3 Ninjas Kick Back
Malibu Interactive/Sony Imagesoft
Genre: Action Platformer
Movies aimed at kids can do a multitude of things. When you’re young, they can inspire you to try out new hobbies or interests you might not have before. I can still remember when Rookie of the Year came out and I immediately wanted to join a T-ball league. That’s a positive, right?
When you’re older, you tend to look back on them with fondness- even if it’s a cringe-inducing fondness that makes you realize that maybe you shouldn’t have quoted everything those kids said at recess, and now you understand why you were kept inside that one time you quoted Mouth from The Goonies.
They can also spawn a wide range of merchandise, the most important of which in the 1990s was the video game. Films have been the basis for video games for as long as most can remember. If there’s an opportunity to turn a few extra bucks by using interactive electronic media- well, why not? I still vividly remember the feeling that the 3 Ninjas movies left me with. I wanted to get out there and try karate. I wanted to fight off thugs and save the day with some friends; I’m an only child so I didn’t have two brothers to team up with. Honestly, though, I can’t say I remember too much about the actual movies.
While I never played 3 Ninjas Kick Back growing up, I figured I could give it a swing now. Of course with it being a licensed game, my reservations were high. In the back of my mind, I just kept thinking that there had to be some design ideas in there that could be interesting. At no point did I try to convince myself that it would be a good game, though.
Allow me to share my experience with you, o fellow game fan.
The game roughly follows the same plot as the actual movie of 3 Ninjas Kick Back. In the film, the three brothers, ninja apprentices nicknamed Colt, Rocky, and Tum-Tum, travel to Japan for a tournament at the request of their grandfather. He does this in hopes of having them attend a tournament during which he can return a special dagger he won fifty years prior that is to be passed to the winner of the tournament. Of course, grandpa’s sore loser opponent, Koga, wants the dagger and makes every attempt to retrieve it before it can be delivered to the tournament’s grandmaster.
Plenty of other events unfold in the movie involving girls, sumo wrestling, and a whole bunch of other side story matter that wouldn’t have fit into a game. What you see above is what you get in the game, and most of the story is unveiled in cutscenes between certain levels and areas. There isn’t much else to the plot to be seen, as half of the characters in the film’s summary don’t even appear in the game and really, the plot of both the movie and the game is pretty thin.
At the game’s start, you get to choose one of the three titular kids- oldest brother Colt uses a bo staff, middle child Rocky wields a katana and the youngest Tum-Tum attacks with a pair of sai. There’s no real difference to the characters, but whoever you choose, you’re stuck with no throughout your time with the game. Like any platformer, all of the characters can run, jump, attack, and climb their way through the levels of the game. There are also special weapons and power-ups you can get to temporarily make life easier, though half of them are useless without precision utilization. A prime example of this is the exploding ball that you drop at your feet, meaning you have to draw enemies into it- a feat that isn’t always an option.
The game is split into multiple ‘zones’, including a forest, catacombs, and even a hospital. Each zone is then split into smaller segments, each with their own objectives. Most come down to either reaching the exit, finding a certain number of items, or defeating a boss. Occasionally, there will be environmental items that can be used to attack enemies, as a majority of them take multiple strikes to defeat.
At a surprise to no one, 3 Ninjas Kick Back doesn’t offer anything beyond the basics of platforming.
The Good, The Bad and…
Picking through the mediocrity of this game to find something ‘good’ to talk about isn’t hard, but it doesn’t garner much in the way of results. 3 Ninjas Kick Back is mechanically a sound game. Movement and attacking are all easy to manage and smooth. It was rare to run into a case of the game’s controls being the reason I lost a life. If nothing else, it seems like the folks who put this game together knew how to make a solid platformer to play.
With that said, the game falls in almost every other gameplay category. After the first level or two, it becomes incredibly difficult due to the number of cheap shots and seemingly unavoidable attacks. This comes down to the fact that this game expects you to master its mechanics pretty quickly and tests your twitch reflexes near immediately. It would be a little easier to swallow if the game weren’t so unforgiving when you lose your lives, sending you back to the beginning of the zone you were in. Since each zone has a different amount of areas of varying lengths, this can either be a minor inconvenience or enough to make you want to throw the game soundly at the wall. Pairing the difficulty with the limited amount of continues makes this just-about-average game feel like a task.
Plot Analysis and Therefore Spoilers
What you see is what you get. Even the movie’s plot sounded a little contrived, but if you’re looking for martial arts and kids kicking adult butt- here you go!
Most of the sprite work in 3 Ninjas Kick Back is competent; you won’t find any amazing set pieces or enemies to remember. The worst objects graphically, sad to say, are the player characters. Between the maligned character sprites, cutscene portraits, and even the ending screen, the worst visuals are pushed into your face over the entirety of your time with the game.
Listening to the game isn’t much better, as the game’s music is the same track on loop for half of the levels. It is interspersed with what someone assumed was typical Asian themed sound work. If you need a reason to exercise your volume button to make sure it works, you’ll most likely find a time to do it within the first few levels.
What is there to say, really? Anyone expecting 3 Ninjas Kick Back to be a masterpiece based on the film and the reputation of licensed movie games may be in for a shock. While not the worst licensed game by a long shot, unless you’re a diehard fan of the movie, you can take a hard pass on this one. It doesn’t offer anything new or interesting and works more as an exercise in patience and willpower rather than an enjoyable experience. There are a hundred other games across the Sega, Super Nintendo, and Sega CD that can offer up more than 3 Ninjas Kick Back does- with or without the childhood memories to be dashed alongside it.