Thursday, 5 April 2018

Quick Review: Ninja Princess

'Ninja Princess', began life as one of Sega's late System 1 arcade games released in 1985. Many of you probably know it better by the name 'Sega Ninja' or 'The Ninja', as it was renamed for western arcades and its Mark III / Sega Master System releases worldwide, respectively. While it would later receive a port to the MSX, the first port of the game was to Sega's very own SG-1000. Let's take a look.
"Ninja Princess"
Released in 1986 (my birth wasn't the only big event of 86 apparently), the game stars 'Kurumi', a princess on a mission to stop the evil 'Gyokuro Zaemon' through thirteen levels (or 'steps' as the game insists on referring to them as), from the south of the map in the forest, through rice fields, towns and mountains until eventually reaching the castle 'Kantenjou', to the north.
The map screen shown at the beginning of each stage gives a sense
of scale to your journey across 13 stages...erm, I mean "steps".
The port runs a tad slower than the System 1 or Master System versions of the game, but controls just as well; button 1 in combination with the d-pad fires throwing knives in one of eight directions, button 2 sends them directly up the screen vertically and pushing both buttons in tandem causes Kurumi to disappear giving her a brief moment of invincibility, allowing shurikens and enemies to pass through her. Compared to many games on the system, movement is fairly smooth, both when it comes to the sprites, as well as the scrolling of the screen as you move up to the next section of the level (I mean step *doh!*), meaning controlling the game is a real joy.
Upon finding a yellow scroll, throwing knives are upgraded to shurikens that pass
through multiple enemies.
One thing the game deserves particular praise for, is the way it keeps track of enemies and projectiles even when off screen. In many games of the time, sprites often disappear as the screen scrolls, or even reappear as you progress forwards after taking a step or two back. Ninja Gaiden was particularly infamous for this; previously downed enemies would often re-spawn in the player's face causing frustrating deaths. Thankfully, Sega's Ninja games don't screw around, and as such Ninja Princess keeps track of everything perfectly, meaning you can take it slowly, even allowing for retreat back a few screens to defensively take out targets before continuing forward up through the level.
Left: System 1 Arcade version. Right: SG-1000
While graphically, the visuals are clearly a step (or two) down from the far more advanced System 1 version, the artists managed to retain a certain charm with their simplistic, yet adequate sprite designs. It's no surprise that some of the more graphically intense stages were cut, such as the river level (*ahem* I mean "river step") where the player must traverse across floating logs, and another stage (*sigh* I give up) where boulders bounce along the screen requiring the player to dodge them. The number of sprites on screen at any one time has been reduced, but the game attempts to throw as much as it can at you particularly during later levels, causing some sprite flickering that can lead to unfair deaths from invisible projectiles. Thankfully, this is a rare occurrence that doesn't distract from the enjoyment of the game too much.
This section climbing the castle walls is particularly frustrating.
Ninja Princess is easily one of the best games on the system and without a doubt deserves a place alongside the best arcade ports of the SG-1000, but two things hold it back from top marks in my book. Firstly, as with other versions of the game, the player is required to collect five scrolls hidden in ridiculously obscure parts of the levels. If all five are not collected, the player is sent back to the beginning of the game before being allowed to progress to the final step. Yes, that's right, forcing any unlucky sod unable to collect all the scrolls, to play through the entire game again from the start! Luckily for us, it's 2018 and the scroll locations can be found simply by watching a start to finish play through on YouTube...but I can only imagine how frustrating this would have been in earlier times before the internet had the answer to everything. This aspect is just plain bad game design unfortunately, designed to artificially increase the length of the game. 
Kurumi or Kazamaru, who do you prefer?
Secondly, due to no fault of its own, the SG-1000 port is quite simply not the best way to experience the game. The  Mark III / Master system version and of course the arcade original are far superior in every aspect, but admittedly, the SG-1000 port deserves special props for keeping 'Kurumi' as the protagonist over the rather uninspired male Ninja from the Mark III / Master system port. 

In closing, if you own an SG-1000, this is a must buy and one of the best examples of what the system was capable of. It thoroughly deserves a place in every SG-1000 collection.

Score: 4/5

I'll finish the review with a quick play-through of the game, unfortunately I wasn't able to finish it this time as I received an important phone call near the end of the game...not that I would have made it anyway. 


  1. Awesome review Ross. It makes me wonder why there hasn't been a rom hack of the Master System version to re-instate the female Kurumi, using the sprites from the original arcade release (or at least I couldn't find one after a quick google search) It surely couldn't be that hard.

    1. That hadn't crossed my mind to be honest, but you're totally right; you'd expect that somebody would have taken it upon themselves to correct the Mark III version.

  2. Really enjoying the super old school sega love. Any chance of an article about SG-1000 peripherals?

    1. Such an article will come sooner or later for sure.