film & game reviews, the retro way.
NES, Wii U
One of the NES games I hear the least about is Little Ninja Brothers, an action RPG developed by Nihon Game (aka Culture Brain), released in 1990 in North America.
The sequel to Kung Fu Heroes (known as Chinese Hero in the Arcade), took what made the original game so much fun and added RPG elements to it. While this kind of transition doesn't work for certain games, here it actually makes sense. You still jump around, punching and kicking your enemies in the same way except, this time, you find them in the wild and gain experience points as well as money when you defeat them. Those mini-fights become much more stressful when they pop up again before bosses.
After levelling up, picking up all sorts of weapons and talismans in the towns you visit along the way, you enter various castles where you have three big fights with some of the most annoying enemies in the game before facing off against the main enemy, usually a witch or a sorcerer.
You play as Jack and Ryu, two ninja brothers who leave their home to find Blu Boltar, the mysterious bad guy who has taken over Chinaland somehow and left the dodgy Yoma clan in charge. You can play solo but it's far easier and more fun with another player. Along the way, you encounter other towns, each of them with their own big problem you need to solve. You've got Deli-Chous, a town where a gluttonous wizard (see boss above) has taken all the food for himself, Cilly City where everyone is, well... silly thanks to a spell an evil queen has put on them, and others.
The goal is to go to each town, reach a higher level and take down the boss before collecting a bell as seven of them are needed to protect Chinaland from Blu Boltar.
There are opportunities to learn simple moves early on and practice during some mini-games where you try to burst a whole bunch of balloons before reaching the finish line. A lot of the enemies can be killed by just jumping on them but, as the game goes on, some require different techniques: you need a sword for the Hiryuu dragons, you need a Fire Punch for the Skull Archers etc.
Some special moves can be purchased from stores but not all of them are great so the best thing to do is to keep upgrading your arsenal. Flying kicks, for example, look impressive but can often land you in water, which really drains your life so be careful. You can also find certain items like throwing stars and health in rocks, barrels and stone walls: by all means punch them during the fights but don't get too distracted as the enemies won't wait for you and some even come out of the rocks.
RPG's of that type can get a little repetitive and this game certainly requires a lot of patience as many of the fights are basically the same. The only thing that changes is the cast of sprites who become tougher and more unpredictable as the game progresses. You are told the experience level of your enemies as soon as you encounter them and you're given the choice to fight them or run away. The latter option can come in handy when you're trying to conserve your health while on your way to a boss fight but after a couple of escapes, they'll catch up to you. One item you'll want to buy is the skateboard which gives you the possibility to skate your way out of a fight but this doesn't work during the fights preceding a boss so don't even try it.
The game has a slightly awkward save feature as you are constantly forced to write down the passwords the convenience store owners give you but the hotels are really useful as your health is replenished when you stay the night.
Graphics-wise, the game looks decent: it's colourful and the animation on the characters is cartoonish and fun. The music and sound effects are all very good and although you'll find the odd typo here and there, the writing works and is genuinely funny at times. One of the best parts in the entire game, for me anyway, is when you enter a palace to find three naked guys making cow and chicken noises.
Some of the enemies are also pretty goofy like bouncing, biting mouths, Cat Mages who turn you to stone, Walking Boxes and umbrellas with eyes, to name a few. Expect lots of weird characters, random missions and more fights than you can handle.
Kung Fu Heroes may not seem like the obvious choice to be turned into an RPG but, against all odds, it works. Little Ninja Brothers is a really enjoyable, underrated (if at times repetitive) game which blends action and adventure in a clever, entertaining way.
Definitely check it out, if you can.