There is something about the late 80’s and early 90’s that just screams martial arts. On television, there was the widely popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) and Power Rangers (1993). Our gaming systems were just starting the franchises for Street Fighter (1987) and Mortal Kombat (1992). At the movie’s we saw the emergence of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, and of particular note for this game, Karate Kid (1984). Since I’ve never actually seen a 3 Ninjas movie the choice of character didn’t mean anything to me. Regardless of who I picked, I called him Daniel-san. The grandfather “Mori”, you guessed it, he’s Mr. Miyagi. For the record, I picked the Green Daniel-San.
The game has fairly strong handling. You will move where you want, and jumps are clean. Your character doesn’t run like it’s skating on ice. The combat is a simple button to attack with direction to modify it slightly. There are bombs as well, but I never got the hang of them. One bomb drops like an egg and the other is thrown. Ninjas are always trying to give me a bear hug, so I usually throw it past them. The egg ones can be useful, but are usually more work than they’re worth. The only thing worth actually learning outside of being a neanderthal button masher is that for Green Daniel-San (Not sure about others) you can use the Up+Attack ability to create a helicopter motion that can also deflect shurikens.
The game makes use of ropes and branches at a few points and sometimes the detection is hit or miss. To compound this, there are usually traps under them which punish you for having the audacity to use the in game mechanic. Punishing me for poor detection continues later on, but thankfully in only a few places. Most games have conditions for trying to get into a hole in a wall. Usually you can jump higher and as you fall down the wall, you will slip into an entrance. If this isn’t the case, a simpler remedy is just to have a tiny ledge for you to land on. In 3 Ninjas, they decided the best idea would be for you to play “Thread the Needle” for a minute. Landing the jump exactly is not a trivial task, and usually the punishment for missing is a few seconds of returning to your launch point to try again. You find throughout the game that the obstacles are much more deadly than any of the ninjas walking around. The hardest regular opponent (a dragon) involves just learning to jump and duck repeatedly. No brilliance required.
The traps can be infuriating. Putting aside swinging on ropes, the game starts you in a scene reminiscent of Indiana Jones, running from a giant boulder. You quickly learn it’s indestructible and massively painful, so much so you will gladly rocket your character through falling spikes to avoid it. Not thirty seconds later you are faced with a smaller boulder which can be destroyed by whacking on it. So I’m thirty seconds in and all I’ve figured out has been proven false. The spikes are a recurring theme which will test your memory for the rest of the game. The designers made sure to blend them in to the background so well, you simply stop looking for them. You eventually take the hit and remember on your next run through where they were. This holds true as well for the fiery pillars that shoot out of the ground. Between the hidden spikes above and holes below I was hit so many times, by something I didn’t see, they should revoke my license. The game accidentally does a great job in keeping your eyes darting all over the screen. Not only are we facing threats from above and below, but the standard enemies and turrets that appear on screen from the sides fire as they enter the frame. This means you can’t be playing Where’s Waldo for those traps as you enter a new area, and you better have the reaction time of a goalie. All of these things could be avoided if you could take your time, but the levels don’t allow for a leisurely pace. This is a game where you can run out of time, and because of that the game needs to offer up an item to extend it every once and awhile. I actually don’t think the time component is bad. You see it implemented in many classic games but it rarely becomes a focus. Kudos to Malibu Interactive on making a time limit actually a limit on your time.
There are three “bosses” in this game, but all of them can be cheesed. The first two can be handled in exactly the same way. Both the big nurse and the sumo wrestler are a threat up close. Nurse Joy attempts to stab you with a needle and E. Honda tries his 1000 hand slap. The nurse can also spray the needle, but the range is pretty much melee as well. You can stand on one side of the room, run towards them and kick them in the face before their melee attack finishes. As you land, they will be attacking in the original direction, but you’re already running to the other side. By the time you stop and turn, they will have as well and you repeat. Eventually they’ll close the gap, but I end up taking minimal damage over the length of the fight. Even the final boss can be hit before his attack finishes with time to spare to scamper off. The final boss is not enormous this time, but I honestly stopped caring who he was or what he wanted. I couldn’t piece together a coherent story from the game play and I most certainly was not going to read the interludes. The final levels leading up to him have you once again in a cave, this time with satanic gargoyle faces. So I’m just going to assume this guy is bad news. He has a melee attack much like the previous bosses and so we’ll stay back again. When you do this you realize that when you are far enough away, he will throw his bo. You can easily jump over this attack, hit him, and run through him to the other side just as before. He seems to have more health, but the cheese method still works as long as you force the weapon throw. Once he is defeated you do one last romp through the cave to escape and the game is over.
The game is overall surprisingly good given the material it had to go off of. The cut scenes show their age, but actual game aesthetics are nice. The handling is tight, and the game is very approachable. Though there are some glaring issues, the game has a password system to relieve the stress of dying due to uncontrollable factors. If you play on easy as I did, it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to get through the game which removes the necessity for any real commitment.
One down, seven hundred and eighty three to go.