One of the first releases for SNK’s Neo Geo console, Ninja Combat is unsurprisingly a little rough around the edges. Graphically it’s not really a massive leap up from the likes of the SNES or Megadrive/Genesis (bear in mind that when this game was first published it set you back nearly four times the amount of a SNES game) and in terms of gameplay it doesn’t really come close to the likes of Streets of Rage or Final Fight – although it does at least try to do something new with the scrolling fighter genre.
For example, instead of punching or kicking your opponents, your character hurls throwing stars. This means that your standard attacks have a considerable range on them, which makes the game feel almost like a shooter at times! In addition to this you also have a ‘charge’ attack, where holding down the appropriate button for a length of time and then releasing it results in a magical special move, which helpfully engulfs the surrounding play area. The trade off is obviously in the time it takes for the move to fully charge, during which you’re vulnerable. It’s worth noting that pulling off this impressive technique depletes your four-section life bar by one segment.
As well as possessing jumping and rolling attacks, your ninja avatar can pick up various weapons that litter each stage. These range from samurai swords to nunchucks, and not surprisingly they increase the offensive impact of your attacks, making it easier to clear the levels of pesky enemies.
Sadly, there’s no grappling moves of any description, which in our opinion severely limits the appeal of the game. Being able to grab an enemy and then hurl them into onrushing foes is one of the simple things that makes the aforementioned Streets of Rage and Final Fight so appealing. As you might imagine, Ninja Combat therefore becomes extremely repetitive after prolonged play.
We’ve already touched upon the rather uninspiring visuals, but seeing as the Neo Geo has a reputation for graphical splendor (although to be fair this is based more on the titles released later in the lifespan of the console) it’s worth examining them further. Ninja Combat showcases some particularly goofy-looking sprites; granted, they’re colourful and detailed, but the design generally leaves a lot to be desired. The main heroes walk like they’ve had an accident in their undergarments and enemy characters don’t fare much better. Although there’s a nice variety in the number of different foes to face, none of them really come across as well-drawn or animated.
If you’re seriously addicted to scrolling fighting titles then this might entertain to a limited degree, but it pales into insignificance when placed alongside some of the shining lights of the genre. Veteran Neo Geo addicts may have some treasured memories of this, seeing as it was one of the very early titles for the elite console, but in the cold light of day it’s hard to get excited about such a lifeless piece of software. Our advice is to wait for some of the more appealing Neo Geo classics to make their way to the Virtual Console.