7311B Grove Road
Frederick, MD 21701
All resolutions $19.95
by Matthew J.W. Ratcliff
Matthew Ratcliff is an electrical engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. When not using his spare time to write articles, he's president of ACE St. Louis and a remote SYSOP on Gateway City BBS, (314) 647-3290.
Ninja Mission places you in Akuma's fortress of death, the Shijo. You must battle your way through fifteen rooms of the Shijo, against "Ninjas, Thugs and Karate-kas," in search of the seven jade idols of the Tambo Machi tribe.
This game is designed to be fast action, with a quick joystick response. The Thugs are judo experts with strong punches, best killed from kicking distance. The Karate-kas are experts at hand-to-hand combat, with deadly kicks. They are best killed with the sword and rapid kicks.
Finally, the evil Ninjas have skills that equal yours. They too are capable of sword fighting, and can throw stars and knives, as you can. If a knife or star hits the floor, you may retrieve it and throw again—as can the evil Ninjas.
They're not easily defeated, and are best combatted with throwing weapons. You can duck and jump over the blades hurled at you by the Ninjas. Avoid close fighting with them, and use the sword when all other blades have been used. If a knife or star is on the ground, pick it up quickly—before the opposing Ninja can retrieve and use it on you.
In between the battles, you can also retrieve the jade idols, whose mystical powers can restore your fading energy (represented as a bar graph at the bottom left of the display). I found it odd that the idols are bright red, since all the jade I've seen has been a dark green. But this is the least of the "quirks" I found in Ninja Mission.
There are sixteen different moves you can make with the joystick, eight for each direction with the button up or down. The movement controls are much like those of World Karate Championship from Epyx. One frustrating factor I found in Ninja Mission is that, while you can jump safely over an opponent, you cannot move too far "behind" him to pick up a weapon or idol. Once you get behind an opponent, the software completely ignores your "forward" commands and forces you to back up to the opponent you've engaged. If you aren't fully prepared to do battle at this point, your only alternative is to back off the opposite edge of the screen to the previous room.
When you throw a star or knife, you can do a little or a lot of damage to your opponent. You can time the knife throws so that, as it spins through the air, the point hits your enemy. Sometimes you can make a kill with a single throw. It is always important to pick up your weapons as soon as possible after throwing them, because you'll have to accumulate a lot of them near the final levels of this game—where you may face five guards at once.
You should never leave a room where knives and stars are lying about, because they have a nasty habit of disappearing for no apparent reason. Upon reentering a room, you will find your dead opponents move. There's no apparent reason for this; maybe they're the ones stealing your knives!
The greatest drawback of Ninja Mission stems from two factors. First, whenever you get close to either edge of the screen, you're automatically sent to the adjacent one. This is denoted by a separate title screen and a long delay (over 6 seconds). It's terribly frustrating, and interrupts the rhythm of your battles. When you're engaging an opponent, it's easy to accidentally bump the edge of the display and go to the next screen. The rule here is: never back up when fighting. It costs time and weapons (since they can disappear anytime you leave a screen).
Second, I've put the game into pause mode, come back to disengage it, and discovered the program locked up (even though the music continued to play). At one time, I left a dead man on the screen, came back later and found his arms separated from his body.
The music and graphics are well executed in this program. The play is fast, overall. The manual, five printed pages, is better than any documentation I've seen from Mastertronic for their 8-bit games. It is concise and seems to be complete.
Ninja Mission is a good game, but needs some minor refinements. Once you engage an enemy, you should be "locked" onto that screen until the outcome is decided. The "edges" should be nearer the edge of the monitor, since it's easy to bump onto the next screen when simply attempting to pick up an item near the limits of the current display. The jade idols should be green. Dead people should not move. Dropped knives and stars should never move, unless touched by yourself or an opposing Ninja. The Ninja warrior you control should be able to turn around and attack an opponent from behind, and should be able to jump over an opponent to pick up something behind him. All these updates are minor, but games are not generally supported after release, the way applications are.
I like Ninja Mission, and plan to stick with it until I can win it at least once. Its game play is much faster than World Karate Championship, in exchange for less detailed graphics in the player movements. The joystick response is acceptably fast, also. For the low price, I think Ninja Mission is a good value. I just hope that Mastertronic will support the product by addressing at least some of the complaints I had above. It's a good game, in need of a little spit and polish.