Saturday, 14 November 2020

Ninku 2 - Tenkuuryuu e no Michi (Game Gear)

 Ninku was an anime that ran for little over a year in the mid-1990s, but even though it's pretty much completely unknown in English-speaking parts of the world, in that short time it was somehow popular enough in Japan to have spawned seven tie-in games! This one's a fighting game, with a slight emphasis on single player, which makes sense, given how impractical it was setting up multiplayer on handhelds in those days (though it does have a versus link up mode, too).


There's two main modes of play: story mode, which has you playing as the three protagonists (an ugly little boy, a generic young man, and a guy in just his underpants) as you go through the story, watching lavishly pixel-illustrated cutscenes and fighting opponents (including one instance of that annoying little quirk of fighting game story modes: the unwinnable battle). It reminded me a lot of the Game Gear's most famous fighting game, Virtua Fighter The Animation, though it's actually a lot more fun than that, as the more traditional superpowered fighting game style of Ninku 2 fits the GG better than trying to squeeze the realistic martial arts of Virtua Fighter into a tiny 8-bit game. Then there's 1P battle, which is a standard arcade mode, allowing you to play as any of the eight characters in the game, and fighting the others in random order.


The cutscenes aren't the only thing that reminded me of VFTA, either, as the game has a quite impressive faux-zoom thing going on in the fights, too, as if the two characters get far enough apart, the camera zooms out to show everything much smaller at a distance. I'm pretty sure the only way they could have done this is making two complete sets of sprites for each character: one large and one small, as well as a large and small version of every stage. That seems like a lot of work for what is essentially a pointless visual gimmick, but I'm glad they did it, it really makes the game stand out! And it's not the only standout feature, as for an 8-bit fighting game, it's surprisingly complex! There's forwards and backwards dashes, power meters, multiple special moves for each character (and yes, you can do every move as the tiny zoomed-out sprite too!) and so on!


The power meter is something I have to take issue with, unfortunately, though. There's no super moves in the game (as far as I can tell, at least), and the meter instead limits your use of special moves. This alone wouldn't be an issue, but coupled with how meter is built, it becomes one. There's two ways of building meter in this game: charging it by holding punch and kick together, or getting hit. Hitting your opponent doesn't build meter. So all this comes together to de-incentivise using specials, and punishing players for trying to combo their opponents, or wear them down with specials. I can see why they might have done this, to disable "spamming" of specials and also to serve as a primitive comeback mechanic, but it just makes the fights a little less exciting, in my opinion.


Despite that one rather large flaw, Ninku 2 is a game I think is worth playing. It's a lot of fun, and most of the characters look cool! I think if a copy of this game had somehow come into the possession of my nine-year-old self, even though I'd never have seen the show, and wouldn't be able to read even the character names, let alone any of the story text, I think the visuals and the accessible fighting action would have been enough to capture my interest. And then I probably would have spent decades frustrated at how I couldn't get my hands on any English-language Ninku stuff.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a neat little find! I'm personally always interested in handheld fighters - it's a window into how the genre would've gone if they started on the 8-bit consoles instead of the 16-bit ones to me, and I always find the solutions developers employed to deal with the lack of buttons or whatever really fascinating. I mean, games like the Game Boy version of Battle Arena Toshinden or Virtua Fighter Animation for GG (as well as the occasional legit 8-bit fighter such as Jang Pang 3 or Masters of Combat on the SMS) are just really, really interesting. And now I got to toss Ninku onto that pile as well, because it genuinely sounds like its pretty thoughtfully made!