Published on August 1st, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell1
A Review of 3 Ninjas Kick Back: Back when “Muderlize” TRIED to Be a Thing
Year: 1995 // System: SNES // Publisher: Sony Imagesoft // Developer: Malibu Interactive // Genre: Platformer, Side-scrolling Beat ‘em Up
>>>You’ve got to love it when obscure films feature licensed video games, ESPECIALLY when you find that you remember the game, but not the movie…
In the case of 3 Ninjas Kick Back, a side-scrolling beat ‘em up released for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, was based on a movie that served as a follow-up to the original, 3 Ninjas. 3 Ninjas may have been the first movie, but 3 Ninjas Kick Back was ironically the first- and only- licensed video game for the series.
Sure, sure, you may not remember the movies now, and a one-sentence blurb on Wikipedia said that the film “received mostly negative reviews” (oh, the intricate, well-researched pages of Wikipedia. One has to love how they carefully state how this film received negative reviews…without stating who said what or why they thought that), it did develop a fan base that remembers the movie fondly (a.k.a. my cousin who walked in just as I began writing this review). I’d say it has something of a loose, loose fan base nowadays…but it’s still out there…
As for the game itself, 3NKB somersaults from the standard crowd onto the podium as one of the rarest boxed games for the SNES in existence. Seriously, if you’re an owner of this precious piece of hardware (that hopefully you’ve never opened) and you need to judo-kick some bills and/or loan payments into the Yangtze River, then sing your praises today, because that’s an eight hundred dollar game in your hand right now.
But perhaps the most surprising aspect of this rare title is its playability. 3NKB is a good game! Produced by the same company that oversaw the development of the underrated SNES title and fellow licensed game Hook, 3 Ninjas Kick Back delivers one “Throwing Buffalo Punch” in its features and mechanics.
You have the choice of the film’s three star protagonists: Rocky (slow speed/heavy hitter), Colt (medium everything), and Tum-Tum (quick legs but weak punches).
Whether you’re doing it on your own or with a partner, you storm your way through five graphically stunning and carefully detailed zones that take you from Grandfather Mori’s training grounds to a fighting tournament in Japan. Whoever you pick, you’ll face a nice dose of villains from the film, be it the super-sized sumo wrestlers, Koga’s Grungers, or the big angry nurse that makes Grandpa Mori’s life in the hospital a living hell.
There are three ways to progress through each level: scroll from left to right on your own, evade a giant boulder on a continuously scrolling screen, or collect a specific amount of items in an open-ended stage before heading out the exit. While the different approaches to completing the stages are welcome and explained pretty well, the use of a timer for each stage is NOT welcome. Given that the levels already present the player with a formidable challenge on Normal, there’s no reason for the programming to include a timer. To me, timers are only to be used if there’s a sensible reason (say, the prisoners in the hospital will die if they’re not rescued within the time limit) OR if the difficulty level is indeed a pushover on its own. Just like in Hook, the difficulty here wasn’t a pushover. Therefore, there’s no need to have a timer. But as an issue, it’s not THAT obtrusive. It only becomes a problem in the open-ended levels, and even at THAT point, should you die you start at the most recent checkpoint holding onto the items you already collected in order to reach the endpoint.
The combat system is strangely not the most interesting thing about the game (I mean, it’s about ninjas. Ninjas…fight…with style…do they not?). It’s not a problem, but comes off as an afterthought. You definitely have a nice range of moves, but they don’t change drastically per character. They look differently per character, but don’t necessarily change movement arcs or attack damage. For combat, you can attack with your weapons on the ground and kick at stuff in the air. You can even take out enemies while swinging at them from the safety of a ladder! Heck, you can even mash attack buttons to pull a cool aerial vortex that inflicts tons and tons of pain!
But even with the variety, they suddenly appear to be there for show just because the enemies are…not a threat. The bosses are a decent challenge, but avoiding enemies is, for the most part, a bit TOO satisfying. Okay, okay, there’s never such a thing in my eyes truly, but for a beat em up game that featrues ninjas, it was a tad disappointing that all you had to do was jump over most of the enemies in order to make it to the exit. Also, for the grungers, whaling on those minibosses until they died was a bit of a letdown. They could have involved a few more complex patterns that you needed to take in order to avoid them while throwing in three of four shots that ultimately disabled them. That would’ve been more interesting then just walking up to those “tough guys,” freezing them with one hit, and then just repeatedly hitting their frozen forms six more times before they went down.
