Developer: Jaleco Publisher: Jaleco Release: 08/05/94 Genre: Platformer
Jaleco was always a mid-sized publisher who never quite reached the level of Capcom or Konami. They published a wide variety of titles but their most well known in the West was probably the Bases Loaded series. But in Japan Ninja Kun was their longest running property. Only one title made it overseas, Ninja Taro for the Gameboy which is a cool little gem. Super Ninja Kun is possibly the best in the series as it refines the mechanics to create an easy but enjoyable adventure. This is another in a long line of SNES hidden gems and one I enjoyed thoroughly.
Super Ninja Kun is the seventh game in the series and the only 16-bit installment. This is surprising as Jaleco created five titles for the Famicom including two RPGs. After its dalliance with Super Mario Bros. 3 style platforming Super Ninja Kun returns the series to its arcade roots with a back to basics approach. But that does not mean the game is simple, far from it in fact. There are many subtle improvements that make this one Jajamaru’s best entries. The game is only let down by its brevity and easy difficulty but do not let that stop you from trying out this good game.
At its heart the Jajamaru games were simple platformers. Super Ninja Kun goes a long way toward expanding your tool kit. Jajamaru is more nimble and can now dash, roll, wall jump and pick up and throw enemies after stomping and stunning them. The souls of fallen enemies can be collected to power up the spirit gauge to unleash a ninja magic such as a clone to double your firepower, a fire shield, and a fire dragon used in the game’s single side scrolling shooter level. Although you begin with shuriken after each level you gain a new weapon or spell. Most importantly you now have a life bar which drastically alters the game’s pacing, mostly for the better.
The new mechanics gives Super Ninja Kun a level of variety in its challenges that most of the previous games lacked. Because you can survive multiple hits you can explore without the fear of death looming every second. The levels are medium size with plenty of secrets such as extra hearts and most importantly extra lives that make an already easy game simpler. The level design is generally excellent and varied. Each level feels tailored toward one of the mechanics and the pacing of new weapons and abilities means you always have something to look forward to. While this is shorter than the older titles it works in its favor. Outside of Ninja Jajamaru: Ginga Daisakusen the other games were often repetitive and over stayed their welcome. While I would have loved to see and expanded version of that late Famicom title what is here is otherwise great.
Despite the easy challenge Super Ninja Kun is fun extremely fun most of all. The game has a goofy charm that shines in all of its elements. The animation is often funny and the artists have done a fantastic job giving the series a 16-bit makeover while staying true to its roots. It does not push the system but as a whole is pleasant on the eyes, especially its creative bosses. It feels like Jaleco finally nailed what they were going for. This is a game I could easily have seen myself playing in coop like Legend of the Mystical Ninja and loving every minute of it. Alas we never did get the chance which is a shame.
Adding a life bar has the knock on effect of making Super Ninja Kun extremely easy. The game is a little too accommodating of players when it comes to its mechanics. You can take several hits before losing a life with the default two hearts. In every stage you can easily find two more heart containers which practically make you invincible. They barely hide extra lives; you will find most in plain sight. There are only two bosses that present any real challenge and I wish that were a little more present throughout the game. Super Ninja Kun being easy is not a problem but it highlights its short length as you breeze through it.
Super Ninja Kun is the definition of a solid platformer. Its mechanics are good, the presentation is cute and colorful and it is a fun romp overall. It does not excel in any one category but that is fine. Every game does not need to be a Donkey Kong Country 2 to be fun. There is minimal text making this an easy import purchase for those looking to expand their SNES library.