Genre: Beat-’Em-Up Developer: NuFX Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1993
You really have to be persistent when it comes to enjoying the Game Gear’s library. It’s not that I haven’t tried to appreciate its games, but it seems like no matter how many I play, I only seem to enjoy one or two out of every ten. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few decent titles for it, because I’ve enjoyed a handful of Sonic games, Streets Of Rage 2, Columns, and a few other forgotten gems; but it’s become really depressing wading through the library trying to find something worth playing that I haven’t played yet. Review coverage for a majority of the games is pretty sparse on the Internet, even nowadays (thanks to Sega-16 for changing that) so it leaves me to try each and every game I own, grasping at the hope that I may find that one enjoyable game. I can also say that I’ve tried to enjoy Surf Ninjas but try as I might; it’s too full of flaws to get any real enjoyment from it.
If you’re not a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s and aren’t in the know, Surf Ninjas is based off of the lousy 1993 B-movie of the same name and lives up to the licensed movie game curse that so many of these releases easily fall into. It’s a 2D platform based beat-‘em-up that tried to incorporate some nice ideas, and at times it succeeds, but for the most part it seems like the programmers never quite figured out how to make it play smooth enough to not be a hair-puller.
You travel through six stages on your way to defeating Col. Chi, and on the way you get to spar with countless ninjas, muscle men, tigers, rats, and birds (Ninja Gaiden, anyone?), You have a set of attacks that can be pulled off relatively easily by mashing the 1 button. Additionally, there are high and low kicks that can be performed by holding up or down when attacking. Your attack move set is rounded off with the ability to perform two different jump attacks. You can also do a ground roll to avoid enemies, as well as use a limited arsenal of projectile weapons.
The game does have a fairly in depth set of moves that are easy to pull off, but let’s talk about what makes this game just a flat out chore to play, and that’s the jumping mechanics. You have a standard jump as well as a very high double jump done by pressing button 2 twice in a row. I couldn’t get it to work right to save my life and was ready to give up on the game until I found a video walkthrough for the game that explained how the jumping works. It made things much better but still far from perfect. The game was still very frustrating due to the sloppy controls.
Surf Ninjas also throws a nasty curve ball at you in that you have to find a hidden cave in stage four and figure out how to access it. Once you’re in it, you have to defeat a boss and find a special sword to use on the last boss. If you miss this cave, which is easy to do, then you cannot go back for it and are screwed. You also have to reset the game because there’s no way to defeat the last boss without it. Yes, it’s definitely harsh treatment.
If you start to get stuck, then you can go into the menu and have Adam give you a hint. Zatch can also be called on to come out and perform a powerful free hit on an enemy or boss. Projectile weapons, lives, and continues can be purchased as you gain money, and it is important to learn what each menu item does, as your game is going to be very hard to finish without them.
Surf Ninjas actually does a pretty nice job with the visuals. Each of the stages is full of detail, and each one is very different from the next. It’s even nicer looking on an emulator displayed on a nice computer screen, as it will showcase the nice graphical details much better than the Game Gear’s blurry screen ever could. Even the between-stage cut scenes are nicely done too, with most of them showcasing the overly campy Col. Chi.
Unfortunately, the music seems to fall into the “barely serviceable” category that so many other Game Gear games end up in. While most of the music in each stage is pleasant and easy to listen to, it’s still pretty repetitive and fairly high pitched even for the Game Gear. The system is capable of far more layers of sound, even despite its weak sound chip, but it’s just not used here. Thankfully, each of the sound effects is fitting. They did a good job of making each of them sound like they should, with each one differing from the next. I was happy with that.
At its heart, Surf Ninjas is far from a bad game, but it just doesn’t come very highly recommended even for Game Gear fans. If you don’t have much else for your Game Gear, then this game may hold you over, and I’ll go as far as to admit that it even has somewhat of a cutesy 8-bit charm to it. If you decide to spend time with it anyway, then take some time to fully learn the jumping mechanics, as well as the menu items. You may also want to consult a YouTube video walkthrough so you can find that hidden cave in stage four, otherwise you’re just asking for a headache when you have to turn the game off once you reach the final boss.
SCORE: 5 out of 10