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December 16 2018

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  Ninja Master's - ©SNK/ADK 1996 (Page 2)


As I mentioned at the start of this review, the game is surprisingly deep and although you should start to pick it up quite quickly (thanks in part to the very responsive controls), it will take some time before you start to master it.

One of the main complaints that I hear regarding this game is that the "dial a combo" system is annoying and that it can be abused by novice's that just button bash. To be honest though, I don't totally agree with this. I think that the combo system can be quite skilful when you get to grips with it and it is possible to pull of some really cool-looking moves when you know how. As one person that I know put it: you don't necessarily have to use the dial a combos anyway, you can just play the game like most other 2D fighters if you want and ignore them.

People are still going to use these combos against you of course, and that brings us on to the button mashers. In my opinion, as with many fighting games, skilful players don't allow themselves to be beaten by people who just hammer their buttons randomly. Granted, there are games where novices can win easily by doing this, but I don't agree with the notion that Ninja Masters is one of those games... I'm no expert, but when I played a bunch of my friends who were new to this game, I managed to win almost every fight against the ones that were just hammering their buttons any which way. The only time they posed any challenge to me is when they actually started to learn how to play the game properly.

One thing about many of the moves in this game is that you will need very quick fingers to pull them off. There are many moves (especially the super combos) where you will need a bit of practice to perform them as your timing needs to be very precise. Once you grow accustomed to the way they work though, you should find it very good fun to play the game. Some of the moves have a really nice feel to them; for some reason it's very satisfying to hit an opponent with a move like Sasuke's multiple hit dragon punch special, or to smack someone over the head with Unzen's giant hammer!

Something that you should bear in mind with Ninja Masters is that you will only see your characters ending if you play the game on difficulty level 4 or above, at least if you are playing the home cart anyway (or an MVS cart switched into home mode with a uni-bios or similar). If you are playing in arcade mode you see the ending no matter what difficulty level the machine is switched to. I remember when I first played the game a long time ago in home mode I was a bit annoyed when I finished the game that there was no ending - until I turned the difficulty up and completed it again.

It's too bad that most of the endings are quite sub-standard though... they are all done using the in game sprites and text, and aren't very interesting to say the least. This wouldn't normally bother me too much, but it is a crying shame as most of the characters in Ninja Masters are quite cool and seem to have good background stories, so it would have been nice to have their stories fleshed out a little bit more. On the plus side, at least they bothered to give the bosses their own ending, which many developers don't bother to do.


To be truthful, my first impression of the in game graphics was not too favourable. I think my main problem was that the character sprites are quite small; while some people may complain that the sprites in the KoF games are small, the ones in Ninja Masters are even tinier. Also, my initial reaction was that the backgrounds were also quite bland and flat looking. Although I thought the game looked ok, I wasn't particularly impressed.

However, after playing the game for a while, I started to change my mind and I began to appreciate some of the finer points of the graphics. First off, while the character sprites are a bit small, they are fairly well detailed and reasonably animated. While they are far from the most impressive we have seen on the Neo Geo (even for a 1996 game), they are definitely not the worst. The character design is also pretty damn nice, and many of the characters are extremely cool, with Kurasu being one of the main standouts. Some of the special effects are quite well done too; for instance, the fire effect when a character is hit with certain moves looks quite good - the character actually looks like they are covered in fire, rather than just flashing yellow/red/orange like they do in other games (see the screenshot below).

When you actually take a close look at the backgrounds, you also start to notice that some of them are very nicely done. While they aren't the most detailed ever and while some of them do look a little bit flat (perhaps partly due to a lack of parallax scrolling), they still manage to evoke a good atmosphere. Sasuke's stage has some great looking waterfalls, the tent in the background of Ranmaru's stage is well animated as it flaps in the wind, and many of the stages just look plain cool. There are a couple of slightly poorer ones unfortunately, like Kasumi's, but in general they are nice. Many people have said that everything seems "muted" or bland, but I think that this is actually the idea with this game... it isn't meant to be really colourful or over the top like some other fighters. While this style doesn't necessarily equate to the prettiest graphics on the Neo Geo, it does suit Ninja Masters very well, and after putting a LOT of hours into the game, I am quite happy with the way it looks.

