It’s Friday, March 3. This date is known for two things. First, Nintendo released their brand new Nintendo Switch on this day. But the even bigger thing? Today marks 3 Ninjas Day. March 3. 3/3. 3 Ninjas. Geddit? OK, all kidding aside, 3 Ninjas Kick Back has its place in Super Nintendo lore. The box and manual command a small fortune. Diehard collectors place insane bids whenever either shows up on eBay. The game itself is rarely talked about and whenever it is, people usually bash the hell out of it. Released with no fanfare, 3 Ninjas Kick Back came and went like so many other SNES games in the mid ’90s. But for once, I’d like to take a moment to highlight the game itself rather than the box and manual. Is the game really that bad? In short, no. In fact, from where I sit at least, it’s actually pretty decent. But before I get to that, I have to address the elephant in the room…
It’s no secret that SNES games these days tend to command a pretty penny. Particularly the boxes and manuals. The market has steadily climbed the past seven years or so. Sure, prices have fluctuated but I don’t think the “bubble” will burst any time soon. Take, for instance, 3 Ninjas Kick Back. If you didn’t know by now, the box and manual for this game is rather scarce. So when it does pop up, it fetches a staggering price. It’s seemed to come down a bit in recent times, though. But the cartridge itself has gone from $20 to $100+. Go figure. A few years back, a complete copy actually sold for $2,000. You read right — TWO THOUSAND FREAKING BUCKS. Holy crap. But a check on eBay reveals a complete copy recently ended at “just” $500. That’s still plenty nuts when you think about it! It makes me glad I got back into the scene when I did (January 2006). The demand for these relics from our youth is at an all-time high like never before.
When I got back into all things SNES in January 2006, I didn’t really care about owning the boxes and manuals. Aside from RPG manuals, I was fine with having just the cartridge. Once I bought the majority of the games I wanted, I bought a few boxes and manuals where I could due to how cheap they were at the time. As I saw my collection expanding, the urge to own a “complete” collection grew and grew. I took that goal seriously when I began snatching up boxes and manuals to complete my cartridges in 2007. Due to boxes and manuals typically going for peanuts (relatively speaking), I was able to cross them off my list one by one between the years 2007-2011. Only one eluded me all those years: 3 Ninjas Kick Back. I only saw the box and manual maybe three or four times in the five years I’d been hunting. Each one sold for a fair amount. I was lucky to buy the manual in late 2011 before acquiring the box in March 2012.
I consider my acquisition of the 3 Ninjas Kick Back box to be the moment I more or less retired from active SNES collecting. This month actually mark five years since I bought the box. I didn’t even realize that until just now. It’s pretty cool when these random things happen like such. Time flies!
To fund the insane amount it took to buy the box, I parted with some highly sought after SNES items of my own that I was willing to sacrifice. I sold off my copy of Incantation. It included the manual and a pretty banged up box for $200 (it’s another high end SNES collectible). I sold some doubles as well to finally amass enough to cover the charge. Nothing feels sweeter than not having to pay out of your own pocket, so to speak!
It feels damn good to be retired ^_^
INSTANT CHILDHOOD CULT CLASSIC
Movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Home Alone were smash hits in 1990. Someone had the brilliant idea of crossing the two and thus, in the summer of 1992, 3 Ninjas was born. My brother and I loved it. We rented and watched it dozens of times, damn near wearing out the tape. Take three young brothers trained in ninja techniques from a young age, throw in Victor Wong as the ass kicking Grandpa Mori along with some dim-witted hooligans to serve as the perfect foil, and you get an instant childhood cult classic.
If you mix Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with Home Alone, you would get something very similar to 3 Ninjas. It was so successful that it spawned three sequels: 1994’s 3 Ninjas Kick Back, 1995’s 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up, and 1998’s 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain (starring Hulk Hogan who at the time was leading the nWo… Ninja World Order). I’ve only seen the first two. The first film is the best. The first sequel was decent but clearly the magic was gone by then. I rather not watch the last two films based on what I’ve heard…
THE STORY GOES…
While an action platformer at heart, there is a slight beat ‘em up feel to 3 Ninjas Kick Back. This is thanks to each ninja having his own special move. It’s good for taking out a crowd of enemies but it comes at the expense of some health. This platforming / beat ‘em up hybrid style works!
You start out on a small ledge which is magically suspended in mid-air. A giant boulder rests behind you. As soon as you start moving to the right, it falls and gives chase. This can easily frustrate players right off the bat; the game doesn’t start off so hot. But press on because it does get better.
As you try to outrun the rolling rock of doom, stalactites fall on cue. You have two options here. Eat each of the three falling attacks, or stop and wait for the stalactite to drop harmlessly while the rock rolls you over. Thankfully, the rock only saps four of your six health boxes. Or you can race through the three stalactites and eat three hits of damage before leaping to safety. Either way, you can’t avoid getting hit here. I can see why this left a bad taste in people’s mouth right off the bat -_-
You can propel yourself to new heights by grabbing onto a rope, vine or tree branch. It does take a bit of working out to get the hang of things, but once you do you’ll be swinging around like a monkey. The control isn’t perfect but it’s not terrible, either. Workable describes it best.
