Total time played: 8 Hours
Short review: An infuriating action platformer with randomly generated levels. It’s fast paced and fairly enjoyable as a “pick up and play” title, but, trying to actually complete the game is really tough.
Interesting links related to Ninja Kid
In the past decade, a community of gamers has been growing in popularity. They are called “Speed Runners” and their sole existence revolves around beating video games faster and faster. It will sound like a ridiculous comparison, but the elite speed runners train just as hard as Olympic athletes, and much like Olympic athletes, if they can shave a 1/10th of a second off of the time it takes to beat a game it is time for a huge celebration.
Some of these speed runners will play through a game for 10+ hours per day looking for any exploits to shave a few seconds off of their completion time. Most of the games famous for speed running have one thing in common, they are the same experience every time you play them. If you watch a speed run video on YouTube you may hear “this next part has some RNG, and only 20% of the time do we get the best scenario.”
What this means is that the game code has a “random number generator” aka RNG where a certain screen in the game or enemy movement is generated based based on a digital role of the dice. The general player of the game will never notice this but the speed runners have combed through every line of code to know which enemies act the same with every encounter and which act differently depending on the RNG of that specific play through. Some games, like Zelda have RNG that can be manipulated to make enemies drop certain items.
Basically, the less RNG in a game the more likely it is that there is a speedrunning community around that game because you can train for specific scenarios and not have to deal with RNG that may kill your chance of beating the game in a timely fashion.
What Does This Have to do With Ninja Kid?
Ninja Kid is 100% RNG. It is almost as if the game developers had just learned how to randomly generate items, enemies, and levels and decided to make a game showcasing this ability.
The game features 8 worlds, each with several levels. Each of the levels within those worlds are randomly generated. This means that on that world map the placement of the levels is different every time. It also means that when you enter one of those levels you never know what the level will be.
The NES is limited in how much information can fit on the cartridge, and a game that came out in 1986, less than a year after the NES, isn’t optimized to efficiently use what slim resources the NES actually has. What this means is that even though each level is randomly generated there are only a few possibilities for levels.
Walk to a level on the world map to enter the stage. Once inside A jumps, B attacks and that’s about it. The goal of each stage is to either defeat a specific number of enemies to open two doors that exit the stage. One door takes you back to the world map, the other takes you to a boss fight. The goal is to fight as few bosses as possible in order to preserve as many lives as you can because extra ones aren’t easy to come by.
One stage on each world map requires you to collect a scroll, which looks kind of like an upside down poop emoji. This item randomly appears in one of the stages by falling from the top of the screen. If you collect this item you can go straight to the main boss on the world map which is denoted as a different colored level (gold hut by the water in the photo below).
Sometimes the scroll appears in the first level you enter on a map, sometimes it is the 4th. If you are lucky enough that the scroll appears in the first level you enter you don’t have to play the other levels at all…unless one is blocking your path to the final level (ex. top left level in the image below)
Once you find the poop scroll you can enter the boss level.
Slow and Steady
The game is kind of fun but, because the game is so random it was hard for me to hone my skills. Some levels seemed to appear more often than others and I always seemed to pick the door to the boss instead of the door back to the world map.
As you run around each stage collecting items for points and power-ups your ninja slides almost like he is on ice. More times than not I found myself unable to avoid an enemy who was appearing at the edge of the screen as I ran across. I decided I should just move slowly through each stage to avoid this scenario.
Unfortunately, the game designers read my mind. If you don’t finish specific stages fast enough it begins to rain projectiles from the top of the screen and a flying enemy appears on screen. Once the enemy is killed the projectiles stop. These projectiles are small and many times blend in with the background. While it is possible to avoid the projectiles I found that I died almost as often running haphazardly through the stage as I did going slow and getting hit with near invisible projectiles.
There are two types of bosses in the game, the level end mini-bosses that can be avoided completely if you are lucky enough to pick the right door to exit each stage or if you are lucky enough to pick up the hidden item that may appear in each level which tells you the correct door to avoid the boss battle. But, because of my luck I fought more bosses than I would have liked.
