The online leaderboards that HAMSTER includes with their retro releases provide some replay value as you compare (then try to improve) your point-scoring against players from around the globe. They work better in some games than others and they work particular well with old arcade titles, where in lieu of an ending sequence to reach, scoring points is the only aim of the game. Well, assuming doing what is required to earn points is fun. Now Arcade Archives Ninja-Kid joins the growing selection of highscore chasers on Switch, and despite some flaws, is a reasonably entertaining experience.
Ninja-Kid (not to be confused with the hyphen-less NES platformer Ninja Kid) is a 1984 arcade game that sees you hopping up and down the platforms of the screen on three vertically scrolling stages. You avoid enemy attacks while also trying to eliminate them with your shuriken; defeat them all to move to the next stage. The controls are responsive but jumping can be awkward as you need to be moving in order to leap up to the next platform. You’ll also need to hold the button as just tapping it will result in a small jump that will not reach the above platform.
The length of time you are required to hold the button for a full jump feels unnaturally long, but the smaller jumps are not completely unnecessary inclusions. They can be used to hop over projectiles without moving into the path of some other danger on the level above. Of course, you then need to be alert for attacks at your current location and need to decide if to try an attack of your own, jump to the now safer higher platform or drop to the level below – achieved by pressing the jump button while stationary. To make things a little easier for yourself you can stun opponents by jumping on their head, preventing them from attacking you even if you can’t immediately take advantage. Likewise, they can do the same to you which can lead to tense moments when an enemy edges closer to your immobilised character.
There are a handful of different enemy types in the game and these have different attacks you need to be wary of. Some attacks can be intercepted with careful timing of your shuriken, but generally avoidance is the best method of survival. You begin against black-suited ninja (with shuriken of their own) and egg-shaped dolls that throw crescent blades (variable arcs catching you out if not fully alert), then as you progress further enemies are introduced. These include skeletons, serpents and ones that attack with bombs, electric attacks and flames (these hang around a while before dying down).
The first two stages are mountains, the third is a building and once these have been cleared you loop back to the first mountain and go again, tougher enemies increasing the challenge. The game keeps going until all your lives are gone and the different stage layouts combined with the variety of enemies makes for an enjoyable experience. It doesn’t feel completely natural with its controls, but it is manageable and once you get into a rhythm of hopping over attacks, leaping up to attack some enemy, then dropping down to bounce off the head of another Ninja-Kid can be a lot of fun.
The variety may work well, but as the difficulty increases and enemies turn up in bulk, you’ll find survival turns into the same tactic of jump up, shoot what you can, drop down again. As these groups tend to stick together, the game gets quite samey, at least until you can thin out the hordes and the dance of survival and elimination can become varied once again.
As well as earning points from eliminating your enemies, there are time bonuses and scrolls that can be collected to beef up your total. Glowing orbs also drop down the screen occasionally which can be grabbed for further points and once you’ve collected three of them you are taken to a bonus stage, 'because you have three strange balls'. The bonus stages lack enemies and see you collecting more orbs to increase your points tally.
Trying to improve on your score is something that can be done in the regular arcade mode as well as the five-minute Caravan and one-credit Hi score modes. With a score-reset upon continuing, the regular mode is quite similar to the Hi score one although you can make things easier by adding a couple of extra lives. You can also increase the challenge by giving yourself one less, increasing the score at which extra lives are rewarded or by simply selecting the harder difficulty setting. For a local challenge, alternating two-player (common to these games) is available in the arcade mode allowing you to see how your skills compare to a friend.
Though perfectly functional, the controls of Ninja-Kid do not always feel natural, sometimes requiring thought to perform the required actions. Get going, however, and the variety of enemies and different tactics employed to eliminate those enemies makes for some enjoyable gameplay .As the challenge increases, survival gets quite samey at the beginning of the stages, but Arcade Archives Kid-Ninja still provides a fun highscore-chasing challenge.