Of all the Japan-only games to be given new life on the Virtual Console – and now in 2021, Nintendo Switch Online – Nintendo, oddly enough, picked this Famicom exclusive. While on the surface Ninja JaJaMaru-kun looks like another not-very-good arcade game, it's actually quite fun if you give it a chance.
You play as red ninja JaJaMaru-kun, whose goal is to rescue your beloved, Princess Sakura, from the evil Lord Namazu Dayuu. But be warned, Namazu has an army of creatures (both generic and from Japanese folklore) at his disposal to put an end to your quest.
The game takes place on a horizontal playing field with four floors. Between these are solid concrete floors and weak brick floors that you can break to jump through. On each floor, Namazu has deployed two units that you must take out with your throwing stars.
For the first two levels, this is fairly easy – you fight female ghosts that rarely attack and mostly float and jump around. One hit with a throwing star will kill them. If you jump on an enemy they are temporarily stunned so you can get a hit in. If an enemy shoots and you shoot too, the shots cancel each other out. When all enemies are dead, the stage ends.
Break some floors to find items such as scrolls (give you bonus points), a powerup, bombs (if you touch these you die, so wait until they disappear!), an extra life and more. If you collect three different power-ups you'll find your trusty frog, which can leap between floors and eat enemies. Enemies can freely travel between floors, just like you.
From level 3 and onward, you will face a "boss" enemy in addition to your regular foes. Each boss is accompanied by seven normal enemies. Every couple of rounds text is displayed, indicating that the enemies are about to get stronger. When this happens, the normal enemies all become the previous boss character (although noticeably weakened) and a new boss character appears. This will keep going on.
After a number of rounds, you can play a bonus stage where the objective is to dodge Lord Namazu’s flames attacks while attempting to hit him. Once he is defeated, you can rescue the princess and claim a big point bonus only to begin the game again with all your points intact and the enemies still strong. This continues endlessly until you lose all your lives (as with most arcade games). Like a lot of games from the same period, Ninja JaJaMaru-kun is pretty tough, so if you're the kind of person who bounces off games easily, you might want to think twice about loading it up.
Ninja JaJaMaru-kun’s enemies are quite varied and range from ghosts to skeletons, penguins, jumping umbrellas and cyclopes and more, plus Lord Namazu himself. The locations are somewhat varied, featuring a graveyard, the inside of a pagoda, and a garden, among others. They don’t offer much variety and difference in looks, though, so you may not even notice you're in a different area.
The music is not much to write home about – you'll quickly notice that the same tune repeats over and over on every stage. Well, at least it's not completely silent save for sound effects, like in Donkey Kong and similar games, right?
Compared to some other arcade offerings on the NES, Ninja JaJaMaru-kun is better than you might expect and is especially interesting when you consider that it wasn't released outside Japan back in the day. The visuals aren't going to dazzle in 2021 however, and it can get pretty dang hard later in the game, so if you're one of those people who can't even beat the first stage of Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts or similarly difficult games, this one probably isn't for you.