Review: Ninja JaJaMaru Legendary Ninja Collection
JaJa's bizarre adventures, reviewed
I was pretty excited going into this whole Ninja JaJaMaru business. See, I've known of its existence for a while - the series, that is. Sort of watched it from afar, wondering. Outside of a few dabbles into the NES games when I went through a complete romset one lonely weekend - hich of course I deleted and re-downloaded within each 24 hour window - my experience with JaJa's bizarre adventures was a reasonably neutral one. The games I played - and goodness knows which ones they were - seemed fine. Nothing special. On the side of the NES library that's, you know... the old side. I don't mean to be disparaging, but there's the sort of beholden to the arcade NES era and the "oh hang on this is a home console" NES era. Right? At any rate, both of said eras are represented in this collection, which totals up a rather impressive eight games across three separate apps:
Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle Bonus contains Ninja JaJaMaru-kun (NES), Ninja JaJaMAru's Big Adventure (NES) Ninja JaJaMaru: Operation Milky Way (NES), Super Ninja Kid (SNES) and Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great World Adventure (Game Boy/Game Boy Color).
This is quite the clutch of games! The most remarkable being The Great World Adventure, the original Game Boy title which has been tarted up into a Game Boy Color game especially for this compilation, though the original monochrome version is available as well. The NES JaJaMarus are all very different, with the original being a rather choppy take on something like Son Son with a degree of Ice Climbers, though it controls less smoothly than either. It's fine, but follow-up Big Adventure takes this framework into a more traditional side-scrolling experience which runs a lot better and feels slick. Unfortunately, it's not very good, retaining the arcade purity and difficulty of one-hit kills, and a case of meandering, repetitive level design. Much, much better is the next game, Operation Milky Way, a thoroughly polished-feeling step up and essentially JaJaMaru's Super Mario Bros. 3. It's visually absolutely outstanding for a Famicom title, with tons of great effects and pretty solid level design, though it does lean on tiny moving platforms over bottomless pits quite a lot. Super Ninja Kid reminded me a little of Go Go Ackman, which is a good thing. While it's generic, it does have attractive cartoon graphics and a nice line in challenge right from the get-go. Last up, The Great World Adventure harkens back to Big Adventure, with similarly dull level design and arbitrary enemy placement. I also managed to make it lock up by doing absolutely nothing of any impact - jumping towards an exploding boss. So that's not a great impression.
Ninja JaJaMaru: The Lost RPGs contains Ninja JaJaMaru: The Ninja Skill Book and Ninja JaJaMaru: Legend of the Golden Castle, both fully translated into English for the first time, and both rather enjoyable despite being archaic. Very slow, you know - approach a townperson, hit A, wait for the menu to appear, choose "TALK" - we're talking that kind of old. Golden Castle is a little better, but there's so much talking and it's really not the best translation of what was already a relatively uninteresting story.
The final game, Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle+Hell, is new to the Switch and offered in its own app. And it's bloody brilliant, a do-over of the original NES game with vastly superior controls. Get a mate on board in co-op and you'll have a blast - there's an absolute tidal wave of unlockables, and the presentation is so slick and contemporary that I found it almost impossible not to love. After every game, win or lose, the gems you've collected are converted to "Jalecoins", which then pour into a bank, unlocking new playable characters at every threshold. It's joyous, and it's honestly a four-star game by itself.
Taken as a whole, though, Ninja JaJaMaru Legendary Ninja Collection doesn't quite deliver, for me. While the contents are generous and Ratalaika's usual emulation suite is as polished as ever, the actual games on offer are mostly... as the kids say... mid. The main appeal here, as with the rest of the collection, remains the novelty of actually having these games available for the first time in the West. I'd say nothing here comes close to being awful, but in all my years of retrogaming I have never encountered a Ninja JaJaMaru fan, so I find myself wondering who this Western release is for. I'm happy as a retro enthusiast to have access to the games for curiosity's sake, but with respect, Ninja JaJaMaru is no Monster Land.
nb. A limited edition physical copy is available for JaJaMaru enthusiasts: