Virtual Console Gems: Ninja Commando

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Arcade games provide for a very special kind of nostalgia. Since they are normally tied to an experience in an actual arcade, where a machine is sitting and trying to attract you with a demo reel, they are somewhat different from your home console games. And yet, it seems very strange to discover such a game for the first time outside of it’s natural habitat. Ninja Commando was one of the first Neo-Geo titles to hit the virtual console and it was also the first time I got a chance to play this crazy game.

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I love weird games, which is probably why I enjoy Ninja Commando way more than it actually deserves. It’s a run and gun game, in the vain of Ikari Warriors, in which you travel through time in order to stop some dude from manipulating history. The story is paper thin, but cheesy enough to be enjoyable and between the levels you have charming little cut-scenes that drive the plot forward.

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You can choose between three different playable characters that throw various projectile weapons, can evade enemy attacks and have a special ninpo attack, that clears the screen for you. While that may not seem all that special, the gameplay is fast-paced enough to make you look past the lack of depth. The evading takes some getting used to, but with some practice, it not only becomes a great tool to get out of the line of fire, but also fire back some stronger projectiles. Of course, the normal stages aren’t all that taxing, it’s sthe boss battles where you’ll loose most of your lives. They can be hard to figure out and it takes a lot of tries and practice in order to beat them. Their designs always fit the theme of the stage, which makes them somewhat memorable. In Egypt for example you get attacked by three mummies, which isn’t the most original thing, but it fits the theme. The game tries to incorporate so many clichés that it adds to the overall cheesiness.

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One of the things critics back in the day loved about the game were the graphics. And sure enough, they still looks really good today: Sprites are big, the environments colourful and detailed and the explosions are plentiful. But compared to games like Metal Slug, it’s not all that impressive anymore.

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The one thing that I feel hasn’t aged all that well are the controls: Constantly hitting the fire button gets really, really tiresome after some time. Sure, I have an arcade stick where I can turn on turbo mode, but that feels a lot like cheating. It’s the one negative thing in this game that, overall, still manages to impress and to be a lot of fun. Especially with a co-op partner, you can still have a blast with Ninja Commando.

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