Review: Ninku (Retro)

Reviewed by Lavar Pittman, posted Feb 10, 2018, last updated Mar 3, 2018
Ninku is a Japanese Sega Game Gear fighting game developed and published by Sega in 1995. It is the second game in the series to be released with the first being developed by Tomy and released a year earlier on the Gameboy. The game follows the story from the manga/anime of the same name. Players control Fuusuke as he journeys across the land with his companions as he fights various people and solve various problems using his martial arts skills.
Feb 10, 2018
  • Release Date (JP): July 21, 1995
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega
  • Genres: Fighting
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone
  • PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
Do you like Ninjas? Well, maybe you'll like Ninku, or maybe not.
Lavar Pittman
Today I'm going to do something different. I'm reviewing a Japanese exclusive game, and before you ask, no I don't know how to read that stuff, but it's good news for you cause that just means there less to talk about and could mean a shorter review. How should I say "Good news everyone!" Before I begin, can we just think about the title for a moment... Ninku! At first I thought it had something to do with ninjas or least maybe a joke of some kind but no, is not, this is the title and I don't know what to tell you, no idea what it means. Well guess it is a good thing we have the internet for that stuff. Just let me take a look and see what some sources say, unless you don't care than skip the introductions. For the sake of this system using such a small screen, I enlarged the screenshots for this review.


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It is explained that before the present time in the story that those who could use Ninku were targeted by an evil empire and the Ninku corps were formed to combat the menace. The names of the corps were taken from the twelve Chinese zodiac animals and each captain of the corps was called the zodiac animal Ninku master. Their powers are derived from nature and a specific dragon to their own element, with the Tenkudragon being the almighty master of all the elements. The Ninku were disbanded by their master before the end of the war and as such, the Empire was victorious. After which the Ninku became vilified by the Empire as the perpetrators of the war and made attempts to eliminate any surviving members. - Wikipedia

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Wow, interesting. Guess this is a good time to point out that the same studio and people responsible for the anime also did the Shounen Jump's Bleach anime series too. Other than that, guess all there is to know about this from what I can tell you is that you play as a 12 year old boy named Fuusuke of the wind who always seem to have his tongue sticking out of his mouth, and he has a buddy penguin Hiroyuki with a huge flatulence problem. He meets up with some friends of his, Achio of the sky and Toji of the ground... and Toji's sister Rihoko. Basically the idea is the five of you only which three are Ninku; have Ninja like super powers and Kung-Fu, try to save the world from the other bad members of the Ninku, sound simple right?


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Let me be blunt. This game has the most basic presentation, very curious considering this game is a whole decade after a game like 1985's Super Mario Bros, no I don't think system limitations is a excuse. The game starts with two characters staring at each other before jumping and landing a attack at the same time, the screen flashes white and the title screen appears. The game has a intro that tells the story with a image of the Ninku clan of the past and then the main character walking across the screen. Besides that, all in game cutscenes are done with context, obviously how most games work, the characters that are in your party that are speaking is just a boxed portrait on the left side of the screen and the people engaged with the party is in the center screen... most of the time. Again, basic as it comes.

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I'm shocked this isn't more exciting, even if I can't read the text, I have seen better... Aladdin also on Game gear has in game cutscenes that have animated sprites at least, acting out scenes from the movie, sure is just sprites from the game but is something, far better than this. The only time you get to see something close to what aladdin did is the ending, guess that where it counts the most.


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Now the graphics is another thing. Is nice and colorful to see, the character sprites are small due to the small size of the Game Gear screen, still nice details in the environments, the cool thing about this is the day-night transition. During the game the places you visit can be morning, evening or night, makes for some nice details. Characters and backgrounds have some limited animation but is fluid for a game not running 60FPS, the special attack animations are great and appealing. As I said already about the cutscenes, they have portraits with text but when you talk to people, you see the area you are in when chatting with them. The game also has a world map which is all a single screen size, and on it your character avatar is just silly looking. The world map isn't like most rpg games where is huge, is just a single size screen to keep things simple. The is a lot of battle environments and are very colorful as well. Not like exciting but is nice to see, lot better than the presentation that is for sure.


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The music in the game isn't bad, some of the music is catchy sometimes despite being very short 30 second loops. The cool thing about the music is depending on the time of day during the battle scenes, the music changes, that alone makes the seemingly simple soundtrack have more variety. Most people would prefer new music, but I like variations of the same composition, I find it charming allowing the song to give different expressions. The sound effects aren't too bad either, the special attacks are very satisfying to do cause when it hit someone it makes explosions and make it seem like it really hurts which if you seen some of the attacks you would think so too. The game's audio department is pretty worked out well to me.


