So before we begin, I want to talk about how I personall will be approaching the series now vs. how I was trying to change it when it was semi-regular. The series will still follow a mini-review format, but I figured it'd be more fun to put more personal story as to why I'm recommending it in the first place when I'm the one writing about it. Others may choose their own methods and that is perfectly fine too. Variety is always fun!
I also used to do this series by picking games that I figured would be slightly obscure but some people probably had played because they were still kind of big franchises. But I worked at a retro store for almost a year of my life, and I got to try some funny games that many regular gamers probably had never touched. And there are a lot of hidden gems that even, "TOP 50 HIDDEN GEMS ON _____," fail even to cover. Now then, onto the topic at hand!
On this entry, we're going to take a look at an NES game that became very near and dear to my heart. It's not often you even hear anything about co-op 8-bit games of the NES era, which is why today we'll be discussing:
LITTLE NINJA BROTHERSStorytime. It's a Wednesday in late May. The sun is beaming outside, the weather is beautiful, and I'm cooped up inside my workplace with my buddy without a single customer in sight. And when the customers are away, the employees would play as was always the case.
We'd just played at least 17 consecutive Melee matches and were getting worn down on bad mouthing each other, so I decided to walk about and straighten up some of the games in the case for a bit.
Usually whenever I straightened up the cases, I would also take the opportunity just to see if anything piqued my interest enough to want to pop it in and try it. I waltzed over to the NES case after alphabetizing PS1 for the millionth time and started straightening the cartridges up. All of the games that were in the case were either higher-dollar games, games that people had the potential to steal, or obscure and hard to find games. So after fixing up all the Mario's and Megaman games, I happened across the title pictured above: Little Ninja Brothers. The artwork looked kind of cool, and the game was apparently worth $45, so I had to know what the fuss was. (It has since shot up to $60, so the value is on par with your average game today.)
I threw it into our NES we had set up for testing carts on this old Magnavox CRT, did the classic cartridge wiggle just to get the game to read, and fired it on.
Now growing up, I had an NES at my grandparent's house, and I don't think I ever used the second controller port. I was almost convinced that port was just a backup in case you messed up your first port or something because I never even saw many two player NES games. When I grew older and started working at the shop, I figured 2-player games were mostly regulated to taking turns with the controller like in Super Mario or for some of the clunky racing games. So seeing this pop up in the game had me incredibly interested in how the hell this was going to work, so I popped in another controller and told my co-worker to sit down and play this game with me.
Yeah I was able to tell right off the bat that this game was going to be silly. The art style is already endearing and the writing is that perfect level of 90's cheesiness. The premise of the game follows these two young ninja brothers, Ryu and Jack, who have just completed their training under their master. Their land has just come under attack by an evil clan, and it is up to them to protect their homeland.
Neat setup, so I was curious to see what the actual game was. Keep in mind, I didn't have a boxart to look at as this was just a standalone NES cart with some front cover-art, as tends to be the case nowadays with retro games.
The first thing I was greeted with after the intro was this little overworld hub that was almost remenicent of the original Final Fantasy. Only I had control at first so I started wandering around and came upon the first village in the area. The map zoomed in and featured a smaller hub that showed some NPC's and other little buildings much like early Pokemon Games. I was able to waltz into stores and buy some interesting items and find out a little more about the story. The game was screaming RPG to me and I was already getting hooked.
I ventured into a tent and started talking to an NPC that was going to teach me something called the Dragon Kick. Sounded pretty cool to me, and I figured I'd just do some side-quest for him to learn it or have to purchase it from him. Instead, he prompts me with this training exercise where I have to pop 20 balloons on a track using the kick by pressing the b-button and a directional input to use the kick. Wondering how this would work in an RPG, the screen then faded out and I was presented with the games first, "Mini-game."
Well there was my buddy finally! And not only that, this certainly wasnt what I was expecting right out of the gate. The game has you phsyically controlling your character to run on this little track and put in the combo of the dragon kick to pop balloons. It was a really fun way of teaching you how to use the move and introducing you to how the game will teach you future moves as well. I would learn later that the game was heavily focused on mini-games to teach you all sorts of neat combos for the combat segments of the game.
And the splitscreen actually worked well for the game, which was also a shock. Both me and my buddy could simultaneously control our characters and the screens were there own seperate entities. He could lag behind me but not get eaten by the screen because he was on his own track, and we were able to sort of compete against each other for score.
We both managed to hit the 20 balloons, and we learned the Dragon Kick. Awesome. The NPC's in town had mentioned traveling North to find a special stone to continue the story so I left the little town and returned to the main overworld and started making my way north.
Again, not entirely sure what I was expecting, I began walking through a little forest area in the overworld when the screen flashed black again and I was greeted with this.
First random encounter of the game. I could finally see how this game really worked. It once again gave off this aura of RPG in the options of fighting or running, and we certainly weren't going to back down from a fight, so I hit start. The screen faded out and I was ready for another weird mini-game or just an RPG menu to pop up. Instead it faded into this:
This is where my love for the game began. It's a hybrid of an RPG and a side-scrolling beatemup. While my buddy is not pictured here, we were both able to freely roam the screen and use button combos to beat up the enemies. I could use my newly learned Dragon Kick to fly right into their faces with my foot and knock them out. I could punch them, and even pick up rocks and throw them at them. After we killed everything on screen, we were granted some EXP, and returned to the hubworld.
I kid you not that the next few hours were spent playing this game with mild frustration when a customer did come in and needed help. I'd played co-op beatemups before in arcades and I like my RPG's on my own. This was like the 1989 equivelant of Castle Crashers and it was incredibly endearing.
The story is genuinely fun, the new combos arent anything crazy but are still fun to obtain through mini-games and very satisfying to use in combat. And this was an NES game. This was the last place I expected to find this level of depth. It has all the rpg mainstays, from hotels to stay at to heal wounds overnight, side-quests and random activities, gear upgrades and new weapons and so much more. You can even get skateboards at one point in the game to make traveling a little quicker, and can be used in combat. If that doesn't scream 90's, I don't know what else possibly could.
Don't get me wrong, the game has its quirks in physics and execution from time to time. It can feel a little floaty at times, and like any NES game it gets brutally difficult as you reach the endgame.
That being said, if you asked me what my favorite retro games are, I always include this game in my list now. The co-op memories I have of the game only make it that much more endearing, as me and my co-worker probably spent two weeks playing the game off and on to completion with password saves.
Release Year: 1989/1990
Developer: Culture Brain
Published By: Culture Brain
Released For: NES, Wii U Virtual Console (PAL ONLY.)
If you enjoyed this week's edition of GBAtemp Recommends! Please leave a comment in the thread. This helps us monitor feedback and ensures we keep posting these articles in the future!
And if you'd like to see one of your favorite games get recommended, PM me your suggestions! I'd love to see what games you have in mind!
If you would like to see the original archive of our previous entries, you can look at our archived content here. The archive is slightly out of date at the moment and needs to be readjusted as the numbers got messed up at some point, but it will be fixed as soon as I have the time to.
And again, this probably won't return to being a weekly feature, but it will be more regularly updated hopefully! Thanks everyone!
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