Sunday, 12 June 2016

Ninja Emaki (Arcade)

Ninja Emaki (also known as Youma Ninpou Chou) is a 1986 entry into a now mostly dead shooting sub-genre: the Commando-style top-down walking shooters. Nowadays, it seems that vertically scrolling shooters have to either be more standard ship-style games with player's shots only going in one direction, or twin-stick shooters where the player's movement and firing directions are totally independent.

You play as a ninja in fuedal Japan who, in a mildly cliched story, goes off to rescue a princess who we see being carried off by a giant flying snake at the start of the game. You're armed with a crossbow as standard, and there's also magic scrolls that periodically appear, giving access upon collection to your choice of eight different offensive spells. The way this works is very versatile: once you collect and activate a scroll, the magic will work for twenty seconds, and during those twenty seconds, you can cycle through the different weapons as much as you like. They're all pretty different, too, having effects from a crashing wave that course up the screen destroying enemies, to a series of small whirlwinds that surround you, killing enemies that come near, to a simple power boost for your crossbow bolts.

What makes Ninja Emaki stand out from the pack (and believe it or not, there is something of a pack of ninja-themed scrolling shooters) is its slightly manic pace and structure. Though you start the game in the skies riding a cloud, each area you enter is different: you're riding a cloud, then you're running through a field, then you're on a boat, then fighting giant spiders in a graveyard, and so on. And I say "areas" rather than "stages" because there's never really a solid "end of the stage" like you'd expect in most games. Instead, you just travel up the screen, going from one situation to the next, the action never stopping for more than a second or two.

Though its qualities don't instantly jump out on first playing, Ninja Emaki is a fun, exciting game, and definitely worth your time. And if you find it too easy (which is definitely a possibility, as it's pretty generous with the extra lives), apparently the Japanese version is a lot harder, though I've not yet played it myself.

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