Konami's classic action title The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a welcome addition to the Wii U's slowly expanding library of Virtual Console offerings. In an era where lighthearted, fun characters have all but been forgotten in favour of grim shooters, playing as "Kid Ninja" — or Goemon, for fans of his Nintendo 64 adventures — reminds us that a little personality goes a long way in making games memorable and fun. With challenging, deceptively simple gameplay, a wacky, irreverent story and plenty of extras, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja should be an easy sell for gamers who played the game on the SNES and for younger gamers looking for a challenge.
When Kid Yin and Dr. Yang (Yin-Yang, get it?) are called upon to investigate strange happenings at the local temple, they become embroiled in an epic adventure through feudal Japan that includes a lost princess, and some ninja cats. The charming (if nonsensical) saga is told through cutscenes between stages, as well as through characters Kid Yin encounters along the way. Each stage is divided into two segments — the first part of each has Kid Yin travelling through a village, buying supplies, fighting enemies, talking to townspeople, playing minigames and more. The second part of each stage is more of a traditional platformer, with Kid Yin traversing through temples and castles and defeating an epic, over-the-top boss.
The village sequences are more challenging than first expected. Tons of enemy ninjas and monsters run through the village, each with unique patterns and attacks. While gamers may initially be frustrated with Mystical Ninja's difficulty, combat becomes rewarding as Kid Yin collects power-ups and upgrades his weapons and items. Defeated enemies may drop coins, scrolls, and silver or gold cats. Coins are essential for buying items that protect Kid Yin and make him more powerful, like sandals that speed him up, clothes that stop him from losing hit points after being hit, as well as pizza and burgers (yes, in feudal Japan) to further pad his health; these items become necessary very quickly, as Mystical Ninja does not attempt to ease the player into the action. Extra lives are hard to come by at first (and very expensive when they appear in shops), and gamers will likely see the game over screen a few times before getting the hang of things.
After a game over, the player is presented with the option of either starting at the beginning of the stage or from the last logbook entry, which is usually a shop in the middle of the stage that gives a password to start from the same place when restarting the game. This feature is largely unnecessary on the Virtual Console release thanks to save states, but hardcore retro gamers may want to try the game without "cheating." Players can also start over in the platforming sequences once a checkpoint is reached. Boss battles, meanwhile, are exciting and crazy; each requires a different strategy, which reminded us a little of boss battles from adventure games like those in The Legend of Zelda franchise, albeit simpler and more straightforward.
In addition to health buffs and extra lives, collecting cats and scrolls from enemies will upgrade weapons and grant each character special moves that can be learned in each village. There are both melee weapons and ranged weapons, with the ranged weapons draining coins with each use. One frustrating aspect is that these power-ups and upgrades reset with each new stage, making it necessary for the player to grind a bit in the beginning of every new village.
There are also a variety of minigames to play in the village, some more compelling than others. In addition to lottery-style activities and Whack-A-Mole, Kid Yin can try his hand at Gradius, another Konami classic. Gradius and Whack-A-Mole are both fun and addictive (look out for Dr. Yang popping up in Whack-A-Mole!), but some of the lottery/chance games were more of a quick diversion. Another notable feature is two-player co-op, which is very fun and hectic, especially in boss battles.
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a fun, colourful, challenging adventure of a kind that the games industry just doesn't see much of any more. If you're looking for an adventure that's lighthearted but addictive, difficult but rewarding, it's hard to go wrong with this one. Experiences like this are what make the Virtual Console special, and we hope to see more classics on the Wii U in the coming months.