Gameplay, Story and Value:
Legend of the Mystical Ninja puts you in control of Goem- I mean, Kid Ying, as you traverse Japan on quests to stop mean-spirited spirits, save ninja cat mob bosses from giant lantern men, and even rescue a princess or two!
The gameplay varies between traditional platforming, sections that play like a sidescrolling beat ’em up, and top-down areas. Everything handles nicely across all parts of the game, though as you’d expect from an early Konami title the platforming sections are definitely the highlight. Controls are simple and responsive, and fairly easy to understand. You can jump, attack, duck, change weapons, etc. and it’s all very fast and fun.
Like its distant Castlevania cousin, Legend of the Mystical ninja allows you to upgrade your weapon up to two times through collecting item drops. Taking damage will reduce your weapon level by one in addition to reducing your health. My complaint with the game’s weapon system is that the level one weapon almost feels too weak, making parts of the game incredibly frustrating. Meanwhile, the highest weapon level is obnoxiously slow and unwieldy. As a result, I found myself in the awkward situation of constantly trying to maintain a second level weapon, both fast and powerful while avoiding power-ups and trying not to get knocked back to my level one weapon.
Town areas offer shops where you can buy things like sandals and pizza… Items are fairly nondescript meaning you’ll either have to experiment or reference a guide in order to know what it is the items actually do. The sandals allow you to move fast and jump farther in non-platforming sections, the pizza will automatically restore some of your health when you would otherwise die, armor reduces damage taken, and you can also buy weapons and extra lives.
All items in the game stack and whenever you take damage you’ll lose one of each piece of armor (including sandals) you’re carrying.
The story is fun and light, and really only serves as a means to carry you from place to place. There’s a lot of humor here, but some of the localization choices come off as odd. The game retains many of its very Japanese references but then gives us things like changing Goemon to “Kid Ying”. While this doesn’t detract from the quality of the game at all, and I’m sure people in 1992 didn’t even think twice about it, it stands out to people like me nowadays.
The game spans nine stages, each with a boss encounter at the end. While there’s not much in the way of replay value here, the steeply escalating difficulty is a pretty good reason to keep coming back. While it never feels unfair per se, the overall difficulty is often magnified by the aforementioned weapon mechanics; being reset to your level one weapon in the middle of an especially difficult platforming section can be very frustrating.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
The visuals in Mystical Ninja are bright and colorful and go a long way to create the game’s funny, anime style. Sprites are all well animated and expressive, and fun to look at. The environments are great as well, though the variety does tend to be lacking on occasion.
Sound effects all fit well into the game providing some satisfying thwaks and whaps and other audible indicators. Music is very game and fun to listen to, though during actual gameplay I find the tracks tend to blend together somewhat. It makes for a coherent musical experience but nothing really sands out as a result.
All in all I had a pretty good time with the game. Legend of the Mystical Ninja was actually one of my favorite games on the N64 that none of my friends ever played, so I’m glad to have finally played the original. I don’t really think this is one of the greatest games ever, the weapon system was less than ideal, item mechanics were illusive and the difficulty spiked pretty sharply around the halfway point, but I do think it’s a good game that was well worth my time. It also serves as proof that once upon a time, Konami was awesome.