Dev: Hudson | Publisher: Konami | System: GBA | Date: 2003
I remember browsing through a GBA ROM release list back in the summer of 2003, curious to see if there were any ridiculous Japan-only releases I had somehow missed. I figured there had to be something on par with the goofiness of Urban Yeti — and sure enough, there it was: Ninja Cop. Surely the most laughable game ever, right? The name alone spoke of every lousy early-90s video game cliché imaginable, lumped into a single bundle of stupidity.
Or so I thought! But then I checked out the U.S. release, localized under the even more ridiculous title of Ninja Five-O and — shock! Awe! (A very relevant and timely expression in the heady they will greet us as liberators days of 2003.) Rather than bundling together the most hackneyed tropes of the ’80s and ’90s (or at least, in addition to them), it actually collected the best game mechanics of the 8- and 16-bit eras into a glorious, unified whole.
Ninja platforming with an emphasis on rescuing hostages, straight out of Shinobi? Awesome. Level designs straight out of Elevator Action 2? Genius. A simple level-up system and gameplay built around something so archaic as scores? Fantastic. Oh, and the best integration of a Bionic Commando-style action game grappling mechanic seen since, uh… well, since Bionic Commando? Well, kids, that seals the deal, even if grappling wasn’t a consistently-used core element.
Ninja Five-O really did capture a long-vanished feel — its music, its gameplay, its color palette, the very nonsensical bosses. The whole banana, really. If it had been released in, say, 1993 on Genesis, it would be fondly remembered as the best Shinobi rip-off ever created. Having arrived ten years later, it was largely overlooked. Not helping one bit was Konami’s utter lack of confidence in the game, which led to them not advertising the game worth a crap and producing maybe about three dozen copies. The stupid name and awful box art (which looked like it had been drawn in someone’s notebook during study hall) certainly didn’t win any hearts and minds. (As they said back in ’03.) As a result, it tends to command a fairly steep price on eBay as people become aware of its quality. This little write-up probably won’t help! But once you’re done with Rearmed, give Ninja Five-O a look. It has a dumb title, but its action is supoib.
Weirdly enough, there was a Famicom game called Ninja Cop Saizo back in the day, which came over here as Wrath of the Black Manta. Apparently they’re not technically related (one having come from Taito and the other from Hudson), even though they share quite a few mechanics in common — ninja magic, rescuing dudes, policemen on the shinobi beat.