Every Wednesday, we highlight rarely-remembered but interesting games for our "Games Time Forgot" series.
Super Ninja Boy was part of a series known as Super Chinese in Japan. Culture Brain released many entries of this series overseas, but only four of them made it to American shores. This one was the only one for the SNES, and while it is arguably one of the more well known Culture Brain games, it is still a wildly obscure one.
When people discuss RPGs that are outside of the norm, Earthbound is usually the title to come up first. But Super Ninja Boy ought to be one that comes up too. It's not set in modern times like Earthbound is, but it has something else that makes it a completely different beast than its other RPG bretheren. But it is still very likely that you don't know of it, or have forgotten it exists. Why is this?
Story: It begins when a very strange looking gentleman named Rub-A-Doc appeared in Chinaland with an army of flying saucers. He claimed to be an ambassador of peace, and signed a peace treaty with the leader of Chinaland, Emperor Chin of Yokan. This caused Rub-A-Doc to become quite popular among the people of the country. He stuck around a little while to please them, but then made a sudden disappearance. Right after this happened, all of Yokan's workers were kidnapped.
Once you run into an enemy, it becomes obvious that the game's battles are its' biggest deviation from the RPG norm, making Super Ninja Boy a neat mixture of RPG and sidescrolling beat-em-up. Before you go into battle, a screen will pop up showing you the enemy type you will be fighting, and you are given the option to fight or flee. If you decide to flee, there is a chance that you will fail and be forced to fight.
Why you're probably not playing it: Super Ninja Boy wasn't Culture Brain's first attempt at making a game of the role playing persuasion (they are responsible for the oft-forgotten but loved NES game The Magic of Scheherazade and at least one Super Ninja Boy predecessor). But it didn't keep them and their product from being left in the dust of the other RPGs of the era. No one could have taken the attention of gamers away from what Square was making at the time, especially not the offering of a company so obscure as Culture Brain is.
Think about all the games from this era now considered to be classics. Final Fantasy IV and VI, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Secret of Mana, and Super Mario RPG. Despite its experimentation with the normal RPG formula, something that Earthbound is specifically loved for, it feels like Super Ninja Boy wouldn't quite fit in on the list.
Another factor may be the game's astronomically high encounter rate. Seriously, you can't go more than five steps at a time without running into an enemy. This makes it a real pain to play the game for very long, much less see it to completion. As unique as the game's battle system is, it is very likely that you will grow very tired of it after being forced to battle so much. There is always the choice to flee, but again, it doesn't always work.
Lastly, it suffered from a horrible translation job. It is so bad that entire chunks of sentences are missing in places. This makes an already weak story weaker (the identity of the bad guy is a complete no-brainer from the start), which may put off RPG fans.
Super Ninja Boy houses a pretty cool idea that was executed fairly well -- it was just the encounter rate that killed it for most people, including myself. But after being reminded of the game (previously, I only had a memory of how weird I thought it was, with no title to attached to it), I had to wonder why it wasn't more memorable. It's not a bad game by an stretch of the imagination.
It may not have the most interesting story ever or even interesting characters, but its fusion of two vastly different genres is definitely something to remember it by. The idea of a two player RPG was also a very neat one, so it's kind of sad that the idea never really caught on outside of the following two Super Chinese games in Japan.
Here's to you, Super Ninja Boy -- one of the only RPGs that two people could actually enjoy together!