like the game can hide the humor. Most of the houses you find in the free roaming areas are filled with goofy minigames. One is a quiz game with an opponent that likes to answer before the question is complete, though he is usually wrong. Others are straight up levels of other Konami games or first person mazes. A lot of it is just a waste of time, but some of them are quite a bit of fun.
Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a near classic. It does everything so well that the spots where is gets annoying stand out all the more. Still, despite the annoyances the game is a lot of fun to play.