That apostrophe still bothers me. It has always bothered me. I’m getting that off my chest now. Ninja Master’s ($3.99) what? Sigh. Alright, I promise I won’t bring that up again for the rest of the review. There’s plenty to talk about here beyond that, after all. What we’ve got here is the final fighting game from World Heroes creators ADK, now available for you to play on your mobile device. But hey, there’s nothing unusual about a NEOGEO fighting game in your pocket anymore. So does this do anything special to merit notice? I mean, beyond the ninja thing. We all love ninjas.
What I will say is that this is, without question, the best fighting game ADK made. It’s almost frustrating, seeing how far the developer had come from the likes of the first World Heroes. Where could it have gone from here? We’ll never know. All we have is Ninja Master’s. It’s a game that shows ADK had been doing its homework, but it’s also a game that struggles from the company it was in. This game arrived in 1996, and by then SNK had a lot of irons in the fighting game fire. Between King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and Fatal Fury all flying high, it was at a point where the company’s new fighting game IPs were getting devoured by their own older siblings. Ninja Master’s is unfortunately no different.
The chief gimmick of this game, beyond the all-ninja cast, is that you can whip out a weapon at any time during the fight by pressing B + C at the same time. This changes the moves available to you along with various other factors, but not in such a way that your unarmed actions are rendered useless. Indeed, I would say that fighting unarmed is just as effective as using your weapon on the whole. It all comes down to how you like to play, and the situation. This blend of armed and unarmed fighting action makes it seem like ADK was trying to have its Fatal Fury and Samurai Shodown it too. In addition to this mechanic, you have the usual SNK desperation moves, super moves, super desperation moves, and so on. You can also use your meter to put yourself in a hyper state that can be pretty helpful at times.
Ninja Master’s has another somewhat unique element among SNK fighting games, though one that wasn’t unusual at the time: dial-a-combos. If you’re not familiar with that term, it refers to a combo where you can just hit all the buttons in sequence without concern for timing and the whole combo will just roll out. Some people like them, some people don’t. Tekken uses them, and it certainly has no shortage of fans. Around the time this was being made, Killer Instinct would have been doing fairly good business and it is probably one of the more well-known dial-a-combo fighters. But you didn’t see a lot of SNK games use them, so seeing them here is interesting.
Otherwise, this is just another NEOGEO fighting game, and that’s not a bad thing. You have a solid cast of varied fighters, and they’re all detailed and well-animated. The backgrounds are terrific, with lots of interesting elements to catch your eye if you have a second to look around. The medieval Japanese setting and ninja focus tie everything together so that it doesn’t feel as scattershot in a thematic sense as some other SNK fighters. The bosses here are quite wild and toppling them is certainly a challenge, but the game gives you enough leeway early on so that you can enjoy batting the CPU around a bit without too much resistance. Which, as we all know, is pretty important for these mobile releases.
I think Ninja Master’s is a pretty good one-on-one fighter, and if it had been in any other camp than SNK’s (apart from Capcom), it would probably be among the very best of that publisher’s offerings in the genre. In the SNK line-up, it has to settle for the upper mid-tier. If you enjoy the theme, you can add some extra points to the bottom line. I like the weapon gimmick, though it probably isn’t used to its maximum effectiveness. Again I can only wonder what a sequel might have brought us when the first attempt was as solid as this is. If you’re tired of spinning the usual hits, give this one a play.
Of course, when we’re talking about these mobile versions, it’s not enough to simply consider the game itself. We also have to think about how well it adapts to mobile, because that’s a different question. As usual for ACA NEOGEO releases, the only multiplayer option requires external controllers and huddling around one display. Most are probably not going to be able to make much use of that, so you’ve got a fighter you can only play in single-player. This one isn’t too shabby in that regard because the CPU isn’t a total jerk until you get near the end, but there’s no doubt something is missing by not being able to play against another human player.
The other consideration comes in the controls. If you’re sporting an external controller like a Backbone One or Kishi, you have nothing to worry about. You’ll be playing it just like anyone on other platforms can. The touch control option is a bit mixed. Some of the special moves can be tricky to pull off, and the desperation attacks are a real pain. Interestingly, that dial-a-combo system is a boon here. At least for me, it’s easier to punch in those combos via touch controls than it is to deal with a standard combo system using such means. It’s no worse off than most other SNK fighters when it comes to special move commands, but in terms of whipping out combos on those virtual buttons, I think Ninja Master’s is more manageable.
We have now reached the part of the review where I talk about the usual features for ACA NEOGEO games on mobile. You can access a variety of gameplay, video, audio, and control options. The Japanese and International versions of the game are available for standard play, plus you get Score Attack and timed Caravan modes to play. There are online leaderboards for all of these ways to play, and they do extend the entertainment value of playing a fighting game alone somewhat. The emulation quality is great, and you would expect it to be given Hamster’s extensive experience in this area by now.
Ninja Master’s suffers from most of the usual problems with the fighting games in the ACA NEOGEO line. You’re highly likely to be playing solo unless you can meet some tough requirements, and fighting games on this platform don’t exactly shine when you’re stuck fighting the CPU. Still, the unique weapon system and dial-a-combo mechanic mean that there is at least something worth noting here, and I can’t argue that the theme and cast aren’t cool and well-implemented. If you’ve been able to enjoy any of the other fighters from SNK on mobile, you might want to give this one a shot. It’s not the best of the bunch, but it’s quite good.