One fateful day I checked our inbox and saw a press release from our friends over at ININ Games and Strictly Limited Games regarding a collection of games from a series I wasn’t familiar with, Ninja Jajamaru. Being one for new “retro” experiences I just had to see what this was all about and imagine my surprise when it turned out it was not one, but three titles in total releasing! This review will focus on the “Legendary Collection” which compiles 8 titles from the long running series.
The game is also available physically from the Strictly Limited Games website as well as being available digitally.
Ninja JajaMaru’s Big Adventure
Ninja Jajamaru: Operation Milky Way
Super Ninja Kid
Ninja Jajamaru: The Great World Adventure & DX
First of all this is the standard for the ININ Games compilation titles when it comes to the overall package, you get a Gallery of concept art and box art, save states to help you through the game and a handy rewind feature, plus the ability to go straight back to the menu and change the game, surprisingly some collections miss this so it’s worth mentioning it.
Now let’s give a brief overview of how the games play!
The original title and possibly the most well known, also available on the Nintendo Online NES App, Ninja JaJaMaru plays alot like another well known title known as Bubble Bobble. You have a single screen which scrolls left to right and a number of Yokai to take down. This involves smashing blocks to stun enemies and shrunken to throw at them, a plethora of items to collect and a score to raise as you try to save the Princess.
A fairly basic but fun romp which is sadly ruined by a painful frame rate, the game somewhat chugs along and struggles to scroll along, don’t get me wrong you can adjust to it and it’s no surprise the latest title takes inspiration from it but I feel it’s more of a title you had to play at the time to get the most of it.
Ninja Jajamaru’s Big Adventure.
The sequel that aimed to bring JajaMaru to more gamers by emulating the platformers of the time such as Mario, it’s a scrolling platformer but with painfully awkward feeling controls and level design that still feels quite rooted with arcade origins. I didn’t really enjoy any of this one, it lacked the fun factor that pushed me through the original and felt like it was designed with the mentality of copying the original just making it a scrolling platformer rather than a single screen.
Ninja Jajamaru: Operation Milky Way.
This is the most visually impressive of the NES titles and feels like a large leap into the trip that is Ninja Jajamaru Platforming titles. It’s such a giant deviation from the previous platformer to the point I even question who developed it, it’s a quirky platformer with a bizarre set of controls, a running button to questionably make jumps and reverts to jumping on enemies to kill them rather than throwing Shrukens at them, makes you wonder where the Ninja aspect is. It does have multiple characters to play as and is quite ambitious compared to the previous titles but at this point I started to question why this series is so beloved.
Super Ninja Kid
Super Ninja Kid is exactly where the series should have been by the time it reached the SNES, it has some brilliant sprite work going on, controls really well and feels like a good mix of the original Ninja JajaMaru and the platformer titles that followed on. Again it’s got a bizarre mix of collectables which give you abilities such as higher jump and the ability to change into giant animals. It’s a vintage 16-Bit platformer that has a quirky attitude and has alot to love.
Ninja JajaMaru: The Great World Adventure & DX
I’ve bundled the final two games into 1 as it’s just the same game only one is in colour and feels alot smoother to play. Ninja Jajamaru makes his way to the Gameboy/Colour in an adventure which feels like “Big Adventure”. Again it didn’t really grip me beyond a few levels but had a much better time with it than the 2 NES games on offer, that was with the DX version, the original one felt really redundant.
Sadly this package as a whole didn’t quite ignite a flame in me for the Ninja JajaMaru series, a shame really as I do love Jaleco and their quirky arcade attitude but aside from the original and Super Ninja Kid, I can’t really see myself playing through the others any time soon. Fortunately this series has another two shots to make a fan out of me in the “Lost RPG” collection and the brand new Ninja JajaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle + Hell.
Ninja JajaMaru: The Lost RPGs
Ninja JajaMaru: The Lost RPGs as you can guess from the title compiles two rather unique titles in the Ninja JajaMaru series, Ninja Jajamaru: The Ninja Skill Book & Ninja JajaMaru: Legend of the Golden Castle, both of these titles originally released in Japan on the Nintendo Famicon and this is the first time these have been released outside of the platform with an English translation.
Ninja JajaMaru: The Ninja Skill Book is the most traditional of the 2 games on offer in terms of it being a JRPG, featuring turn-based battles, rafts and rafts of dialogue and plenty of dungeons to explore. You’re presented with 3 Chapters set in different areas of Japan and following smaller narratives which eventually tie into the grand story of Ninja Jajamaru.
Being this is a NES title you can expect all the quirks you had to work through with titles like Final Fantasy 1 or Dragon Quest, it’s quite slow paced and very cryptic and can often throw some challenges your way in the battles so you’ll be grinding a lot. Fortunately there are options with this port where you can either make the game slightly easier by obtaining extra items, reducing random encounters, double XP or double the Gold drop, You can also fully heal any of your party members or unlock a tonne of cheats that really break the game should you just want to fly through it.
The Ninja Skill Book is an interesting title, especially when presented with previous titles which were more action platformer than role playing game, yes it’s dated and clunky by today’s standards but it’s certainly worth a look for fans of the genre as a curiosity.
Ninja JajaMaru: Legend of the Golden Castle is more of an action RPG ala Zelda, Ys & Crystalis.
This title is a little more standard when it comes to presentation as it only has 1 starting point and follows 1 narrative throughout rather than the previous presenting 3 smaller chapters. Being an action RPG it has real time combat with an attack button instead of scrolling through menus and is generally a lot faster paced than the previous title.
Again being a NES title it does have cryptic moments where you’ll be wandering around trying to figure out where to go and there is a little too much talking in the start getting it off on the wrong foot. Fortunately once you get out of the intro section you are presented with the more playable of 2 games on offer here. It’s faster, has a little more comedy that you would expect from the series and has held up a lot better than The Ninja Skill Book which creaks along in comparison.
These two titles are genuine curiosities being that this is the first time they have been legitimately available in English and to purchase outside of Japan, it’s reasonably priced and there are plenty of options to make the games smooth as possible to playthrough with the cheats, save states and rewind features. Out of the two retro collections for the series, I enjoyed this one the most because they feel like real hidden gems for fans of the genre where the quality difference is a lot closer than that of the other collection which varied wildly.
As it stands, these two collections haven’t quite converted me to the Ninja JajaMaru series but it has put it on my radar to a point, I would hazard if you have history with the series these would be an easy purchase for you but if you’re uninitiated like myself it might be worth keeping hold of your gold until our review of Ninja JajaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle + Hell before deciding if you want to take a deep dive into the world of Ninja Jajamaru.