Very nice indeed, those red crystals. They even cause unseen items high above the screen to fall down for the taking. I also like how the screen turns red as a bursting sound effect rips across the land. Good stuff, and it was little details like this early on that gave me hope this might actually turn out to be a decent little game.
I usually don’t care for collecting items in platformers. It’s something I do out of necessity rather than enjoyment. But in 3 Ninjas Kick Back I’ll actually go out of my way to collect them all. That’s because when you collect one, you hear a sweet sound effect. Plus it’s fun to see the mini stars and point bonuses popping up.
Remember when video games had health boxes? 3 Ninjas Kick Back does. There’s also a timer which adds a sense of urgency. This game elicits a bit of an old school 8-bit NES platforming feel, which is perfectly fine by me.
Destroy all eight training dummies before the timer expires. Scattered throughout the forest, you’ll be searching high and low. Some are tucked away in alcoves. Others are heavily guarded by obstacles and various dangers. And never forget: look before you leap. Dummies require several hits to break. I love the way their limbs go flying in every which direction! My personal method of preference? Why, swinging overhead until they submit to my heart’s foul desires!
Being a youthful nimble ninja certainly has its advantages. You can leap pretty high on your own, but you’ll soar like a bird when combining your techniques with your environment.
Grabbing onto a rope can be a little tricky. You have to press up while jumping. Be ready to aim for the tree branch there should you miss the rope. Any port in a storm, eh?
Mori and rival ninjas will occasionally fire a series of shurikens at you from high above. Thankfully, you can block these ninja stars with a well-timed overhead attack. I love that this offensive strike doubles as a defensive tool. And look at how the shurikens bounce harmlessly off your weapon — nice!
Don’t look scared now, Rocky. This dummy thought he was clever hiding out in this alcove but even his most deceptive and cunning strategy cannot evade your deft ninja senses. It’s time to do the honors. Give the piñata a couple stiff whacks. NEXT!
As the dummies start to dwindle down and Mori realizes your true ninja potential, he decides to employ a different strategy — good old fashioned bribery!
Bridges, ledges, alcoves. Every square inch here is teeming with danger. Wooden blocks shoot out sharp needles while bloodthirsty bats are out on the prowl. Thankfully, you’re skilled enough to attack while hanging from a ledge. Once you show that flippant bat who’s boss, use your core strength to flip up and put that block out of its misery.
I like playing as these nimble little bastards. They can hang on, flip up or flip down. Different options lead to more gameplay variety. Being able to do a number of things from this position presents you with a set of choices and really puts you in the driver’s seat. It’s details like this that help make 3 Ninjas Kick Back surprisingly decent.
This is where the game begins to pick up some steam. I suspect those that bash this game quit before getting to this level. The first couple levels are uninspiring and meh. It’s easy to stop there and declare the game worthless. But players who press on may find some actual merit.
You’re hanging precariously on the ledge as a black ninja (with an even blacker heart) maliciously heaves a barrage of shurikens. But being the nimble ninja you are, you manage to evade the attack by flipping up and snapping his neck in two. All in one fell swoop. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Really?! Another Mori Marker to start out the stage. You can’t help but laugh a little bit. Grandpa Mori straight up trolling us now!
You’ll run into Koga’s nephew, Glam, and his two bumbling lackeys, Slam and Vinnie, throughout Mori’s not so secluded cabin. This is the first stage that lets you interact with the environment. For example, you can kick a basketball at the fumbling Grungers. The amount of different ways you can dispose of them is rather humorous.
You have three options here:
1. Bash him until he sees little yellow birdies.
2. Shatter his shin with that rolling Tonka truck of doom!
3. Cranium crushing chandelier!
Whichever method you prefer, it suits the game’s goofy slapstick atmosphere extremely well.
The hi-jinx and shenanigans continue. You can either lure one of the goons and let him slip on the water, or for the truly sadistic folks out there you can knock the toaster over into the pool of water. You can imagine what happens next when one of the bumbling buffoons stumble right into your trap — ZAP! Come on, can a game with this kind of humor really be THAT bad?
Seriously, how bad can a game really be when it lets you electrocute the hell out of an enemy in such a comical fashion? You can’t help but appreciate the dash of black comedy here.
Glam just doesn’t know when to quit. But you have bigger fish to fry, such as finding the last three items. Make your way to the rooftop where things get a wee bit hairier.
These black ninjas rule the rooftop, making life more difficult than Glam, Slam and Vinnie ever could. Watch out for the sandwich attacks. When they toss their deadly shurikens from high above, swing your weapon overhead to cancel their foul plans. Few things in this game satisfy like hearing and seeing a bevy of ninja stars clank off your sword.
Up until now you may have noticed there hasn’t been any bosses. If you’re anything like me, then you get a big kick out of confronting a traditional boss at the conclusion of each stage. 3 Ninjas Kick Back actually does have a few bosses, but only a few. The first of which will come in the next stage. Typically, it annoys me when there isn’t a boss at the end of each level, but for this game, I didn’t mind it. It even seemed to fit the game, oddly enough. The few bosses that do exist are by no means memorable boss battles. A few of them are downright annoying.
