Last Updated on March 1, 2023
It seems like nowadays, any game can get a remake. In the last few years, we’ve had bangers like Streets of Rage 4 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We’ve also had stinkers like Contra: Rogue Corps, proving that classic IPs don’t always guarantee a great game.
One title I didn’t have on the bingo card for 2023 was a remake of Ninja JaJaMaru, and I’m pleased to say this is one of the good ones.
If you’ve never heard of Ninja JaJaMaru, I don’t blame you, as his adventures were confined to the Famicom until recently. Aside from a few small ventures on Nintendo’s Virtual Consoles, JaJaMaru’s adventures are unknown outside Japan. Still, with this release, it seems that the Publisher, ININ Games, wants to change that.
Ninja JaJaMaru is an action platformer where you play as a Jajamaru, an agile ninja armed with a short-range shuriken attack.
You’re tasked with defeating a specific amount of Yokai in each stage. Each Yokai has unique traits and attacks, varying in size and difficulty. Fortunately, your shurikens make short work of most of them, and you can ‘stun lock’ the biggest ones by spamming your attacks.
Stages are called ‘Scenes,’ and each scene is a small arena filled with multiple levels and platforms which look similar to Donkey Kong. Every stage is littered with breakable platforms that can drop items. If you break these platforms while an enemy stands on top, they’ll be stunned, so you can deal serious damage. Just beware that enemies can stun you as well!
Power-Ups are the spice of life
Ninja Jajamaru periodically throws crazy power-ups into the mix that do everything from turning you into a car to summoning a giant frog. This wackiness is where the game shines, and they do a great job of breaking up the simplistic gameplay.
A few boss battles are scattered through the game, featuring giant enemies with attack patterns you’ll need to adjust to on the fly. To go with the retro aesthetic, these bosses are made of oversized pixellated sprites that may not be to everyone’s taste, but considering the graphical style of the rest of the game, it’s a good fit.
The difficulty curve in Ninja Jajamaru is decent, if a little unfair, later on. For the first few stages, I could lay waste to any Yokai foolish enough to stand in my way, but it didn’t take long for my mistakes to start getting punished.
Toward the latter stages, finding the right character for the job is essential, but I never felt frustrated, and it was satisfying to win after getting crushed on my previous attempts.
Even if you lose, you still win, kinda
One way Ninja Jajamaru quells that frustration is with its meta-progression. Win or lose; you earn coins for the “Jajabank” that unlocks new characters. These are much more than simple reskins; each character has unique attacks, health pools, and other hidden stats like speed.
It’s clear that balancing wasn’t a priority for the roster, as some characters are simply better than others. The Purple JaJa, for example, can shoot in all four directions with shuriken that hit harder than usual and go through walls. I don’t mind this, but if you’re a high-score hunter, many characters become obsolete once everyone is unlocked.
The ‘+Hell’ in the title alludes to a new mode where the difficulty is cranked up. It’s a cool addition, even though I found normal mode challenging enough. In + Hell, you can bestow upgrades on your default characters. I’d have liked this customization for others in the roster, but it makes sense considering their move set is the most basic.
Ninja Jajamaru: The Great Yokai Battle can be enjoyed with a friend in the co-op mode but offers little variety outside of that. Unlocking every character and beating the game will take multiple hours, and I was happy with the content, but an extra mode or two would have been welcome.
My one major gripe with Ninja JaJaMaru is the instructions or lack thereof. I couldn’t find a single ‘how to play’ screen. Even the in-game options seem intent on keeping the controls a secret, with the ‘button config’ menu only letting you swap between default and rotated.
If I didn’t know this was originally a Famicom title, I’d have spent much longer trying to make more than two buttons work on my controller.
As there are a few horror stories regarding Nintendo Switch optimization, I’m happy to report that during my playtime, performance on the console, both docked and handheld was flawless. I noticed zero stutters even when the screen was chaotic.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle + Hell, and if the goal was to give this retro classic a modern makeover that anyone can enjoy, they succeeded on all fronts. If you’re a fan of the Famicom titles, you’ll love what’s on offer here. There’s plenty to enjoy even if you’re new to the series like me and dig the retro aesthetic and gameplay.
If you fancy trying the game for yourself, it’s part of the Ninja JaJaMaru Collection – find it in ININ’s shop!
- Publisher: ININ Games
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Steam
- Platformed Reviewed: Nintendo Switch
- Released: 21/02/2023
Anthony is a freelance writer and has worked in the industry for three years. He’s furiously competitive and is always looking for the next big multiplayer hit. Anthony is a passionate PS1 collector and firmly believes in playing games in his collection rather than letting them collect dust on a shelf. He is also passionate about speedrunning and always looks forward to the next GDQ and ESA events.