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This game is pretty basic too. Already that doesn't sound good but they did change up some things though. For one thing, this isn't just a boring fighting game, it plays out like a RPG. You have a world map where you travel across the land and randomly encounter various situations such as people, thugs, the villains' henchmen, or just random good luck or bad luck events. When you encounter some of the enemies, you get to fight them, sometimes you given the option to run away or fight by picking your desired character or even all three in arranged team, that when the game changes to what I call the street fighter mode.In the battle mode or "Street Fighter" mode, the game play... very familiar to street fighter. This is what I mean by basic. You input commands like (Quarter circle forward Punch) and do special attacks. But wait what is that meter at the top of the screen, beneath your life bar, that is your energy gauge! If it is too low, you can't do any special attacks, you have to charge it Dragonball style by holding punch and kick at the same time.

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Once high enough you can perform up to 4 special moves. The gauge has four colors and each one filled unlocks the next special attack. Everyone has four special attacks, except for the thugs and the mercenaries, the Ninku have a special one that is only done when the fourth one is full and does most damage. Besides that little thing, it plays like street fighter, punch, kick, throw until your enemy loss all life and you win, there is no time limit. Sometimes you fight large groups with like 5 of them with one character having low health or 3 vs 3 with full health and also the story battles.You also have money in the game. What is it used for? Well you can use it to buy meat. Guess I'll tell you what that is for, when you end battles, your health can recover if you have meat by simply walking around the world map. Of course you sometimes lose meat and coins for various reasons, part of the bad luck encounters.

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There also is a level up system, the letter next to your character's portrait is their level or grade. If you use the character enough during a fight and win, the number beneath increases, get it to ten and the grade increases, making them stronger. The special gauge at the start of fights increase so you can use special attacks sooner, and your attacks against low grade enemies are harder and attacks against you are softer. Sometimes you may encounter a guy who can instantly increase your level if you lucky or decrease it if unlucky, or you can fight your own teammates in a practice match to boost it, all of it which is luck based encounters. With all the luck stuff the game is simple to play. Go to the red dot on the screen and that how you advance the story, just do that and win all the battles, you should be finished in a few hours, but there is a password save to continue if you need to. Beat the game and you can get a password that unlocks a free to play versus mode against the cpu. (Nope this game isn't two players even knowing the link cable existed before this game) There you can choose any one, even the enemies, choose a enemy and the power level and stage and fight best of 3 rounds.


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Well, because the type of game it is, pretty hard to define it as difficult. At the core is a fighting game, it has varying difficulty due to the grade strength system, if you find some fights troublesome even though the CPU is just a dummy who blocks everything, increase the grade and then you can win, with some fights being 3v1 in your favor, is hard to lose unless your grade is just too low and you got hit three times. The only problem with the grade system is that is doesn't really make the game skill based. The grade goes from A to Z being 25 level ups, and the further the gap between the two the advantage you have. Player Z can take way too long to defeat on Grade A, while Grade A can be defeated in one hit on Grade Z, it works for a RPG game but not a fighting game.


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In conclusion, the game isn't bad, but is a pretty basic game with some variety thrown in to make it interesting enough to try. When I saw the name, I thought it was about ninjas (Kinda is though) but didn't know it be a street fighter game inside. That isn't bad if you like fighting games but it doesn't give much of a difference between the games that existed at the time unless you wanted to say that in 1995 people who had this at the time had the most playable, responsive, bright and colorful good looking fighting game for a hand held system, in my opinion, better than the first fighting game Tomy made for Gameboy based on this series, and even street fighter 2 on Gameboy, even Mortal Kombat on gameboy. Today is a dated game, but I still visit sometimes just for the sake of playing a fighting game even though is not super special. Two things I was shocked is that Sega made a fighting game on Game Gear and that they don't try fighting games often. They had games like Eternal Champions, and Golden Axe the Duel, not counting the ones by the Sega AM2 arcade team, don't see why they can't try now, make a streets of rage fighting game even if you have to ask for help.
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+ Nice fighting game for portable
+ Bright colors and catchy tunes
- Dreadful presentation
- Questionable ideas for adding variety
4 Presentation
The presentation probably isn't what sells someone on trying this game, is very basic and doesn't come close to what could be called improving with age. The nice and colorful detailed graphics are vibrant and catchy tunes with varying music compositions add nice touches to the game. There were games with better storytelling that made this just a disappointment.
6 Gameplay
The game plays like a fighting game, even without 60FPS the controls was responsive and didn't pose too much problem. But how basic the game was compared to other games at the time didn't make it stand out too much. Adding some JRPG elements to the story mode was a noble effort, but should have focused more on making the battle scenes where most of the game time is spent.
5 Lasting Appeal
The appeal of this game would have been fighting game fans, but playing the game didn't age well. There isn't much to be impressed about here besides the story mode and how that works, but even after trying it doesn't make it above average. Would have been nice to have a two player mode or more content. This may appeal to someone who never tried it before but for so long, the novelty would wear off.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
It is an average game, there I said it. Doesn't mean is bad, I still like it and opened up interest to explore the rest of the game series. Is something to remember for an odd chord that it strikes me with when I tried it out of being fascinated and intrigued at the same time. Still is a basic game and Sega could have done better with all the other games out at the time or maybe Game Gear just wasn't able to handle it?