Obstacles and the movement scheme, however, were where the game was at! The teaching tools aren’t immediately there to tell you this, but once you work with intuition and find that you can hook yourself to tree branches and floating islands, the game becomes EXTREMELY engaging. Navigating the platforming segments becomes the meat and potatoes of 3 Ninjas Kick Back as you hop up mystic platforms and dodge those metal wheels of death in the Cave of Gold at the end. Learning how to hook to objects in the style of a game like DarkWing Duck becomes important in mastering this title’s stages, and you’ll find that the whole means of bouncing around in 3NKB is unbelievably enjoyable on account of the excellent responsiveness of the movement scheme. Your jumps are fast, controllable, fluid, and highly transitional into the next series of leaps. Few games move faster than 3NKB in their jump arcs while maintaining flawless execution. Then again, Hook took me by surprise because of its highly responsive engine…and the same producer for that game had a hand in 3NKB.
Aside from the awesome jumps, it’s just so easy to attack multiple times without delay, and your range of different movements- crawling, sliding down hills, fighting while climbing, and leaping up off of hooked objects with a temporary second of ninja time- give you a lot to work with.
On top of the well-managed core designs, you also have an array of palettes that look good and downplay graphic repetition. You have the different rooms in the cabin (notice how there’s only ONE kitchen and ONE bedroom…seriously…I’ve seen way too many sidecrollers repeat objects unnecessarily in a certain room or house…like the water-spewing automobiles sitting on gigantic shelves in the garage in Tom & Jerry for the GBC). You also have appropriate theming. The game follows the sequence of events in the film, where the children essentially start at the cabin before moving on to Japan.
The game is short, but the intention behind this game was to see which of two players could garner the higher score, so if you have company over, then it won’t take you long to conquer the title. After all, it’d be lame if your partner couldn’t finish the game with you and then brag about his/her higher score if the game was too long for one sit-through. Also, the short game length will give you a chance to go back and play with another character…although the differences in the three ninjas are not that pronounced…
Long story short, it’s awfully tempting to crack open that $800 game case to play this one. Don’t. Sell it, and then find this rom and play it on an emulator. I can’t say that an individual copy of 3 Ninjas Kick Back is worth $800 on gameplay alone, but had it been selling for $40 back in the day when it first came out, I would have paid full price. There’s something to be said about Sony Imagesoft taking games licensed after films deemed uninspiring by the masses and turning them into heavy hitters. 3NKB is certainly not among the best I’ve played, but I did enjoy it, and that’s something that critics were NOT saying about the film it was based on.
And by critics, I mean the very specific “critics” that were referenced in that rather thoughtful and extensive page for the 3NKB film on Wikipedia.
Challenge: 7/10: The game took me by surprise when I first started. I touched a sitting boulder and lost half of my health. The very first three seconds of gameplay were a whopping learning curve, but after I got the hang of combat and platforming, the difficulty presented itself as a doable challenge on Normal. Hard isn’t ridiculous, but it wears the label well. The time is unnecessary and the combat system isn’t particularly fleshed out, but the whole setup for the platforming engine is why you play until the end. Also, there’s respect to be found in offering different styles of completing each level.
Handling: 8/10: The game could have taught you the moves a little better- I found most of them like the somersault and the bottom-surface-clinging move on my own- but overall, the mechanics were incredibly smooth, and the controls offered a sizable array of interesting commands to work with. Oh, how sliding through the entirety of Level 1-2 made me grin like an idiot…
Innovation: 7/10: It’s your standard side-scrolling beat em up with jumping action- but the addition of commands such as the ability to attach to objects and crawl through passages with low ceilings gave this game its signature style. Combat could have been cooler, but at the end of the day, you could certainly distinguish 3NKB from other games…
Core Experience: 7/10: Beautiful levels, but a short game. Levels are interesting even if their overall premises can turn old a bit too quickly (game begins in a chase, and ends in a….chase…not a final boss, but a chase…). You could also reach the end of some stages without collecting the complete set of key items. Okay…that totally makes sense….But at the end of the say, you had multiple characters to play as and wonderfully smooth game pace. That’s hard to turn down.
OVERALL: 7.3/Solid: Attention fans of 3 Ninjas Kick Back (because I know you exist), go play this game on an emulator as you sell your SNES copy and make yourself a fortune. Sega fans, I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m sure that your copy sells well too. So yeah, for hardcore retro gamers, 3 Ninjas Kick Back is among the games you should play if you’re looking for good licensed titles.