The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a perfect throwback to the '90s: a time when Konami was still revered among gamers, games were heavily edited for Western markets, and Nintendo reigned supreme.
If you haven't heard of the Mystical Ninja series, we won't hold it against you. It's something of a cult-classic in the Western world. In Japan, the series goes by the name Ganbare Goemon, or Hang in There, Goemon!
The main character of The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is somewhat embarrassingly called Kid Ying. Kid Ying is paired with his portly ninja sidekick Dr. Yang, known as Ebisumaru in the original games.
Mystical Ninja isn't big on story. After a brief introduction to the main characters you're dropped into the first level, dubbed Warlock Zone I. This first level sets up a template that the rest of the game will follow. Each level begins in an area you can freely explore, including shops and buildings you can enter to discover a clue that will lead you to the a more focused side-scrolling second stage in which you will find and fight the boss.
The free-exploration areas are generally easy. You can control Kid Ying's vertical and horizontal movement, which makes it easy to get around the endlessly respawning enemies that will approach from both directions. Kid employs what the manual calls a not-so-peaceful pipe as a weapon, a single hit from which is enough to put down most foes. Enemies can drop a number of items, including money which can be used either as a thrown weapon or can be spent in shops around town. Enemies will also drop lucky cats which can be used to power up Kid Ying's pipe. After a single cat is collected, the pipe will grow in size, when a second is grabbed the pipe is replaced with a yoyo. Getting hit will revert your weapon to its previous form.
While Mystical Ninja may be simple in its control scheme, it can be quite challenging. Fending off attackers can be tough thanks to thoughtful level design. Pitfalls are where you might least expect them, and bosses prove to be hard to adapt to at times. The difficulty can be somewhat reduced over time, provided you choose to pursue obtaining new ninjutsu techniques and armor.
Unfortunately, the number one step you could take to make this game a bit easier isn't possible in the New 3DS iteration: playing with a friend. Like so many multiplayer SNES games ported to the handheld, you'll only be able to play Mystical Ninja solo. The most frustrating part, however, is that the option to play multiplayer is both present and functional in the menus, but leads to an unplayable experience as the second player character stands motionless until you reset the Virtual Console. It's frustrating that Konami didn't take care to disable or remove this feature, which could lead to some disappointment among players.
Though it would have been nice to have multiplayer, it doesn't ruin the game. Exploring ancient Japan and whacking baddies with your trusty pipe is still plenty of fun.
Konami was one of Nintendo's greatest allies in the early '90s, and for good reason; it produced excellent games. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is no exception. Exploring the game's unique take on ancient Japan is fun, and the characters are charming, even if their localised names are cringeworthy. We would have loved to see multiplayer enabled, but it's still an enjoyable adventure to play without a friend. If you've never played a Mystical Ninja game, this is a great place to start.