Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Mirai Ninja
This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.
Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.
Mirai Ninja (Namco, 1988)
I kind of like Mirai Ninja (lit. "Future Ninja"). The thing is, there isn't a ton about it that's actually likeable. On the surface, it's basically Namco's take on Taito's The Legend of Kage: You got your ninja guy, he moves real fast, he jumps real high, and the game has really spacious levels. But this one is set in the future, after all, so it's automatically more badass. It makes ancient history look like ancient history! And in every respect, the game is so unabashedly '80s it's hard to hate. For starters, the music is fitting with the theme, and could have easily been from your favorite sci-fi anime. That's thanks to Namco's master maestro Shinji Hosoe, who did the music for almost every late '80s-early '90s Namco game you can think of, and is still kicking around the industry.
I mentioned anime, but the funny thing about Mirai Ninja is that it's a movie game. Namco wasn't known for their movie games back then, but this is different because Namco actually had a stake in producing the live-action film of the same name. It was released in the US as "Cyber Ninja" (the game never showed up), and it's, um... interesting? Click that link and note the giant walking mecha houses in the intro, which also show up in the game. It's nothing if not faithful!
But Mirai Ninja is still a movie game, and so in accordance with the unwritten law, it's not that great compared to other great arcade games that year. Again, it's basically Legend of Kage, complete with deceptive difficulty: You can pretty much sprint through the first few levels without taking much damage, but then the game starts throwing more enemies at you at once, and makes bosses even bigger assholes. Naturally, this would be easy to deal with under normal conditions, but by default, you only get one life, and continuing puts you back at the beginning of the stage. Come on, Namco, did you expect everyone to love everything about Mirai Ninja that they'd see the movie dozens of times and play the game dozens more regardless of how much it beat their brow?
Still, I like Mirai Ninja. It's not friendly, it's not super original, but what it lacks in unoriginal gameplay it pays back in absurd character and level design that sometimes does feel like an over-the-top Japanese action movie. Go figure.