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Mystical Ninja Review

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06/06/04
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"You can't steal my heart just using a flying peach!"

Well, it's true. You can't. What this actually has to do with my life is unclear. More importantly, what it has to do with the new game Mystical Ninja is equally unclear. However, it is only one of the many bizarre pieces of dialogue in this confusing, obtuse, ridiculous and very, very mediocre game.

Like it or not, Japanese animation, or anime, has been invading our video games for years. In fact, the role-playing games (RPG's) that have come out for video game consoles have been almost exclusively Japanese in origin and inspired by their style of animation. We have many Japanese game designers to thank for games from Legend of Zelda to Lunar to Final Fantasy VII. But while certain aspects of gaming - graphics, CPU power, and memory size - have improved over the years, other areas have become extremely irritating. Specifically, the plot.

The technology is now at a point where you can incorporate a full blown story into a game. Witness the epic scope of Final Fantasy VII. Unfortunately, this in no guarantee that the story will be any good. Witness the mockery of a plot in Final Fantasy VII.

However, Mystical Ninja is where I draw the line. Combine equal parts Super Mario 64, Japanese soap opera, Telly Tubbies, and LSD freakout. Shake (don't stir). And pour into your Nintendo. This will approximate the effect of Mystical Ninja, the most incomprehensible of incomprehensible anime games I have ever seen.

The protagonist is Goemon, a bizarre looking boy with a blue pineapple on his head. Life is happy in his medieval Japanese village until a spaceship files overhead and fires a ray that turns Oedo castle into 'European Castle'. Obviously some sort of nefarious plan... and a call to arms for Goemon and his friends!. Goemon's weapon of choice is, for unknown reasons, a pipe (the kind for smoking, not for plumbing). So first you must climb mount Fuji to get a new pipe. Along the way, you will fight little girls in pink dresses as well as little floating Chinese dragon heads. You should also collect silver fortune dolls. Later in the game, with no explanation or introduction, you blow on the Triton Conch Shell to summon the giant robot 'Impact' who looks like the Dutch boy from gallon paint cans and wears roller skates. Don't make me go on.

Leaving all that aside for the moment, the game itself is solid, but uninspired. It plays just like Super Mario 64: You run around in a 3D world jumping and hitting things. The 'follow-cam' is surprisingly slow and stupid.

Occasionally, you get to jump into your giant robot friend (Impact, remember?) and fight other giant robot meanies. This is done via a first person interface. While an interesting idea, it's not done well and acts more as a diversion than anything else.

The graphics are a bit disappointing. The characters are all freakish looking, especially Gaemon. While everything moves smoothly, it shows no improvement over Mario, which came out over a year ago. I would not be surprised if it used the exact same engine.

The sound effects are actually better than the cartridge-hindered Nintendo norm. There are actually a few fully digitized songs and the main characters have a number of little Japanese tidbits to say. The music, on the other hand, is pretty bad midi stuff, and (this is one of my chief complaints) there is no way to turn it off.

The game calls itself an 'Action-RPG', but has very few role-playing elements. Unlike King's Field or Castlevania, which truly mix the genres, Mystical Ninja allows only a couple of weapon upgrades and damage modifiers. The biggest RPG-like part of the game is having to 'talk' to everyone in town in order to advance the 'plot' or find out what to do next. Mystical Ninja is really just a 3D platform game with a baaaad plot.

Well, that's about it for Mystical Ninja. I can't really recommend it, although it will probably appeal more to young children than anyone else. I'd like to leave you with one last bit of wisdom, quoted directly from the game:

"Train yourself well until the girls cheer for you saying, 'Oh my, that pipe you have is so fashionable!' "

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