ninja jajamaru: the great yokai battle

I’m a big-time sucker for modern takes on old games using a faux-retro style. Pac-Man Championship Edition, Mighty Gunvolt, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Heiankyo Alien 3671, and so on. Even better when that reimagining is of a game that is simply Okay.

Ninja Jajamaru-kun is a series that you’ve probably played at least one its games. Probably loaded up one of them in MAME, or played the extremely choppy NES port, or the one that’s a blatant rip-off of Mario 3. Played it, then quickly forgot about it until you see that Jajamaru sprite and then you remember the game, but not the game’s title. Or you remember that it’s the game that inspired Ninja Haggleman from the Game Center CX game. That’s Jajamaru’s place in gaming history: it’s there. It’s a fine game, there’s nothing really wrong with it, it just doesn’t stick in anyone’s memory for one reason or another. Which makes me all the more interested in a new entry.

Jajamaru Yokai Battle is both the best Jajamaru game, and also complete and utter dogshit. This game was released by City Connection, a bunch of empty-headed fucks who consider themselves a game company. The ones who release shooters with horrible input lag, charged out the ass for Game Tengoku DLC (you know, the “good” Saturn shooter), released a port of Zombie Nation that, no matter what resolution you set it to, only ever takes up a tiny portion of the screen. Oh, and who could ever forget that time they said, “don’t worry, we are definitely bringing the Switch port of Hoshi wo Miru Hito to the West! We even set up an English website with all the information you’ll ever need, including a release date!” Then when it came for release, not only did the game only remain in Japan, City Connection responded with “uh well, we never said it was actually coming out. I mean, not we claimed anything or created any sort of English resources that would lead you to believe this!” Yeah, City Connection essentially gaslit their customers over Hoshi wo Miru Hito, a legendarily bad Famicom RPG. So this is already a company on thin ice with me.

What’s good about Jajamaru? Well, it has a ton of stuff in it. Lots of playable characters, ranging from different colored Jaja’s with unique attacks and abilities, to the game’s enemies, to the boss and princess from the original game. That’s fun. There are a lot of levels, some of them actually good. You can also pick between the original Jajamaru music, and some actually nice arranged music. I will say that this game uses the original NES graphics, and they still look really nice in their simplicity.

What’s bad about Jajamaru. Playing it. Specifically, playing past the half-way point of the game. Whoever the piece of shit that designed these levels is, didn’t really bother to think them through after a point. Fuck it, throw as many enemies and projectiles on screen as possible! Jajamaru is an old-school single-screen platformer in the vein of Bubble Bobble and the original Mario Brothers, so how about some fucking Touhou bullet patterns to deal with? How about enemies that don’t even have attack patterns so much as “fly at you at the speed of light, endlessly shooting” and you can only hope that you can find an item that alleviates the pressure? How about trying to play this game like the original Jajamaru? For those who haven’t played, it is possible to stun enemies by either breaking the floor (but only specific types of floor) out from under them, or jumping on their heads. I have tried this in the new game multiple times, and wouldn’t you know, it doesn’t even fucking work most of the time. You jump on an enemy, and either you somehow miss, get hit by a suddenly appearing projectile, or my favorite, the game decides that actually you are the one who gets stunned. I need to point out that the Famicom version of the original Jajamaru was developed by Micronics, a developer that couldn’t figure out how to make their games not become extremely choppy if more than half a sprite was on screen at once, and yet they got the whole jumping hitbox thing right. Like congratulations on somehow being worse than a notoriously bad developer that was allegedly just one college student in his garage. At least he was programming in Assembly. This was made in Unity!

Some of these levels, with no real rhyme or reason, have boss battles. If, well, when you lose health during the previous level, you don’t get any kind of courtesy refill, so you better learn the bosses pattern of bullet hell bull shit unless you want to have to redo the entire previous level again. This wouldn’t be so bad, if some of these levels didn’t get pretty fucking long towards the end. Completing the final level took me about an hour. I did not have fun. I still have a headache. A headache that I made worse by trying out the “Hell” mode, where everything is harder. Boy, that was a mistake! If you like having bombs dropped on you from off-screen while fending off fast moving enemies with tons of health that can kill you in 1-2 hits, you might like it. As someone who likes challenge, and not barely tested horse shit masquerading as level design, I do not.

I feel like this piece comes across as overly angry. Admittedly, most of this anger is directed at myself, because this is City Connection, and I should know better by now. Every so often, I will give this company money because I think that maybe this is the time they finally get their shit together and make something that doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out, or find the home address of everyone in the company and punch them square in the balls, like I’m Liam Neeson, but for ball punching and not that weird racist revenge fantasy he had all those years back. A real shame, because I actually found myself having a soft spot for Jajamaru as a character. Guess there’s always MAME.

One more thing: you can find a power up that will temporarily turn you into the Honda City from City Connection. The fun arcade game City Connection, not the terrible company that is now permanently on my shit list. The thing about this, is that the Honda handles like it did in its home game, which does not translate well to Jajamaru’s platforming. So no, they couldn’t even get their own namesake right, either.

ADDENDUM: A couple days later, I’ve found I got a couple of things wrong in here. 1) The internet informs me that Ninja Jajamaru on Famicom was developed by Tose. If that’s the case, I apologize for the error; I simply assumed that a really choppy arcade port on the NES was done by a company notorious for really choppy arcade ports on the NES. 2) The Zombie Nation collection seems to work just fine on my desktop PC, and is only completely fucked on my laptop. This still sucks, mind you, but I will only be kind of mad at City Connection for this one.

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