Purple pajamas… white shoes… ninjas for hire in New York City… Seriously. This one writes itself.

Ooohhhh! Crouchy.

There are three types of games you’re likely to see on this website. There are the games that are so incredible that I absolutely must tell you about them because I want you to have this wonderful experience that I did. There are the games that are so terrible, I have to warn you against them so that you don’t inadvertently spend money on utter crap cough-cough Moto Roader cough.

And then there are the games that I just happen to stumble across and simply must tell you about.

Wrath of the Black Manta is one of those games.

I recently came into possession of the NES on which my brother and I cut our teeth. This thing is so used that many games actually play more reliably if you leave the game in the “up” position, rather than the “down” position. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you didn’t own a NES, and you probably have no idea why you’re here. Thank you for coming. Please be quiet so as not to disturb the faithful.

One of the games that my brother had acquired since we stopped sharing everything was Black Manta. At first, I could only assume that this game would be horrendous beyond belief and that the person that last owned it was crying themselves to sleep in a mental institution trying to solve the riddle of a ninja wearing all purple in New York City.

The only way to describe this game properly is to show you. And so I shall…

I have never seen a phone actually ring like that.

The story of the game is told through a variety of cut-scenes composed of still images above text.

The first cut-scene starts off with your character receiving a phone call from your master. My first thought was of course, “Ninjas have phones?”

My second thought didn’t occur until the second or third time I played through the opening sequence.

And why am I looking through my pajama leg?

Clearly, ninjas do not need to sleep. But must Black Manta wear his ninja clothing in the middle of the night when ninja-ing is not actually occurring?

Of course he does, he’s a freakin’ ninja.

So the phone rings and then apparently your master teleports through the phone to land in your living room, because lo and behold, he’s right there in the next image.

Y’know, my name is actually Jim, right?

This is the part where I started to get bored, so I skipped past the rest. From what I was able to glean off the words flitting by, lots of children in New York are being kidnapped and the police and FBI are useless, as always.

So, being a ninja, you decide to put a stop to it. Why? Who the fuck knows? Your master just poofs into existence and suddenly you’re off killing guys in green jumpsuits firing guns at you.

Badly.

So once the gameplay begins, it quickly becomes apparent that you are more than a ninja, you are a superhero. You can jump the height of four oil drums without breaking a sweat, which is impressive in its own right. Further, you can summon forth fire balls to crawl across the ground and seek out your enemies, surround you for half a second to kill anyone that gets too close, launch across the screen to blow up those who oppose you, and generate an illusory ninja that stands on your head and throws real ninja stars.

Not even joking about the fact that your mirror image stands on your head. That has to be the most effective illusion ever.

The only drawback is that the game tries to show you that you have all of these abilities, but doesn’t bother to point out that you must hold down the attack button to trigger them. Thus, I spent the majority of the first game I played only throwing ninja stars and getting my ass kicked.

So you fight through the level, continually grabbing this tougher baddie in red to interrogate him, but apparently believing him every time he says he doesn’t know anything, choosing to let him go so that he can just run ahead 30 feet in the level to do it all over again. I mean, they don’t even bother recoloring him so that you can pretend its a different guy.

Honey! I blew up the midget!

When you do finally reach the end of the level, you find a note telling you that Tiny is waiting in the next building. Very convenient. When you enter the giant whole in the wall of the otherwise structurally sound abandoned warehouse in the middle of NYC, you find the largest dwarf ever birthed from the depths of Hell.

Being the largest dwarf in history has its advantages, but one-on-one combat is not one of them. Tiny, so infuriated by the fact that his disproportionate body makes him incredibly in-agile and therefore incapable of taking on a ninja, he throws a temper tantrum, leaping into the air and shaking the ground with such force upon landing that a single brick always falls directly on the head of our hero.

This is where not knowing how to use your ninja powers bites you in the ass.

Finally, once you’ve thrown enough ninja stars into Tiny’s chin that the giganto-dwarf goes down for the count, you are rewarded with another cut-scene. I didn’t bother reading this one, either. The man in red makes an appearance while he’s talking to his boss and Manta decides it is time to head to Tokyo.

You think this looks silly, I can throw ninja stars without letting go of the sheet.

For some odd reason, when he gets there, rather than walking across the ground to get to his location, he decides to stand on what looks remarkably like a building from the previous level in the middle of nowhere. Ninjas wearing blankets on their backs are soaring through the air at you and provide you with the perfect opportunity to steal one and practice your ninja blanket-surfing skills.

This is pretty much the point where I gave up for the night, as suddenly I was accosted by a hundred green ninjas with blankets of their own that are capable of performing dogfighting maneuvers while throwing fireballs at you. After the sixth time I had died, I realized I had all I need to review this game.

So, what’s the verdict? is Wrath of the Black Manta a game worth owning? If it ever hits the Virtual Console, I highly recommend picking it up. You can’t beat the $5 price tag that it would wear and it’s certainly a lot of fun. The first level is a little challenging until you pick up the control scheme and realize the most effective way to kill the enemies is to wait until they run right up to you and you can stab ‘em up close and personal.

If you can find it on the NES, I recommend it, as well. While not as lasting as other ninja games, like Ninja Gaiden, the ability to use so many powers, and methods to increase your life from three hits to eight through the course of a level makes the game much easier, if a bit hokey.

I know I will be trying to finish the game in the coming weeks, and can definitely recommend it to a friend without feeling like I’m secretly punishing them.

(Originally posted August 19, 2007)

Download this article as an e-book