If there is one graphical area that Ninja Masters excels in though, it has to be with the artwork and overall presentation. The intro screen, which starts off with a group of Ninja's surrounding Sasuke in the rain (before he slices them up) is one of the best the Neo Geo has ever seen, and all of the character select screen pictures (the ones that were on the first page of this review) look absolutely great, as well as the pictures that are shown on the post-fight screens. The character select screen itself with its flame effect at the bottom is well done too... so overall, even the fiercest Ninja Masters critic would have a hard time finding anything bad to say about this aspect of the game.

Sound Effects and Music

This area of the game is also more or less immaculate. Ninja Masters is a game where the music (it's mostly traditional Japanese style) DEFINITELY adds a lot to the atmosphere. If it wasn't for the brooding and understated background music, Ninja Masters would probably feel like a different game. In contrast to many other Neo Geo games out there, the music isn't over the top stuff that really grabs your attention, it just kind of blends into the background. Try playing this game with the sound turned off or while you listen to other music, and it just doesn't seem the same (well, to me at least). There are a couple of stages that have some slightly tedious music, but the majority of it is very good indeed; check out Sasuke, Goemon and Tenho's stages for some particularly good examples. Here's a few recordings of the music for you to listen to (right click to save):

Goemon's stage music - 1 minute 3 seconds, MP3 Format, 621k
Sasuke's stage music - 51 seconds, MP3 Format, 506k
Tenho's stage music - 1 minute 17 seconds, MP3 Format 756k

The sound effects and speech are similarly well-done. The voice acting for all the characters is good, and the soft-voiced female announcer also suits the game well. The sound effects for normal punches and kicks have a nice "70's martial arts movie" feel to them, while slashing someone with your blade produces the satisfying sound of blood gushing out. Not all the combatants use blades though - Goemon's gun and Unzens hammer both make some very painful sounding noises when they hit someone. As I said above, many of the moves feel really satisfying when you hit someone with them, and I think the well-done sound effects play a part in this. Overall, while I know many people would not agree with me, I think NM has one of the most well produced and well-suited soundtracks in any Neo Geo game.


At the time of release, many people ignored Ninja Masters, and even to this day it is often overlooked. When I originally played the game I thought that it was quite decent although I wasn't exactly blown away. However, over a period of time I really started to see how much fun the game could be, and how much depth there really was. I've been playing it for some time now (and I also finally own the MVS cart), but even now I don't really know all the combos, and I sometimes find new ones that I haven't seen before.

The game is credited as being made by SNK/ADK, and I've always wondered exactly who did most of the work on the game. I have heard people say that some of the team that worked on Ninja Masters went on to work on the Last Blade series, which I can believe. In fact, that puts a scary thought into my head; if this game had been more successful, does that mean that we would have seen a second Ninja Masters game instead of a Last Blade game? As much as I love Ninja Masters, I can't really imagine owning a Neo Geo without at least one of the Last Blade games, so in a way perhaps it is a good thing that this game was never really a big hit in the arcades...?

If you haven't yet played Ninja Masters, or if you are looking for an alternative to Samurai Shodown and The Last Blade, I highly recommend giving Ninja Masters a try. If you have already played it and didn't enjoy it much, I'd still recommend playing it again, as you might be surprised at how much fun the game can be once you get the hang of it. The only problem with owning this game really is that the home cart can be very expensive. For most of us, the only way to play it is to buy the MVS cart, although the price for even that has risen slightly in recent times.

Overall, this is a game that everyone should try at least once, although the slightly simple graphics and dial a combo fighting system might put some people off. While it is not a classic in the same sense as Samurai Shodown, and while it doesn't reach the same majesty as the Last Blade series, in my opinion it is still one of the best fighting games on the system. The fact that it is also a Neo Geo only title (you won't find this game on any other system) also makes it that bit more special. Play it now... I command you ;)

Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 9/10
Game play: 8/10
Replay Value: 8/10

Overall Rating: 8/10

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Review by Bobak!

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Last Blade series
Another VERY fine weapon based fighter.

Samurai Shodown series
The popular Shodown/Spirits series; one of the finest fighting games in the Neo Geo's history!

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