The bosses are all pretty similar. You start at the bottom of the screen and must jump up through a fairly simple platforming stage while avoiding a single enemy (two enemies in later worlds). When you reach the top of the platforming section there is a boss that requires just a few hits to dispatch. Most of the time the bosses are really simple, the thing that killed me the most was the single enemy dropping down directly on me, impossible to avoid.
Climb the tower, shoot the cyclops in the eye = mini-boss will die
The main bosses are fought after collecting the scroll hidden in one of the levels and giving the scroll to the old man in the hut and entering the boss level. These bosses look pretty cool but all die really quickly with just a few shots from your projectile.
World 1 boss. Avoid his guitar notes and shoot him a few times to take him out.
There are a few different levels you will encounter multiple times throughout the game. The most common requires you to defeat 10 enemies. If you die you start the stage over but the number of enemies you killed previously remains. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I killed the 10 enemies and died before getting to one of the two exit doors.
There are also shooter stages where you appear to be on a flying carpet. This is the same as the other “kill 10 enemies” stages. I did find this Dog Fight stages a bit harder than the stages where my feet were firmly planted on the ground.
A very simple side scrolling shooter stage. Kill 10 enemies to beat the level.
There are a couple of stages that require you to light 10 candles. A small floating flame follows you around the stage that you must direct on top of the candles to light them. These stages aren’t too bad but they are the only stages that feature holes that you can fall into.
A small flame follows you around, stand in front of the candles to light them. Once all candles are lit the stage ends.
A couple of the stages require you to collect 10 flying
sperm ghosts. These stages I have a love/hate relationship with. If the ghosts appear quickly these stages are quick and easy. If the ghosts appear slowly these can be some of the hardest stages in the game.
Collect 10 ghosts to beat this stage.
Throughout the stages you will collect a few different weapons including ninja stars, boomerangs, fire and feathers. These weapons didn’t really do much to make the stages any easier because every enemy dies form a single hit from any of the weapons. The one benefit is that a few of the weapons you collect give you 20 seconds of invincibility. If I picked up one of these weapons I would run through as quickly as possible trying to kill the 10 enemies before the invincibility wore off.
The weapons do help against the bosses. For most of the bosses I found the fire weapon to be the most effective. But, honestly, even with the regular weapon none of the bosses are super difficult.
Sometimes in a level when you have killed 9 of the 10 enemies or collected 9 of the 10 ghosts or lit 9 of the 10 candles an item would drop down from the top of the screen that looks like some kind of flute. You can collect up to 3 of these items in each world and they come in handy against the final boss of each world.
To use these secret helpers you must move to the far left of the screen and press down (how intuitive is that??). First, a unicorn appears which will absorb and projectiles and acts a shield. After the unicorn dies a chicken appears that freezes the enemy in place. And, the third helper I never saw because either me or the boss died before I ever got a chance to see it.
Every 60,000 points you earn an extra life, but sometimes that didn’t seem to be the case. This is easier said than done. I would say 80% of the time I got game over before receiving a single extra life.
- Birdhouse: 500 points.
- Black Bird: Worth 1000 points and shows which exit avoids the boss.
- Symbol Box: 500 to 3000 points.
- Pumpkin Head: 5000 points.
- Red Panda: Worth 5000 points and shows which exit door avoids the boss.
- White Haired Doll: Run fast for a short time.
- White Bear: 1000 points.
- Sunglasses: Allow you to see a hidden ghost worth 5000 points.
- Brown Scroll: Collect this to challenge the boss of the world.
- Flute: Each of the 3 identical flutes allow you to call a helper during the boss battle
- Floating blobs: Every once in a while two white blobs appear. One is smooth, the other rough. If you collect the smooth one you get an extra life, if you collect the rough one you lose a life.
For 1986 this game isn’t too bad. I appreciate how the game is random which gives it a bit of replay value. But, I also hate that the game is random because it is a lot harder to anticipate which levels you will have to fight or how many mini-bosses you will encounter. Ninja Kid is fairly well polished for an early NES game but there are still way better ways to spend your time.
The game has no true “end”. After 8 stages the boss battles start over and the game loops. In the top left of the photo below the “M 9” denotes this is the 9th world or 9th game map. The bottom photo shows my score when I got game over which happened in the first level of the 9th map.