NMasterTop.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles SNK and ADK’s 2D fighter for the Neo Geo: Ninja Masters]

Master to No One

In and out of arcades before anyone noticed, Ninja Masters is one of ADK's best games for the Neo Geo. Released on home cartridge in late June '96, and for the Neo CD in late September ‘96, this historical-fiction based weapons fighter can easily be viewed as the predecessor to the Last Blade series.

I first encountered the game through chance. I was trying to get a copy of Samurai Shodown 2 for the Neo Geo, and the cheapest way was buying in quantity. So along with the deal came 3 Count Bout and Ninja Masters. Although not my intent, I ended up playing more than a healthy amount of Ninja Masters. After asking around I found I was not alone in my ignorance of the game.

ninjamasshot5.pngA Rag-Tag Bunch

Set in Japan’s Sengoku period, this game’s plot demonizes the ruler Oda Nobunaga. Making a pact with a demon, Nobunaga and his assistant--the feminine teenage male Ranmaru--attempt to achieve their ambition of ruling Japan. 10 warriors are tied by fate to the evil ruler as he tries to overtake Japan.

As set forth by Street Fighter, a rivalry between main characters is demanded for 2D fighters to be successful: at least that seems to be the common misperception. Sasuke and Kamui--the main characters--came from the same clan and attended the same ninja school. Upon their return from school Sasuke leaves the clan in an attempt to stop Nobunaga, and Kamui is sent after him to give him an "honorable death." The other characters are involved with the plot for various reason: dreams, riches, spirits, alcoholism, or just a bounty.

nm4.jpgThe Smell of Blood

The game suffers from what are known as dial-a-combos. Precision and skill take a back seat to the pre-determined amount of possible combos (one character has a 24 hit attack in only 5 button presses). So for tournaments, this game is right out.

But as for messing around with a few friends, this game is perfect. Most characters have stances with and without weapons and a variety of moves for both. Each character is highly varied from the others, barring the main characters of course.

The fighters all have smaller than average sprites (similar to King of Fighters) and they are all well animated. Nice little touches are hidden in all the characters moves, like Karasu who uses his Japanese namesake (“crow”) as a weapon. The backgrounds and music, while not very detailed, work fittingly together to set the desolate and bleak atmosphere.

Standing next to its kin--Samurai Shodown and Last Blade--Ninja Masters pales. This is not so much a fault of the game as it is a credit to the other series named. Compared to its contemporaries in the arcades, this game stood above many wanna-be knock offs.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]