Kid Niki: Radical Ninja is a bright cartoony platformer that has you run and jump through levels, dispatching a range of foes with your spinning sword attack before a showdown against a boss character. This Arcade Archives release also offers those thrills and adds in HAMSTER’s usual options and extra modes, but the interesting thing about Arcade Archives Kid Niki Radical Ninja is that the game included is actually Kaiketsu Yanchamaru – the original Japanese version of the game. There’s even a warning screen informing us that “if you are playing this video game outside the country of Japan, you are involved in a crime”. Cheers HAMSTER!
Arcade Archives Traverse USA included Japanese and English versions of that game (as do HAMSTER’s ACA Neo Geo releases), so it’s a little unusual that hasn’t happened here where the regional differences are more than just a different title screen. Yanchamaru’s sprite has a tidy topknot compared to Niki’s ruffled hair look and the brief text explaining the setup for the adventure with our, “totally rad ninja swordsman,” is absent from this release.
There’s not much text in the game and although it’s in English there’s a different tone to that of the western release. For example title cards appear before each stage, but while here you are informed the first stage is, “VS Otafuku Tarou,” the Radical Ninja version tells you it is the, “land of the trees,” and that you should, “kill Death Breath.” One gameplay alteration of note is that the western release featured checkpoints in its stages, but here failure sends you all the way back to the beginning; disheartening if you struggle your way through to the boss before things go pearshaped.
Essentially though, this is the same fun game. With only a few pits to get across, it's mostly focused on combat and it’s short, too (just eight stages). However, it can get tough so it's not something that can be breezed through with ease. There are a number of different enemy types in the game and while some you dispatch and then they’re gone, others are replaced by new foes running on screen. New arrivals will continue to take the place of fallen comrades until you move on, but moving on can be tricky when you are being attacked on both sides.
There are a couple of time-limited special items that can be collected (spinning ball, large shuriken), but for the most part combat involves the spinning sword. Yanchamaru’s sword attack is very effective (able to take out foes above and below as well as directly in front), but he is glued to the spot when performing it and having defeated one group you often find you have to turn around and take out some running at you from the other direction. There are trees you can climb to avoid dangers, but as they often contain further enemies it’s usually easier to just run past.
The bulk of the enemies encountered are masked assassins (dressed in various colours), some of whom just run at you but others have weapons such as shuriken or small explosives. One type has a jump that can catch you off-guard and if there are several of them they can climb atop each other’s shoulders, requiring you to dismantle this tower from the top if you hope to get past.
Other bad guys include the likes of insects, small rock-pushing foes (hit repeatedly to smash this shield), aggressive kites and fire-breathing frogs. All of these behave differently, so you’ll need to learn how best to deal with them. Even then, the various combinations they appear in (plus the fact there’s a lot of them) means quick thinking is required to successfully navigate the levels.
There are some basic sound effects used such as for your sword attack, it’s impact noise and your springy-jump. The music is also simple, a little beepy and repetitive, but actually quite catchy. Visually it looks fairly good for its time (1986), with multiple shades of colour on scenery and some depth added by items placed in front of the sprites. Stage design includes uneven terrain and there are large sprites used for the bosses.
Boss battles are fun and see you trying to survive while looking to find an opening for an attack. For example, one stage ends with a guard advancing on you and only when his weapon is not blocking can you get in a strike of your own. Another attacks you with speech bubbles and there’s a large caterpillar-like boss who burrows through ground and ceiling. You sword can be lost during these encounters and there’s then a scramble to get it, while also being careful not to get hit.
There’s a lot that can go wrong during a playthrough, but once you’ve got the hang of the game, the biggest difficulty is the timer. It drops rapidly and you may find you reach the boss, but do not have enough time to defeat them. You then have to go back and do the level again, but figure out how to do it quicker.
In the options menu you can increase your lives from three to five, which would be welcome if playing in an arcade, but here is pointless if you are just looking to beat the game as you have unlimited credits. For a tougher challenge the difficulty can be increased to 'hard' or you could play the Hi Score mode which challenges you to beat the game on a single credit, while also trying to score as high as possible to move up the online leaderboard.
The online leaderboards (also available in the arcade and five-minute Caravan modes) work well with this game as there are a number of factors that determine your score such as enemies defeated and time left at the end of the stage. There are also a few non-aggressive birds that can be dispatched for a points bonus, but which are easily run past. Alternating two-player is also available on the arcade mode if you’d like to compare your scoring to a friend.
There's only eight levels, but there's enjoyment to be had from Arcade Archives Kid Niki Radical Ninja as you hop about and avoid attacks, take some enemies out on the left, then the right, jump to move forwards and smack some in midair too. The game can be challenging, but satisfying when you up your pace sufficiently to stop that timer hitting zero and the boss battles are fun too. If you are just looking to finish the game there's not much replay value once cleared, but there's a few ways to improve your score which adds to the replayability when combined with the online leaderboards.