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Review: Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle +Hell Deluxe

Ja! Ja! Jajamaru!

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I’ve held water for Ninja Jajamaru-kun for some years now. I remember picking up its plum-hued cartridge and deciding it was worth the $5 just to see what was on it. My hunch was correct; it was indeed worth $5. While it’s a rather basic arcade-style title, it feels like the perfect encapsulation of the pre-Zelda Famicom market. It’s distinctly Japanese and already made to feel antiquated by Super Mario Bros., which was released a couple of months prior.

I often refer to the Ninja JaJaMaru series as “almost-classics.” They always seemed to be a few steps behind whatever was popular at the time. A follower, not a leader, and it’s hard to tell if the games were an earnest attempt at being anything more.

Japan has had a collection of Ninja JaJaMaru games since 2019, and I really didn’t believe there was any possibility of that making its way anywhere else. I’m happy to see that ININ Games and City Connection were willing to put in the effort to localize these niche games. I’m swollen with enthusiasm to talk about them again. However, I’m in an awkward position. As much as I want people to experience these games, they’re definitely not required reading to begin with, and the actual package is rather lacking.

Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle +Hell Deluxe Edition is a bundle of two apps. The first is a selection of five of the classic side-scrollers in Ninja JaJaMaru: Retro Collection. Next, there’s Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle +Hell which is a tribute game. I will probably circle back and review the two RPGs included in Ninja JaJaMaru: The Lost RPGs at a later date, but since there’s no way to buy it as part of one bundle, I’ve left it at the side for now.

Jajamaru Daibouken
Screenshot by Destructoid

Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle +Hell Deluxe (PS4, Switch [Reviewed])
Developer: City Connection
Publisher: ININ Games
Released: February 21st, 2023
MSRP: $29.99

Starting with the Ninja JaJaMaru: Retro Collection, you get a mixed bag. For clarity, these are the games included:

  • Ninja JaJaMaru-Kun
  • Ninja JaJaMaru’s Big Adventure (JaJaMaru no Daibouken)
  • The Great World Adventure (Oira JaJaMaru! Sekai Daibouken)
  • Operation Milky Way (Ninja JaJaMaru: Ginga Daisakusen)
  •  Super Ninja-kid (Super Ninja-Kun)

Even if The Lost RPGs had been included, it’s hardly a comprehensive selection of games. The Ninja JaJaMaru games technically started with Ninja-Kun: Majō no Bōken an arcade title by UPL and published by Taito. It was ported to Famicom by Tose and published by Jaleco in 1985. Jaleco then took that framework and spun it off into the JaJaMaru series, but the relationship is a little murky. UPL would go on to develop Ninja-Kun II, while Jaleco made more JaJaMaru games.

In any case, you can make the claim that these are two separate series, but if that’s the case, why is Super Ninja-Kun (localized here as Super Ninja Kid) here? If Super Ninja-Kun is here, why not the original Ninja-Kun?

This may be nit-picking, but the lack of certain games makes the collections feel less than definitive. A personal disappointment is the lack of the Wonderswan-exclusive Ganso JaJaMaru-kun. I also would have appreciated the Ninja JaJaMaru-Kun: Onigiri Ninpōchō titles. There was one on Saturn and another on PlayStation, and despite the word “gold” being the only difference in their title, they were completely different. Neither are in this collection, though, which is a drag.

Almost-classics

I’ve covered three of the titles in this collection in individual articles here on Destructoid: Ninja Jajamaru-Kun, Jajamaru no Daibouken (Ninja Jajamaru’s Big Adventure), and Ninja Jajamaru Ginga Daisakusen (Ninja JaJaMaru: Operation Milky Way). Those overviews still apply and go into greater depth than I could fit into this review.

To summarize, the former two games are charming titles that have a lot of clunk that go beyond what you’d normally expect from the time period they were developed in. Operation Milky Way, on the other hand, was a big overhaul to the series. In a lot of ways, it’s a better game; far less janky than you’d expect from playing the rest of the series. However, it also feels like a lot of the charm was stripped away.

Ninja Jajamaru: The Great World Adventure was localized in North America previously on Game Boy as Maru’s Mission, and it is very insubstantial. Not only is the design lackadaisical, but it’s also extremely short and easy. The developers have re-translated the original version to at least give it back its identity. They also included a DX version that colorizes the previously monochrome title. So, that’s certainly worth something.

Finally, Super Ninja-kid is fine. It’s a pretty flimsy game in its own right compared to other SNES games that came out at the time, but it’s not terrible.

Ninja Jajamaru-Kun Collection Gamapakkun
Screenshot by Destructoid

Rusty shuriken

What is terrible is that the emulation doesn’t seem great. You have the option to turn on a CRT filter, which is cool, but on the Switch version it absolutely tanks the framerate. These filters actually often do require quite a bit of computational power, but someone should have probably tested to make sure these were functional on the Switch version. I’m not sure if things are the same on the PlayStation.

You can just play with the CRT filter off, but I can’t explain what’s wrong with Ninja Jajamaru’s Big Adventure. The bosses don’t function properly. There’s something screwy with the hit detection and timing of them, like they’re not actually where the sprite appears. You can beat them by firing in their general vicinity, but then they just die. I did some testing with both the filter and the bosses to see if I could figure out what was causing them to misbehave, but then I realized I shouldn’t be doing ININ’s QA, and gave up.

This is awful. At the bare minimum, you should expect that the games in your game collection work properly, but that’s just not the case here. Since I’m a bit delayed on this review, I kept checking to see if a patch would be released, but as of writing, there has been none.

Ninja Jajamaru-Kun Collection +Hell
Screenshot by Destructoid

Bare minimum

Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle +Hell is a little more inoffensive. It sort of expands on the gameplay of Ninja Jajamaru-kun, and that’s as far as it goes. You platform around and defeat enemies. Then it makes a big deal of your success by showering you in coins and unlocking new characters.

It’s not terrible. I played it with my nephews recently, and they dug it. It’s just a bit understated. When bought in a package with the Retro Collection, it makes sense as a tribute to the other games. As a standalone product, I can’t really recommend it.

In fact, it’s somewhat difficult to recommend the bundle as a whole. I’m pretty mixed.

On one hand, I appreciate that ININ Games finally took these games out of their homeland. Like I said, I want more people to experience these games. The price they’re asking for the full bundle also isn’t that extravagant. However, I’m not here to review their business model.

The Ninja JaJaMaru: Retro Collection and Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle +Hell are both entirely ramshackle. While the latter is mostly inoffensive, the former is pretty disappointing. It’s nice to have these games translated and available again, but one of them doesn’t even function properly. The UI is terrible, the extras are barely worth it. It’s a patch or two away from the bare minimum, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that it should already meet that quality.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

3
Poor
Went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice it has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.
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Author
Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.