Monday, July 15, 2024

Developer: Culture Brain   Publisher: Culture Brain    Release: 02/91   Genre: Action RPG

I miss Culture Brain. I freely admit a lot of their output was downright weird. But their willingness to experiment with genre conventions also yielded some cool hidden gems like Flying Warriors and the Magic of Scheherezade. You are doing something right if a frickin baseball game is one of my favorite titles on the system as a super casual sports fan. Little Ninja Brothers marries action with role playing to create something a little different. Aside from its annoying encounter rate this is a dope game that is every bit as good as I thought it would be.

Blu Boltar, leader of the Yoma Clan, has invaded Chinaland, kidnapped the Emperor and dubbed himself the new ruler of the land. Jack and Ryu are training in the mountains but once they hear of this development set out to defeat Blu Boltar and save the land.

Little Ninja Brothers is the sequel to Kung Fu Heroes. While that game was a straight action title Little Ninja Brothers is an action role playing game. It does not completely abandon the beat ‘em up mechanics of its predecessor however and would be the first in a long running series that would spawn further sequels on the Famicom, Gameboy, and SNES. Sadly the West would miss out on the majority of these releases but fan translations have you covered in that regard.

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Exploration in Little Ninja Brothers is similar to every turn based RPG. As you wander around towns you speak to villagers for information and visit shops for items. Many of the typical amenities you would find in other RPGs are present such as weapons, armor, and healing items. It is paired back a little bit as most of your upgrades are either received as gifts or rewards from clearing dungeons. This helps reduce the amount of grinding needed to progress somewhat although it is still present. But more on that later.

On the world map once you enter a random battle Little Ninja Brothers is near identical to its predecessor. You have the same basic move set with a few new techniques learned as you progress. Battles take place in small arenas that vary based on the terrain. Random rocks serve as obstructions or possible projectiles. Small ponds drain health if you fall in and tunnels warp you around the field. Depending on the encounter level you have to defeat a certain number of enemies to end the battle. The game has a massive bestiary, with new enemies introduced up until the final areas of the game. Every enemy has a weak spot and some can only be defeated with a sword or by jumping on their head. Details like these keep combat fresh which is critical as you will be engaging in it a lot. In my opinion too much.

Like many old school RPGs the encounter rate in Little Ninja Brothers is extremely high. There were times I did not move an inch after one battle concluded before another began! Regardless of how fast you can end most encounters it grows tedious after a while. When I did not want to grind I would spend most of my cash on skateboards to escape combat. The Dragstar is a late game item that avoids combat on the world map. But it is powered by batteries that run out and are expensive. I will not sugar coat, the high rate of battles is annoying no matter how much I enjoy combat. But it was not enough to ruin the game as there is plenty to love in spite of it.

Even though Culture Brain has grafted a RPG to Kung Fu Heroes it still largely focuses on its action component. Most of the “dungeons” in the game are multi-floor arenas that test your knowledge of each enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. It is not until late in the game that you will find actual dungeons with actual maps to “explore”. I put explore in quotation marks because there is no treasure to be found. You will want to bee line to the exit to avoid the slow and annoying turn based combat. Luckily there are only four of these; the game knows where its bread and butter lies.

Little Ninja Brothers is difficult compared to most RPGs for a number of reasons. Even though you buy different robes there is no defense stat. Robes only reduce damage from specific enemies. That means regardless of your level each enemy will always deal a set amount of damage per hit every time. The game is very grind heavy as you need boost in stats that come with each level. Stat growth is slow however. You especially need to be at the appropriate level to survive the turn based boss battles lest you watch 90% of your attacks miss. Restorative items heal very little by late game and the best course of action is to take as little damage as possible. At least there are difficulty modes that help but the game could have used another pass to smooth things out.

In Closing

It is a little rough around the edges but I like Little Ninja Brothers. The quest moves at a brisk pace and the combat is fun. It is too bad everything surrounding these elements bring it down a notch. Most 8-bit RPGs are hard to revisit as they are archaic and a slog. Little Ninja Brothers rises above its few flaws to be one of the more entertaining action RPGs on the NES.

7 out of 10

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