Hospitals are places you’d rather avoid if you can. But this wacky hospital is a fun romp thanks in large part to its black comedy moments.
Strike this metal trash can to send it packing. The interactive environment adds to the game’s charm and is true to its source material. These hi-jinx opportunities occur in only a few levels, but I like how they’re sandwiched in-between the more serious stages.
“NOTHING STOPS THIS TRASH CAN” as the great Heisenberg would say. It doubles as a defensive and offensive prop ^_^
Rescue the hostages and free the slaves!
“Who are you talking to right now?
Who is it you think you see?
Do you know how much I have made from the 3 NINJAS movies?
I mean even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.
No you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in.
I am NOT in danger, Mister MUTHA-FUKKEN Grunger.
I AM THE DANGER!“
“Who the hell are you?”
“You know exactly who I am. Say my name.”
“DO WHAT? Man, I don’t have a DAMN clue who the hell you are.”
“Yeah you do. I’m the kook. I’m the man who killed the box office.”
“Bullshit. The CROW got the box office. 50 million. May 11, 1994.”
“You sure? That’s right. Now… SAY MY NAME.”
“YOU’RE GOD DAMN RIGHT!”
PSST, WHAT’S THE PASSWORD?
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
3 Ninjas Kick Back received minimal press back in the day. I don’t recall one review or preview for the SNES version. Keep in mind that both EGM and GameFan Magazine covered a LOT of games. So it was pretty rare for a Super Nintendo game to miss the cut entirely. Part of that no doubt is the fact that 3 Ninjas Kick Back arrived at a tightly contested time. That holiday season of ’94 was a star studded lineup for the SNES. Being a licensed game of a movie series that wasn’t exactly hot at the time didn’t do it any favors. A 3 Ninjas game released in 1992 would have done much better. Instead, 3 Ninjas Kick Back found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place with nowhere to go but down into a spike-filled pit. This game has a negative reputation online. I wonder how many people who wrote this game off actually played it beyond the first couple levels. It’s no gem by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s really not that shabby and doesn’t deserve the hate that it seems to get.
WHAT THE BOX SAID | WHAT I SAY
1. The visuals are a little bland in some parts while decent looking in others. “Scorching hot” is classic mid ’90s hyperbole.
2. Interacting with the various items is probably the best thing about this game, but sadly it is only for a few levels.
3. A two player co-op option is definitely nice. But I’m not sure about “intense.”
4. If by “tons” they meant “some” then sure, OK.
5. Sound effects are surprisingly pretty cool, but not “awesome.”
6. Definitely not many nasty looking bosses as there are only three or so.
7. While the later levels have a bit more “meat” to them, the earlier levels are incredibly short. There’s even one level that you can polish off in about 10 seconds flat. So yeah, not exactly “huge.”
All in all, your typical exaggerated back of the box to hype the game up as much as possible. To their credit, while the hyperbole is a bit off, at least it’s a playable game. It is very faithful to the film and Malibu did the best they could with the license.
While 3 Ninjas Kick Back will never be mentioned in the same breath as the classics of the SNES library, it shouldn’t be lumped in with some of the true SNES stinkers, either. It’s a decent game that has a quirky quasi-beat ‘em up feel to it, spliced in with copious amounts of platforming action. Then pepper in a few sprinkles of dark comedy for good measure and you get a surprisingly decent effort.
One of the great things about this hobby is the ability to play these old games for the first time and form your own opinion. After playing this game thoroughly I was genuinely shocked at all the negative feedback this one received in the past. The beautiful thing about this hobby is you might like a game most people don’t. The longer I played 3 Ninjas Kick Back, the more I appeciated what the programmers did. Little details like flinging a toy truck into a bumbling lackey’s shin or deflecting a projectile attack from above with a well-timed overhead swing, 3 Ninjas Kick Back is a lot more playable than one may initially expect. Besides, what can beat throwing your old wheelchair bound Grandpa Mori into an unsuspecting punk?
With three different characters to select from, a two player mode and some quirky levels to navigate, 3 Ninjas Kick Back is a surprisingly solid licensed video game. Whether it’s rigorous skirmishes with your grandpa in the forest, or outwitting the Grungers and crew in the hospital, the game features some nice versatility. I love the levels with objects in the background that you can interact with. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously; I find the dark humor to be rather subtle and effective. The game can be a bit difficult in certain spots, but it can be vanquished with some good ole persistence and smarts. There aren’t a lot of bosses, and the few that exist aren’t particularly well executed, so in the end perhaps the lack of bosses is a blessing in disguise. It’s the level designs instead that somewhat deliver. They’re not original or overly brilliant but they’re competently structured, providing some platforming fun along the way. 3 Ninjas Kick Back is a fairly decent game that offers a somewhat enjoyable mix of the beat ‘em up and platforming genre. It was much better than I anticipated it to be, but of course, your mileage may vary. Not every game has to be a classic — there’s definitely a place for quirky decent games with a healthy dose of humor. And this game fits that bill better than expected.
Admittedly, these were cheesy films. And some things are better left to your childhood memories